No matter what you celebrate, we all struggle with similar problems. How do you find time to give everyone a gift they'll like without breaking the bank? How do you entertain without breaking your back? How do you enjoy all the fun holiday parties without breaking the scale? And, most importantly, how do you make sure that you and your family remember what's actually important at this time of year?
Every year, December manages to creep up out of nowhere. You've barely recovered from your Thanksgiving food coma before the Christmas lights are up. Frantic shopkeeps proclaiming "unbeatable deals!" harass you on a daily basis, while irritating holiday Muzak tones provide the soundtrack to your last-minute shopping frenzy.
Come January 1, you are sucked dry of your very life force and with what to show for all your effort? A migraine, serious debt and a boatload of gifts to return for store credit.
That's no holiday! What's wrong with this picture?
Well, not this year, folks! I am calling it quits, striking out on my own. This is going to be a stress-free, happy, healthy holiday in the Oz home.
Why not come along for the ride?
This used to be the thing I struggled with most until I developed my three-pronged attack.
Throughout the year, I keep an eye out for things that "scream" to be given to someone. Even if it's small, if it's thoughtful and clearly personal (and no, monogrammed Post-It notes don't count), people appreciate the effort and will most likely love whatever it is you've selected. I set aside a drawer in my home for these gifts and tape people's names to the packaging to make sure I don't forget who they're for. You'd be surprised how easy this is to do six months down the line!
Beginning on Black Friday, I browse for luxury items that are way on sale. This is a great time to stock up on basics—like a gorgeous, cashmere throw or leather gloves—at rock-bottom prices. These make for beautiful gifts that are as stylish as they are affordable and are easy to give to people you know well—but maybe not well enough.
I also make a point of getting to a few sample sales throughout the year. You can usually find choice items at drastically reduced prices, though it's important that you only buy for people whose size and taste you are familiar with.
If it's the last minute and you still have nothing for your neighbor, a homemade gift is as lovely to give as it is to receive. A friend of our family's makes caramels that are so sinful they should be illegal and wraps them individually in waxed paper tied with ribbon. If you're a baker, try making snowflake-shaped sugar cookies decorated with blue or white icing. They can be beautifully detailed and packaged in cellophane paper to be given individually or by the basket. Tins of Christmas cookies are fun in general.
Homemade jams, chutneys or sauces are always nice too. My dad loves to crunch on nuts, so this year I've mastered a wonderful spiced nut recipe from the Sally Clark Cookbook to give to all my male relatives.
If you're more of a craftswoman, try making jewelry or knitting a scarf. You know what you're good at, and I'm sure there are plenty of things in your arsenal that people would pay good money for. Harness that creativity and make a truly personal gift—you might even save yourself some loot!
The most important thing to remember when entertaining—whether for two, 20 or 200—is that people want to have a good time, especially at holiday parties. All you have to do is prime the environment and they'll relax and have fun on their own. I've seen so many hostesses deflate over a sunken soufflé only to find that people ate it anyway!
Take the stress out of your evening by remembering that only you notice when something doesn't go according to plan. Don't let them see you sweat, and no one will be any the wiser. And when all else fails, pizza and boxed wine work wonders.
My mother and I are both terrible procrastinators, so anything that gets served at our holiday parties either was made long in advance and frozen (like our baklava) or was whipped up in a jiffy that afternoon (like our smoked salmon canapés with dill crème fraîche on toast points). We don't spend a lot of time fussing around with finger foods that take hours to create and seconds to demolish. Our staples our finger-lickin' good, usually pretty healthy (nothing deep-fried or artificial, though we make some exceptions for holiday favorites, like eggnog) and easy. The most important thing is that our guests have variety and abundance—though not so much to make them skip the main meal if there is one.
Another key factor is making sure that guests can serve themselves drinks. This saves us so much time when we're worrying about getting food passed around and allows people to feel at home, which loosens the crowd up. The rum punch doesn't hurt, either. I love the aesthetic of a gorgeous punch bowl filled with red liquid, and it's easy to make in bulk and have people serve themselves. Even better, if you whip up a specialty drink like this, you don't need to provide a full bar. This is especially nice when throwing a party in a cramped space or on a tight budget. Of course, it's always good to have wine, beer, water and a nonalcoholic cocktail on hand.
Watching Your Waist
Hosting your own party is great because you can pick and choose what you want to eat very easily. Eating at a friend's house or an office holiday party, however, is another matter altogether. The biggest foes to holiday dieters are empty calories found in refined crackers and cookies and the liquid calories in sugary drinks. Unfortunately, it can be very hard to avoid these items when they're all that's available.
Here are a couple of easy tips to keep in mind to prepare for these types of venues. With a little bit of forethought, you'll be able to enjoy yourself without popping a button in your trousers.
First, set yourself up for success by arriving full—or at least not starving. Put some fiber in your system by eating a small salad while you're getting ready. Or, if you're running late, eat a piece of fruit on your way. And when you get to the party, don't lurk by the snack table...that's just cruel.
Keep a glass of water in your hand at all times. Drinking plenty of water will help you stay full and keep at least one of your hands busy while also hydrating you from the inside out so you wake up with a glowing complexion—major plus! Additionally, keeping a glass of water in your hand will stave off the desire to down a few glasses of champagne and the few hundred calories that come with them.
If you do arrive starving and are craving a cocktail, observe moderation. Have a taste of the holiday offerings, but remember that these events are about socializing and enjoying the company of others, not about scarfing the free food and booze.
Enjoying Friends and Family
And this brings us to the final holiday hurdle: making sure to keep everything in perspective.
The holidays are holy days. They're meant for religious observance and reflection. Even if you're not religious, the holidays give us all time to appreciate the wonderful blessings we've been fortunate to receive and to look for ways to bestow such blessings on others.
Everyone may celebrate differently, but I think the most important thing to remember is that the holidays are only as significant as we allow them to be. They may remind us to be our best selves because they force us to see the big picture.
Why Oprah loves the holiday season
The feeling of community that is palpable as so many come together to rest and celebrate reminds us to think about others and what we can be doing to help those we know and those we don't. While looking for ways to be of service shouldn't necessarily be something we need reminding of, each of us can lose sight at some point during the year. The holidays bring us back to center just in time to start the new year with fresh eyes and open hearts.
We are each only one person, hopefully growing better as we grow older. Somewhere along the way, we realize that personal growth has as much to do with helping others as it does with helping ourselves, and learning to live this every day is part of the life journey.
Having great family and friends along for the ride makes it all the more fun.
Share your best holiday mental health tips in the comments area below.
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, March 14, 2014
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