I Have A Love/Hate Relationship with the Holidays

Cup of coffee and holiday decorations. unsplash - Toa Heftiba

Who can resist the lights sparkling everywhere, the smell of a fresh Christmas Tree, latkes sizzling on the stove, the crinkle of the wrapping paper as you measure out the precise amount of paper… and the food. All the food. Brownies, cookies, cakes, charcuterie boards. If your workplace is anything like mine was, Christmas was made for lunchtime gathering around the kitchen. We used to take turns bringing in something new every day. We’d sneak bites between patients, during our breaks, and finish our treats at the end of every lunchtime. It was delicious, but exhausting. I would make a promise to myself that each day was the end of my indulgences, that the next day I would be “good.” It lasted about 20 minutes, when I would remember the rich chocolates or cookies lightly coated with confectioner’s sugar and think to myself, “Well, a little bit more wouldn’t kill me…”

Finally, a few years ago, I decided I’d had enough of the stomachaches every night, and decided to make a rule for myself: no free food. I decided not to count the office Christmas party, because we all need some indulgences in our lives, and I also knew that my family would have several holiday events where there would be some major food favorites. But other than these special events, I was committed: No. Free. Food.

Day 1, my coworker brought homemade brownies. I thought it would be agony watching my coworkers consume those delectable little morsels, but to my surprise, I barely even noticed. It was like once the decision had already been made, I didn’t care at all. Would it get harder as the days went on? I wondered.

Brownies at a holiday event

The month flew by. The fact that I didn’t partake in the daily parade of sweets didn’t detract from the office Secret Santa, or the charity drive for toys and canned goods. I hung up a paper tree on my door, and my coworkers and I gathered at lunch one day to make decorations. I headed home each day feeling festive and cheerful, rather than bloated and sick. And when the office Christmas party rolled around, I found some extra space for a Chocolate Martini and some assorted cookies that were simply out of this world (and maybe a few extra shrimp cocktails because who doesn’t love a good shrimp cocktail?!). I felt happy, sated, and accomplished. I even inspired a few of my coworkers to join me in my “no free food” rule the following year, and we all agreed that we felt better and enjoyed the special occasions more because of our limitations.

This year, planning for the holiday looks different. Instead of decorating my office, I’ll be decorating my travel trailer with my husband and son. Instead of an office Christmas party, I’ll be Zoom-ing with my friends and family members, grateful for the connection but longing for a day we can gather in person. For this year, planning for the holidays means not letting myself be consumed by what isn’t there. There is definitely some grief that I have to process, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in that. But to ignore the grief would be a disservice; life is just not always rainbows and sunshine.

But we can’t let the grief consume us — so this holiday will look different. What traditions can you salvage? My “no free food” rule doesn’t really apply anymore, but my family has other traditions that I can enjoy. Latkes and sour cream, walnut butter cookies, gathering each night around our advent calendars, and the Hanson Christmas album (both the original and the newest one!) on repeat. Without a company food drive, I’ve been trying to contribute more when I swing by the grocery store, either by purchasing one of those pre-made donation bags that they set out every year, or by purchasing a few extra canned items and then dropping them off at a food bank.

giving presents during holiday season

Maybe this year is also a good year for making new traditions. I’ve never strung up popcorn before, but I’ve admired it in photos and commercials. My husband’s family used to melt down chocolate and put it into Christmas-shaped molds and cover them with tin foil. They would then decorate their Christmas tree with these homemade Christmas chocolates (carefully avoiding the twinkling lights which promised to melt their hard work into a big sticky mess!). I love teaching my 16-month-old son the basics of cooking, and melting chocolate sounds right up his ally this year. I’ve already broken out the Christmas music (even though my rule is usually no Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving!) and I’m determined to teach my son how to play dreidel.

This holiday season will look different than most, but maybe that’s also a good thing. Instead of steeling myself up to face the overabundance, this year is about sitting back and being grateful for all that I have. What traditions do you look forward to each year? What are you doing differently this year? I’d love to hear all about your 2020 plans!

Caroline is an Integrative Nutrition Health coach and a licensed pediatric feeding specialist. Through her company, Nest Level Care (www.nestlevelcare.com, @nestlevelcare), she provides health and wellness coaching for new mothers, while also supporting families with feeding practices for children, whether they are breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or starting solids! When she isn’t providing individualized services for her Nest Level Care clients, you can find her on Instagram (@campernicus), traveling around the US in a travel trailer with her husband, son, and dog, or watching episodes of The Great British Baking Show.

Preparing dashboard.