The strangest and most taxing year we Americans have collectively faced is about to get even more complicated: We now all have to figure out what to do about the upcoming holidays. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and a wild election season, this year seems to have flown by and it’s harder than ever to keep track of time. But, believe it or not, the holidays are just around the corner.
And this year, aside from the usual worrying about how we’re going to manage the celebrations, we have many more questions to ask ourselves. Should we gather indoors as usual, where we’ll most readily spread the virus? Gather outdoors in the cold, where we’re safer? Tell our families we won’t be seeing them this year except at a distance on FaceTime or Zoom?
With all of these decisions to make, it’s important that we keep in mind what’s best for us and our friends and families. Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s Eve, these important tips will help you stay focused on how to have a safe, healthy, and sustainable holiday.
For many, simply seeing family and friends is reason enough to celebrate.
In any given year, for many of us the holidays are a magical time of year when we get to reconnect with loved ones we may not get to see often or to give thanks to those who mean the world to us. But, for others, they’re also a stressful time. Personality clashes, conflicts that seem to surface every year and relatives who are simply unpleasant can certainly put a damper on the festivities.
Instead of preparing for battle this season, there are many ways that you can make family gatherings more enjoyable. And something that you’ll want to come back to year after year.
Adjust your expectations and your attitude.
Instead of worrying about what will happen, choose behaviors that can help decrease your anxiety. It could even be helpful to do something relaxing such as practicing yoga or listening to music. Try focusing on the positive. “Before get-togethers with family members, think about the qualities you like about them, rather than focusing on the negative,” says Diep Ho, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Rancho San Diego.
Your stress level won’t already be high before you see them, which will help you be more tolerant and able to tactfully respond to the actions that irritate you.
Try to avoid bringing up sensitive topics.
Politics and religion are obvious, but people also bring up sensitive subjects without thinking about how they might affect others. “Are you ever going to get married?” may seem harmless, but more likely than not, it will strike a nerve. Plan to keep conversation conflict-free by avoiding potentially sensitive topics, or simply ask what’s new and take it from there.
Keep calm, take a breath!
Can’t physically leave a stressful situation? You can always focus on your breathing. Take five slow, deep breaths, focusing on breathing in and out. According to Dr. Ho, even this short break can have a powerful effect on stress and anxiety.
Keep in mind that you can only change yourself. “You can’t change what your difficult relatives are going to do,” says Dr. Ho. “Don’t waste your energy trying to change others and accept that you can only control your own actions and thoughts.”
And when it comes to the environment, the holidays aren’t exactly the most sustainable time of year.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw away a million extra tons of garbage each week, including holiday wrapping and packaging. We also use more electricity on holiday lights than some countries use in an entire year.
According to the packaging company GWP Group, 125,000 tons of plastic wrapping used for food will be discarded over the holidays. Around 1 billion Christmas cards could end up in the garbage, and 55 square miles of wrapping paper will be thrown out or burnt. Just because it’s a time of holiday cheer that doesn’t mean you have to throw the future of the planet in the trash with the leftovers. All this waste is really unnecessary.
Make your own gift wrap or go without!
Most mass-produced wrapping paper you find in stores is not recyclable because of the shiny coatings, foils and colors, and therefore ends up in landfills. And sadly, most wrapping paper and ribbon is produced in sweatshops!
What a shame so much water, oil and trees are wasted every year solely to produce something that exists only to be torn off and thrown away. Instead, here’s a great chance to get creative! Wrap presents with old maps, the comics section of a newspaper, or children’s artwork. Or use a scarf, attractive dish towel, bandana, or some other useful cloth item that is a gift in and of itself.
Buy energy-saving lights!
Thanks to technology, you can now decorate your house with LED lights that use 90 percent less energy than conventional holiday lights, and can save your family up to $50 on your energy bills during the holiday season! As an added bonus, LEDs release little heat, and they last about 200,000 hours. In the unlikely event that one does burn out, the rest of the lights keep on glowing.
DIY gifts are great for the environment and fun to do.
There are so many ways to reduce your consumption impact when giving holiday gifts. DIY gifts like homemade ornaments, crafty picture frames with photos of loved ones in them, homemade vanilla extract, or handmade soap can be as much fun to make and give as to receive.
Or give the gift of an experience!
My favorite gift to give is the gift of an experience. By giving gifts that can be experienced, you can minimize wrapping and shopping, and still win points with the receiver. Anything that allows your loved one to spend quality time experiencing something fun, new or interesting will make a gift sure to be remembered for years to come.
And definitely try and recycle your Christmas tree!
Each year, 10 million Christmas trees end up in the landfill. While your tree won’t fit in the recycling bin with your newspapers and bottles, you can recycle your tree: many cities offer programs to turn your tree to mulch or wood chips. Some cities even use your old trees to do important environmental projects like streambank stabilization.