The Official Guide: How To Lose Your Cool Over the Holidays

“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?” –Clark Griswold, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  Considering it arrives late this year, our shopping days will be shortened; a cruel, Christmas joke for those who aren’t predisposed to early holiday prep.  At this juncture in the year, many of us have resigned ourselves to simply surviving the long list of holiday expectations without having it end in epic failure.

When we think of the epic holiday fail, many of our minds immediately jump to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, let me attempt a tidy summary.  It’s a movie about the stereotypical awkward family (understatement), trying to survive visits from quirky relatives (understatement), scrambling to find the perfect gift, while experiencing lighting debacles (understatement), avoiding uptight neighbors, and salvaging a squirrel-infested Christmas tree.  If this resonates with your own holiday experience, you should call me; I know a few therapists.

As an aside, my yearly review of the movie left me mortified to realize I own the same reading glasses as Clark Griswold.  A bold argument against repurposing unisex fashion from decades ago as vintage and trendy, but that’s for another post.

So in the spirit of holiday mishaps, and as an homage to the quintessential Christmas catastrophe known as the Griswolds, here’s a list of ten actionable items that will ensure you lose it over family festivities:

1–Bring up every hot button issue with the extended family.  Including, but not limited to: the debt ceiling, healthcare, and your mother-in-law’s haircut.

2–Camp out in the living room of your distant relatives, for the entirety of the holiday season, and be sure to arrive unannounced.

3–Challenge yourself to accept every party invitation and volunteer your family to help with prep AND clean-up.  Then wax eloquent on how it’s a “character building” exercise.

4–Visit all relatives in one, 16-hour period, preferably arriving in your SUV adorned with a luggage rack to cart all gifts, leftovers, and your family therapist on retainer. (Note: Your family therapist would kindly appreciate a seat in the car.)

5–Gift wrap each awkwardly-shaped stocking stuffer…wait for it…for 15 to 20 people.  (Not that I’ve done this before.)

6–String your prettiest, holiday lights over the stairs so that while you’re snoozing after last-minute shopping, your kids can use them to bungee jump down and rifle through the bags.  (Kids, this is way better in theory than execution.)

7–Scramble for Parent of the Year award (defying the deadline), by making 12 dozen, hand-decorated sugar cookies in a 2-hour period for son’s boy scout troop.

8–Get a head start on the epic New Year’s resolution to forego boundary setting, beginning with a universal, open-ended invitation to family and friends to stop by.

9–Volunteer your spouse for every holiday event you’re solicited to help with…without telling them.  (Note: In the game of life, once your spouse finds out, do not pass go, proceed directly to the sofa.)

10–Last but not least, the best way to enjoy the epic holiday fail is to forego Christmas lists and subscribe every dear friend and relative to the jelly of the month club.  After all, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

 

Happy holidays, everyone!!

 

Have other tips to add to the list?  Feel free to post in the comments.

Christmas Longing

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive.  There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them.   –George Eliot

There seems to be an automatic and existential longing in our hearts to experience the holidays as a magical time of warmth, comfort, and love–a desire for Christmas to fulfill our hopes and dreams.  The holidays have often been packaged as such, and tied with a lovely bow, beckoning us to believe (cue holiday melody) that everything will be okay and all our worries will melt away once Christmas is here.

The holidays have come to symbolize our yearning for the consummation of such transcendent wishes as world peace.  We hope upon hope that the fulfillment we’re promised during this season will carry over and magically revive us all year long.  We also hope that if enough of us embody the spirit of the holidays, that incarnation will permeate the world until every being experiences serenity.

I know I secretly desire that to be true.  I want the world to be at peace and each of us to know love, joy, and freedom.  While I long for that, my experience tells me that humanity doesn’t find peace simply by being in the holidays.  In fact, many of us emerge on the other side feeling upset, depressed, and exhausted by the entirety of the seasonal experience.  With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a little storyteller who truly personifies what we want the holidays to be about.

There’s a beautiful, little boy in my life with silky, jet-black hair and an olive complexion.  His name is Max.  If you look at his cherub cheeks—rosy and round, he’s the picture of health.  He loves to talk, relentlessly, with few words ever reaching recognizable form as they fly across his lips, rapid and ardent.  He’ll determinedly wobble around a room bringing one object from a bin to your hands and back to the bin again, for hours.  This is a hard day’s work for him.  He’s in the business of learning, and he’s doing it with all the gumption he can muster, while prattling away to the dog, the nearest couch pillow, and the air, indiscriminately.  He requires no response from his audience as he boldly and emphatically steps across the floor with a lego in hand, or a ball, or an infinitesimal piece of fuzz.  It’s essential, of course, to show you each piece of fuzz as artwork thrust across the canvass of his hand.

