You know it’s just about that time of year again when pumpkins start showing up everywhere, the cobweb decorations come out, and candy corn confections line shelves while “The Monster Mash” plays in the background. Perhaps it fills you with glee that “spooky season” is in full swing with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year following right behind, or perhaps it fills you with the dread of another holiday season marked by high expectations, awkward family pressure, and unnecessary stress. Everyone has a different relationship to the holidays, but connecting with your senses helps you to stay present and get more merriness out of the next few months.
It’s important to recognize how commercialism and consumerism have warped our holiday senses. So much “hype” is created around the foods, decorations, music, and gifts of the holiday season through advertisements, social media campaigns, and storefront displays. These serve as messages about what the ideal holidays should look like, bringing out a voice in our head that tells us we’re missing out or not doing enough if we don’t meet the expectations we think everyone else has. Worse still, it seems that every year, the holiday season starts earlier and earlier. (I’ve seen Santa on the shelves since mid-July in some stores!)
Despite the increasingly early start, it’s helpful to recognize that holiday pressure isn’t remotely new. I remember how stressed my mom would get every year picking out the perfect Christmas gifts and having everything in perfect order under the tree, planning out her Thanksgiving menu weeks in advance, and decorating the spookiest haunted house. Movies like A Christmas Story always resonated with me, with Ralphie’s imperfect family and chaotic Christmas dinner that ends up with them eating out at a Chinese restaurant, or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when the Griswold’s plans of having a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas quickly goes awry. What these movies and our personal experiences reveal is how deeply rooted the “holidays” (or at least, the perfect image of them) are in our national psyche. Our focus on having the “perfect,” most festive holiday season rids us of the joy of the present and of the beauty of the people that surround us. Engaging the senses brings you back to the present and unlocks more joy out of every day.
One of my favorite ways to embrace the holiday beauty, by engaging the senses (and in a financially and stress-free way), is just going for a walk outside. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where the leaves are changing color right now, take a look at the lovely fall foliage. Feel the breeze and smell the woody air. Listen to your favorite autumn anthem as you stay cozy in your softest cashmere sweater or just listen to the leaves rustling. Getting outside instills appreciation in the natural forces that guide the holidays and helps you stay grounded in the present moment.
As winter follows, temperatures drop, and we find ourselves spending more time inside, light your favorite candle or start the fireplace. Take in the scrumptious scents and feel the warmth that envelops your home. Prepare your favorite cozy beverage, whether it’s a mug of mulled wine or hot cocoa, and listen to some Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra (or whatever fills you with glee!) Read your favorite book, or watch a soothing movie (it doesn’t have to be “Christmas-themed” to be on-season!) while cuddled beneath your softest blanket. And as you start receiving holiday cards in the mail with images of friends’, relatives’, and acquaintances’ perfect families accompanied by cheerful “seasons greetings,” remind yourself that what you’re doing in the present moment is just enough. It’s not worth the extra work sending branded cards or shipping off cookies unless it truly brings you joy. A call on the phone or simple handwritten letter are perfectly fine ways to tell people you cherish them and wish them well—in fact, they might mean even more to those you love. Dare we say that we also think putting together a fun, full-sensory HollyTales tasting experience will take some of the stress out of the season this year while connecting you in a beautiful, meaningful way with your loved ones.
We say, Holiday Stress no more! So the next time you find yourself in your local department store, I hope that you can embrace the joy of the holidays without filling up with intense dread upon seeing and hearing all the obnoxious holiday messaging. Recognize the narrative of the perfect holiday season—equipped with elaborate feasts and family gatherings and gifts galore— as exactly that: a narrative, minus the messy realities that come with living in 2021. Instead, embrace the little things which are often the most special– the beauty of changing seasons, the spicy smells of winter and autumn, the warmth of your softest sweaters, the sounds of your brightest bops, and the tastes of your favorite holiday goodies—and tell those you hold dearest that you love them.