Now that the holidays are behind us, and I have the benefit of hindsight, I find it an ideal time to conduct a postmortem, in order to assess the main causes contributing to the one-of-a-kind stress that rolls around every December. By Nicole Caccavo Kear, Art by Heather Heckel
I wish I could pen an article about how to reduce holiday stress, because I think that would be a very useful piece that might improve your quality of life in some small but important way.
Regrettably, I’m unqualified to write such an article. If this last Christmas has taught me anything, it’s that I am terrible at stress reduction. I am, however, excellent at stress amplification. And, also, sarcasm. And so I offer you . . .
There are many things I have no idea how to do – use the timer on my oven, for instance, or change the security settings on my Iphone. But if there is one thing I’m excellent at, it is maximizing stress. Choosing the most ambitious, complicated and anxiety-orovoking way to do things. When it comes to Holiday Stress, I’m the nonpareil.
Anatomy of Holiday Stress
1. The Making of Holiday Cards
The way so many of us kick off our season of stress! It’s unnecessary, vaguely eco-hostile, budget-sucking and, let’s face it, kind of an imposition on the people you send to, who have to find a festive way to deal with the card onslaught.
Stress is maximized when and if you use the cheapest photo card company, with the least user-friendly design platform. This will ensure it takes at least three hours to make a crappy card with lousy fonts you don’t even like.
For extra agida, don’t get around to making the card until mid- December, matters are exacerbated, as you will stress every day the package fails to arrive in the mail. This will also necessitate that you rush like a deranged person to address the envelopes as soon as they arrive.
Pro tip: Lowball your order so you end up with too few cards and have to agonize over who will get a card and who will not. This will cause long-term stress, too, as you’ll wonder for weeks, months, or even years if one of the people who didn’t make the cut is bearing a grudge against you.
2. A Trip to Santaland
Nothing kicks holiday stress into high gear like a trip to Santaland at Macy’s. Maximum unpleasantness can be achieved if you go without your spouse, and take all your kids, even the middle schooler who hasn’t believed in Santa in half a decade. In fact, that child will lay the foundation for Santaland stress by constant referencing Santaland’s “blatant consumerism.” The middle child elevates who has zero tolerance for standing still or waiting in line. And whatever you do, take your four year-old because not only is she the one most likely to be terrified of Santa and beg to leave just as you’ve gotten to the front of the line but nothing says Stressed Out at Christmas as much as your preschooler disappearing into massive mobs at Macy’s.
Pro tip: Use your time-tested, fail-proof, secret Santaland shortcut– it won’t work and your stress will be exacerbated by the fact that it takes you by surprise.
3. Buying a Christmas Tree
A real one, naturally. This will require you to re-invent the wheel every year, and also feel guilt at the small part you played in de-forestation. Then, too, there’s the trouble of cleaning up hundreds of little needles, watering the tree and constantly worrying about it catching your apartment on fire. Let your children trim the tree, ideally with precious and fragile heirlooms.
Pro tip: Make a big deal about the great honor of placing the star atop the tree. That way, your three kids can argue about who gets to do it, and two thirds of them will be disgruntled.
4. The Making of Christmas Cookies with Your Kids
You may be tempted to pick a simple cookie, but if you really want to burn out, choose the Industry Standard for Stressful Baking With Children – the sugar cookie. This baking process has four different phases– mixing dough, cutting shapes, baking, and decorating – but appears deceptively simple, thus robbing you of the recognition for your great labor.
Pro Tip: Make icing by sifting confectioner’s sugar into boiling water. This variety of icing gives you a window of approximately three minutes to apply before it hardens, and is rendered useless. If there’s one thing more stressful than baking with small children, it’s baking with small children, fast!
Here is where maximizing stress gets tricky. Different modes of transportation offer different kinds of stress, and it’s hard to tell which is worse. On the one hand, driving all day in the close quarters of a clown car, with the near-guarantee of traffic, and the high probability of hazardous winter weather – that’s classic holiday stress. On the other hand, there are stressors that only air travel can offer: the total lack of control, huge delays and last-minute cancellations, turbulence, dealing with overworked and irritable airport staff, and, of course, the other passengers on the plane, who might, at any moment, freak out for any number of reasons and derail your whole holiday.
Pro tip: Don’t bring a change of clothes for your little one who is one hundred percent guaranteed to spill the complimentary beverage all over herself and probably you, too.
6. Believing in Santa
Santa means stress for the whole family. The kids can worry about ending up on the naughty list, to say nothing of having a fat old guy watching them while they sleep. Your stress as parents is both practical and emotional. Perpetuating the myth of Santa requires you to wait until as late as possible before stuffing the stockings and putting the gifts under the tree, and you will worry all the while that one of the kids will stumble in, Cindy-Lou-Who-style, and catch you red-handed. But that’s not all! You also get to worry, every Christmas, that this is the year they’ll ask whether Santa is real and you will have to break their hopeful little hearts by telling them the truth. It doesn’t get more stressful than that.
Nicole C. Kear is the author of the forthcoming chapter books for children, Have No Fear! and Sticks and Stones, the first two books in a series entitled The Fix-It Friends (Imprint, May 2017).