Ahhh, the holidays. That joyful riot of candles and lights and smartly-wrapped packages, the sound of silver bells and sleigh bells jingling on the road to grandmother's house. There's so much to love about the holidays...but sometimes, the bustle of it all can become overwhelming. If the prospect of checking your list twice and decking your halls is filling you with anxiety, try focusing on the three R's...holiday edition.
If you're a birthy person like me, you may already be familiar with Penny Simkin's Three R's for childbirth. (If you're preparing for birth, it's absolutely worth familiarizing yourself with these strategies -- hopefully, your childbirth educator will share them with you, but if not, you can find Penny's article here.) Penny's three R's are rhythm, relaxation, and ritual, and, for me, these are just as much cornerstones of a joyful holiday season as they are of a safe and healthy birth.
In childbirth, rhythm is a repetitive action -- for example, tapping your feet or using a regular swaying motion. As we move into the holiday season, I think of rhythm in terms of routine -- those things that we do over and over again until they are almost second-nature. Amid all the hustle and bustle of preparations, I find that it's helpful to keep a stable routine for my children (and for my own sanity). We may have odd days where we need to change things up, but we have that stability to ground us and, in a sense, come home to.
And I love the "holiday edition" of my routine. I love the addition of the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree to my morning cup of coffee with my husband. I love sipping a mug of cocoa instead of a glass of iced lemonade as my kids and I enjoy an afternoon snack. And instead of mixing a monster batch of ice cream, we do eggnog. We retire the ubiquitous chocolate-chip cookie for frosted snowmen or buttery spritz.
Rhythm is a good thing. It's a calming thing -- and who doesn't need a little more of this during this season? And it's a perfect way to enjoy the holidays without creating needless chaos.
For our family, the first glimmer of the holiday season comes just after Halloween. Every year, my parents, my sister, and my family (which now numbers 8) come together to make fruitcake. Everyone has a job to do, from mixing the batter to measuring the sugar to chopping the candied cherries. Our favorite Christmas music plays in the background, and we always hope that maybe, just maybe, it will be cold enough for a fire (it's Texas, y'all...it could be 90 degrees outside).
After Thanksgiving, our Christmas preparations begin in earnest. In our faith tradition, we mark this time by the season of Advent, and I've created an Advent plan that lets us, little by little, enjoy the season with joyful expectation. My kids know the plan and look forward to each week's activity. It's like unwrapping the brightness and beauty of the season, and I love it.
Unfortunately, part of my ritual still seems to be the jerky hop and trip at the end, when I inevitably discover that, in spite of my careful planning, I forgot something for someone (or two). My father, on the other hand, has transformed that last-minute panic into an elegant and delightful part of his holiday ritual: every year, he saves one thing to buy on Christmas Eve. Maybe this year I'll try embracing the inevitable and make it part of my ritual too.
Perhaps the most elusive of the three R's, relaxation during this busy season can become just another thing to check off the list. Wrapping presents - check. Hung the wreath - check. Sit down for five minutes with a cup of tea - check. What's relaxing about that?
Having a rhythm and a ritual to the season actually aids relaxation. Everything has its time and its place, and you can settle in by the fire and just...drink it all in. There's a time for shopping and wrapping gifts, for baking and decorating, for parties and entertaining. And there's time for roasting chestnuts by the fire, for dreaming about all those plans you've made.
And relaxation isn't (just) an end in itself. Just as relaxation in birth is meant to help the process of labor work as it should, relaxation during the holidays is about enjoying the season. So smile and take a deep breath...and then make this the most wonderful time of the year!
About S.K. Valenzuela
S.K. is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and teaches childbirth and baby care classes at a major Dallas hospital. She also enjoys freelancing about all things mothering. Her book, Mothering the Mother of Many, will be released in January 2013. She also enjoys writing fiction, and her second novel, The Lords of Askalon, will be released in November. For more information about her current projects, please visit her at www.skvalenzuela.com and follow her on Twitter at @skvalenzuela. She and her husband and their six beautiful children live in Dallas, Texas.