This little boy represents everything we want the holidays to be about.  He revels in experiencing each new part of his world, filled with wonder and awe.  You spend five minutes with him and melt into a puddle of child-like giddiness, only to recover with the inspiration to dance around the room and swing him in your arms, as his infectious laughter fills every nearby corner.

There’s something unique about this particular, little guy.  Max is adopted.  This small, wondrous being represents the culmination of hopes and dreams to two people who deeply love him.  He is a true Christmas miracle.  He’s a gift of inestimable proportions.  Being with him reminds me of beauty, love, and grace, the essence of things that were once a shadow of hope for two, dear friends.  The fortunate parents of this little boy know just what it means to have deep longings.  And a year and a half ago they took him home, experiencing the fulfillment of their hopes.

Instead of looking to the holiday season to fulfill our yearnings for the deep and beautiful things in this world, we would do well to find those longings stirred to life in the world we already have—the world we live in, breathe in, and generously occupy every day of the year.  Coming in contact with someone like Max is a reminder of the truly beautiful in the midst of the truly mundane.

A predetermined holiday can’t give us what we’re searching for.  But connections with people, like this little man, can point us toward the source of those longings.  There are people in each of our lives who intersect with us in just the right way that they both unsettle and allure our hearts.  Unsettling may sound like a negative word, but it can be shapely and positive.  When we are unsettled, uprooted, disoriented, unnerved, and disturbed, we can come face to face with the longings that are intensely rooted in us, ones that would typically stay buried unless there was an evocative person to draw them out.  These desires won’t be satisfied by a superficial view of annual celebrations.  These desires point towards a dissatisfaction that calls out for resolution.  Will you listen to the longings this holiday season?  Where do you think you’ll find what you’re yearning for?

 

A Gift Giving Guide By Ebenezer Scrooge

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man, as the good old city knew, or as any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.  –Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

It strikes me as odd that trees turn to sticks, sloughing off their foliage just weeks before we’re thrust into the requisite, gift-giving season.  It’s as if nature is shrugging away the last vestige of its bountiful, autumn gift in protest of the holiday trappings–trappings that can feel as prickly and barren as an unadorned oak tree in winter.

What’s even more unfortunate is that this sacrosanct undressing opens my expansive set of office windows to an unencumbered view of the Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s as if the beautiful oak outside my windows, emblazoned with red and yellow in the Fall, is shedding its leaves as a callous tribute to one of the least desirable trappings of the holidays: last minute gift shopping.

There’s an economy to gift-giving, one that would make Scrooge proud.  Mind you, I’m not talking about the dollar value of the gift.  I’m referring to something much broader and more subconscious than that.  There’s the transactional analysis between the gift giver and the receiver where the tone, gesture, chosen time, and type of gift all communicate the level of value the recipient has to the giver.  We instinctively know, upon receiving a gift, what it truly cost the giver.  We instinctively know, upon receiving a gift, our relational value by virtue of the giver’s choice.

One wife who receives perfume from her husband every year knows that it’s his expression of familiarity, care, comfort, and thoughtfulness.  She knows that he is secretly communicating that he loves her scent and he is still committed, year after year.  While another wife, upon receiving the same yearly gift knows it’s her husband’s uninspired expression, an unwelcome interruption to his hurried, holiday pace.

No pressure, right?

One of the sticking points of the holidays is all the “gifts” we give in reaction to intuitively understood expectations.  We give of our time, energy, and emotional resources.  We give away those last, solid three minutes of uninterrupted space to add extra holly to the table decorations.  We give away moments of laughter with a beloved friend to sprint through the mall and grab the last, shiny gift card to (insert relative’s favorite restaurant, clothing store, or holiday event). We give away the opportunity for silence, solace, breath and immerse ourselves in chaos, noise, and crowd.

Please don’t mistake me, here.  I love moments of frantic, fast-paced, shopping and delicious, party noise.  I love to immerse myself in surround sound laughter, jokes, and stories around hot chocolate or wine during this time of year.

