The holidays can wield such a double-edged sword, can’t they?

On the one hand, this time of year is filled with family, friends, tradition, delicious food, and celebration.

On the other hand, this time of year also brings with it jam-packed schedules, making self-care even more of a challenge. For people with anxiety over food, the constant Image 3stream of goodies and social events centered around eating can exacerbate the problem.  Tense relationships with family members or friends often feel more disappointing at this time of year. And, people who have suffered loss sometimes feel their sadness more profoundly as they watch others around them celebrate.

Essentially, Christmas has a way of taking all our emotions and intensifying them, for good or bad.

I’ve got no magic potion to help you get through the holidays if you’re struggling. I definitely have my challenges, too. (And, my current state of 18-month-long exhaustion is not helping me cope.) But I can offer up one mental exercise that has helped me weed out some of the negative.

Examine Your “Traditions”

Traditions are great. They link us to the past. They link us to our family even when we are far from them in space or time. They offer us comfort in their regularity and sameness. With them, we know what to expect and in this crazy world, and that can be a glorious thing.

But, frankly, some traditions cease to serve us. And if you are, like I was, holding on to traditions for tradition’s sake, I challenge you to really unpack your emotions around your traditions and see if they are still serving you well.

Case-in-point: I come from a Scandinavian family. Every Christmas Eve, my father’s family would prepare and serve traditional Swedish food. My cousins in Colorado, who had better access to authentically-prepared Swedish fare enjoyed this tradition more than we did because in the South in the 1980s … let’s just say lutefisk was not available at the local grocer.

Let me just pause here and, for effect, share with you a bit from Wikipedia about lutefisk:

It is gelatinous in texture, and has an extremely strong, pungent odor. Its name literally means “lye fish.”

Want some?

Anyhow, my mom did her absolute best to uphold my dad’s family traditions.  She jerry-rigged dish after dish and slaved away for hours prepping.

And every year, dinner was awful.

We whined. We complained. We gagged. We didn’t eat it.

Wisely, my mom eventually ditched the traditional Swedish dinner in favor of a Christmas Eve brunch with my cousins. She served some pickled herring, as a nod to our Scandinavian roots, but by-and-large, the food was more Tennessee-traditional. And, needless to say, much more popular.

No more gagging.

When the tradition failed to serve in a positive way, Mom adapted.

But What About the Really Hard Ones?

Lutefisk is not hard to ditch.

That annual cross-country trek to your childhood home may be.

Or, the Christmas Day tradition of going to your parents’ and your in-laws’ and your cousins’ and dragging the kids through all of it after they open their presents and just want to play.

Or, that midnight service on Christmas Eve which used to fill your spirit but now makes you a grouchy pain-in-the-behind all Christmas morning.

The decisions are not easy and they may have ramifications that last long after the holiday season.

So maybe that tried-and-true decision-making tool, the Pro/Con Chart, is in order. But just make sure that you consider your own personal health and emotional wellness as you list out those pros and cons.

And, remember, just because you mix things up this year does not mean that you can never go back to the tried-and-true. That’s the great thing about traditions – they tend to endure.

3 Responses to “Holiday Wellness : Are Your Traditions Taking Too Much Out of You?”

  1. on 23 Dec 2013 at 11:27 amCarl Peterson

    Thanks for the memory’s and with the definition of lutefisk available years ago that tradition may have gone by the wayside. I remember at our annual Swedish dinner years after Grandpa had passed, we finally asked Grandma about the lutefisk and if she liked it. That was taking a chance; I do not remember her exact answer, but that was the last year we had “lye fish” for Christmas.
    Throw in birthday’s for two for two of the Colorado cousins (Steve after and me before), and it even is more of a challenge. However, having married into a family with a great baking tradition (as indicated by the Hanna Birthday Cake), we now have a great breakfast menu for my birthday. Cake for breakfast, celebrate the old birthday (66 tomorrow), and then let the Christmas celebration continue. And this year we are foregoing the traditional midnight service and going for the earlier service with reading and carols, and celebrating the birth of our Redeemer and then home to get a good nights sleep and ….. Old Saint Nick still makes it to our house.
    Happy Holidays.

  2. on 23 Dec 2013 at 4:10 pmSheri Goff

    No more Swedish dinner for us either BUT two years ago in Denver Joel, Steve’s son, wanted to do the Swedish dinner for his Dad’s bd on December 27th and we did it, minus the lutefisk. But great korv, the Swedish sausage (I even have a good recipe to make it as a meat loaf that I think might be paleo), brown beans (sweet and sour sauced), Swedish meatballs, giftus (the cranberry/soda cracker, whipped cream layered salad) pickled herring (plain and with sour cream) and Swedish rye bread (again, I have a good recipe that is light and sweet with no caraway seeds). We have done salmon baked in puff pastry as an alternative to the lutefisk and then had the rest of the meal. Boiled white potatoes with cream sauce were always served also. Grandma Elma made rice pudding that was yummy for dessert. We are now doing a seafood feast on Christmas Eve with our son here in PA now that we have moved back here. Discovered that they had no place to go or anyone to be with on Christmas Eve so we get to have them! Crabcakes, bacon-wrapped scallops, shrimp and crinkle-cut fries. Wonderful kale salad from Costco for anyone who wants to have something green. Sounds as if your Mom and Dad are with you. I love how your Mom takes him ANYWHERE and EVERYWHERE. We so loved our visit with them last May. Enjoy, enjoy ………

  3. on 23 Dec 2013 at 4:13 pmKristine Rudolph

    I was just thinking about her rice pudding today! I’ve attempted to re-create it many times to no avail.

    And a seafood feast sounds right up my alley!

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