Since the middle of October (or in the case of Walmart, right alongside their back to school specials) all signs point to a holiday arriving sometime in December. Regardless of your faith traditions and cultural backgrounds, you’re no doubt being subjected to an onslaught of advertising, décor and music everywhere you shop. It can be a little overwhelming and often, for many folks regardless of their age, the holidays can be a stressful time. That’s why today we thought we’d talk a bit about surviving the holidays – or at least getting you through until all signs point to a holiday – down south that is!
For many of us in the 50+ demographic, the holidays mean the return of offspring to the empty nest.
This might mean changes in sleeping arrangements, an increase in your grocery bill, late nights and even later mornings, all while you still have holiday shopping, baking, wrapping and decorating to do. Here are a few tips on making your holiday experience with family more manageable and memorable for all the RIGHT reasons!
- Whether for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwaanza or New Year’s, finding that “perfect” something for the people you love is often challenging. Sometimes we overlook the obvious and that is that spending time with loved ones is almost always what we remember most, long after the unwrapping and gift-giving is done. The laughter, stories, reminiscing and traditions are truly what add value to the holidays.
- One of our favorite things to do at this time of year is make a traditional Latvian dish that requires pretty much a full day of work in the kitchen. Oma, the Aunts, Nanna, cousins, myself and the kids would all gather round and take turns piling in the filling and rolling and shaping the dough. It’s become such a part of our celebrations that we would all book a day off work and school to take part. Now with Oma gone we try even harder to maintain the tradition in part to honor her memory. That day with family is better than any candle from a chain store or scarf that might be pretty but isn’t really necessary.
- If you don’t already have a tradition in place – start one! Do a “bake and take” where everyone pitches in, bake to fill your freezer for the holidays and have everyone take home a tray of goodies too. Arrange a Christmas movie night with popcorn and treats and everyone comes in their PJ’s to watch a cheesy, funny Christmas special. Include a hot chocolate “bar” with marshmallows and sprinkles for the little ones in your life.
- A “gift” for the holidays isn’t always what comes from a store but what comes from the heart. A gift of time, especially for an older senior, is often the most precious gift of all.
- If you DO still need to do some shopping, take advantage of online retailers or purchase gift cards. Those hard to buy for grandkids (after all, who can keep up with what’s trendy these days!) will be far more appreciative of the opportunity to make their own selections from one of their favorite stores. One year, between gift cards and money, one of my kids purchased a FitBit! It was a gift-giving win for everyone!
- The holidays can get expensive and food and alcohol are often part of the expenses. Try to set a budget ahead of time and then stick to it! It’s a bit late now to pre-purchase some of your items but perhaps think about that for next year. Take advantage of sales on items that can be frozen or stored away, perhaps even making a list of baking you’ll be doing and stocking up on ingredients ahead of time.
- Keep it simple. You don’t have to invite 30 of your closest friends and family, do several smaller celebrations instead, inviting a more manageable number. Make these events “Wine and Hor’s D’ouerves” so that no big meal planning is required. Or, you could have folks over for a Sunday afternoon “Spiked Hot Chocolate and Dessert” party (Baileys is always yummy for this adult treat.) Use paper plates and napkins for ALL your holiday entertaining to lighten the load on your dishwasher and on you.
- Set your table ahead of time. The last thing you need to do is rush from kitchen to the dining table while fussing over the holiday meal. Everyone loves a pretty table and it doesn’t have to be elaborate but taking the time to do it a day or even two days ahead of time frees you up for other last minute tasks on the day of the main event!
- Have an open house where people come and go as they please within a certain time frame. Serve treats, chips and crackers and cheese – things that don’t require an oven or even that much prep time. That way it won’t matter what time people arrive. If you want to serve something hot, consider chilli or soup on the stove and fresh bread and encourage people to help themselves.
- Is the main holiday meal your responsibility? Cook the main dish (or 2) but ask guests to contribute by bringing along their favorite side dish. Almost everyone has a speciality and chances are they’d be only too happy to contribute. Plan ahead to ensure there is no duplication and encourage disposable containers to keep clean up to a minimum.
- If you don’t want to ask for contributions, make your side dishes ahead of time and freeze them. Just about any casserole, vegetable dish and even mashed potatoes can be made ahead and reheated and still be tasty!
- Overnight Guests and/or your kids and maybe even your grandkids coming home? If space is at a premium and you don’t have multiple guest rooms, (who does?) consider investing in those camp type blow up beds and an electric pump. Put them up at night and tuck them away during the day.
- Ask your guests to bring sleeping bags, especially for the little ones. They’ll think it’s an adventure and little ones can handle sleeping on the floor! It’ll save on your post-holiday laundry too and if it’s only for a day or two no one really minds.
- Make sure you have plenty of fresh towels available and as an added touch – perhaps consider providing each guest with toiletry items (like those you find in a hotel.) Have a little holiday gift bag waiting for them with these items and perhaps a chocolate or two as a treat to make them feel welcome.
Phew. That’s a lot to think about. But it’s not too late! Start now and you’ll still have time before the holidays begin in earnest. That’s plenty of time to plan a small gathering for your immediate friends or neighbours or to both bake and cook items ahead of time that can be frozen until the big day. Hopefully these tips help you to not only survive but thrive during the holiday season. We’re all the same – we secretly want our kids to leave the nest and then, when we’re empty-nesters, we miss them. When they come home for the holidays however, I guarantee within a day or two you’ll be dreaming of your empty-nester lifestyle again – anxiously awaiting its return! Not only that, but you might be looking for a sign…..any sign…..that points to a holiday! Down south that is!
Written by Sheralyn Roman