However, if there is an economy to gift giving, and if the definition of giving can be broadened to include time, emotional reserves, and energy, then a transactional analysis would say we have limited assets to give.  How many of us approach the holidays as if we have infinite energy and emotional resources only to come out on the other side in the red?  How many of us feel worn and aged by the season, wondering afterwards how we’ll ever be able to generate more emotional revenue?

When we indiscriminately give away our “gifts”, we run the risk of depleting our resources to the point where we can’t give the offerings that truly matter to the people who truly matter. Read that again, and slowly.  We can’t give the offerings that truly matter to the people – who truly matter.

In case this is all sounding too theoretical, and on the strong chance that you’re bored with (or panicked by) the economy metaphor, let’s talk details.  Most of us have a good idea, early on, what the holiday landscape will look like.  There are the annual parties, children’s performances, work outings, volunteer opportunities, etc. So as we take a moment to observe that landscape, it’s important to ask ourselves a few questions:

  • If I attempt to do it all, will the people I value suffer?
  • Which activities provide the most meaning to myself and the people I care about?
  • Which activities unnecessarily deplete my reserves?
  • Which activities are really just noise?
  • What is my mission for this season? In other words, what would give this season true value?

As we ask ourselves these questions, we can choose to make the people and things we value most a holiday priority.  Since gift giving communicates how much we value the other, maybe we can all broaden our definitions of giving this year, and think carefully about to whom, how, and why we choose to give.  Maybe the best gift you’ll receive this year is the holiday note from a friend scribbled in marker on that faded, blue card.  Maybe the best gift you’ll give this year is a radiant smile, a meaningful embrace, or a can of soup to someone in need.

If each of us embraced this concept of intentional giving, maybe we would look a bit more like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol; our experience of the holidays would be transformed and transformational in our own hearts and in the world around us.  And like Scrooge experienced, maybe a bit more merriment would return to our season.  Could we possibly have that twinkle in our eyes, and a lightened, bouncing step through the holidays?

Art as Relationship

When art is done well, it mirrors the many facets of human connection. It whispers of relationship, beckoning beyond what is to what could be.

Woodberry Kitchen creates great art. It creates it in a common language that points us towards the already and not yet of relationships. The atmosphere, food, and drink inspire with warmth. The flavors are comfortable and familiar, yet intensely bright. When I’m there, it’s as if they know better than I do what I’m craving. The thoughtfulness that goes into their food stirs my longings for that same level of intention with friends and family. We all want relationships that are thoughtful, warm, and inviting.

Woodberry Kitchen tells a story through the common language of food. They tell that story so well, in fact, that my friend Brody decided to showcase the restaurant in his video.

Brody is a branding humanitarian. He creates the opportunity for companies to tell their stories by helping them connect with the humanity in others.

His company’s vision is based on the co-constructed narrative of relational value. He explains it this way: “We are all relational and finite creatures… We can’t do everything ourselves. We need the services of others to make our lives complete…We want to be with those who see the light we see, who value what we value, who are inspired by what inspires us.”

This recognition of interconnectedness in his company’s pursuit of branding draws many to their doors. They get the core of what we’re attracted to. We want to interact with other people who are inspired by what inspires us. We want to do life with those who create art–art that we can connect with personally.

Our humanity requires connection. We can not escape it, no matter how hard we try. For better or worse, we are in relationship with one another.

For the duration of 2013, I want to explore that interconnectedness. I want to look at it from different angles, inspecting each side with curiosity. I would like to invite you to explore with me. We’ll consider storytellers, themes, and contexts, that share a common journey.

This is purposefully done with the holidays in mind. As we approach a season that’s meant to celebrate those connections, we often find ourselves in conflict with others. There can be a clash of values, desires, and expectations, to name a few.

If we all long for those connections, why are they particularly hard to come by during the “most wonderful time of the year”?

The holidays can be a time of inspirational experiences. A time filled with the creation of art in its purest form. A time where thoughtfulness comes to life. Those opportunities are often hindered by a variety of conflicts that seem to intensify during this season.

As we reflect together on the anticipation and trepidation that comes with the holidays, I hope we can begin a conversation that adds value beyond the temporal season. I hope we can tell each other stories of the Woodberry Kitchens and the branding humanitarians, stories of connections awakened. It is my belief that those stories will reveal the artful longings behind our humanity.

Stay tuned…