Monday, July 21, 2014

Holiday Overload (And What Came of It)

(This is post #1 of 2 on the subject of burnout!)

This year I have - even apart from morning sickness - dealt with a surprising amount of holiday overload. Festival fatigue. Complete and total burnout. It's been an interesting experience, and I've had to start thinking about how to deal with it.

My normal pre-homeschool-mommy method of dealing with holidays was simply to forget them. It's a very convenient and stress-free way to deal with holidays, let me assure you! And it was completely natural - I'm just not a holiday-ish sort of person.

For minor holidays, I would wake up a few days after a holiday and think, "Oh, yes - St. Patrick's Day was last week. I really should have done something about that. Maybe next year."

For Christmas, I would improve a bit - I would actually remember the holiday before the day itself, usually on Christmas Eve. Then I'd throw the tree up on the way out the door to Christmas Eve service and call it a day. Pure sophistication.

For the past several years, I've felt a greater burden to do something for holidays. After all, I do want my children to have fun memories of the holidays-  and that requires remembering their existence. And I want to be a "good homeschool mommy." And to my credit, last year I actually did a very credible job of making each holiday special - searching the web for craft ideas, making special recipes, and planning activities for each and every holiday.

Valentine's Day 2013
But.... I think I overdid it. This year, all I have felt for the holidays is an intense disinterest in doing anything except pointedly ignoring them. While watching the approach of various minor holidays, my main thought has been, "Another holiday? Seriously? You're kidding me, right?"

And the holidays that weren't already neglected due to morning sickness really did get short shrift this year. I recovered enough from holiday burnout to have a wonderful time celebrating Independence Day this past week with our family, but most of the holidays of the preceding year - nope, not so much.

Thus, I've had to examine the issue of holidays. How do I deal with them so that (1) our family and our children have a fun time and fun memories, but that (2) I, as a non-decorating, non-crafting, non-artistic person do not run myself into the ground? Because the simple truth is that I do not really enjoy crafty artistic things. I greatly admire those mamas who excel in that area, but for me, it is an artificially propped-up skill that requires great effort. I highly suspect that the last time I decorate for a holiday (barring Christmas) will be just before our last child leaves home. After that, I shall relapse once more into a joyful bliss of ignoring all minor holidays!

Here are some of the thoughts I've had:

First of all, that I can reduce the guilt-load I've felt - for the simple reason that American holidays tend to be (on a cultural level) unnecessarily inflated and overdone for the sake of corporate profit. 

All together now, "Hallmark!"

The truth is that large corporations have vested interest in getting Americans to overspend and overbuy for holidays - and in inflating hitherto unheard-of holidays to national importance for the sole purpose of getting people to lay out money for cards, candy, decorations, and gifts. It's a sad fact, but it's true.

I received a confirmation of this during a recent re-read of my adored "Little House in the Big Woods" series. In reading through those books, I took special notice of how the Ingalls family celebrated holidays. Do you know which holidays I saw? Christmas and Independence Day. That was it. And they were celebrated very simply and inexpensively:
  • Christmas - A special dinner and perhaps one to three small gifts for each child (a penny, a piece of candy, a doll).
  • Independence Day - A special dinner and perhaps a trip to town to watch the festivities.
I could handle that!

But compare that to modern America! As mothers/citizens, we are now expected to go wild for both major and minor holidays:
  • President's Day
  • Martin Luther King Day
  • Valentine's Day
  • St. Patrick's Day
  • Lent and Easter
  • April Fool's Day
  • Mother's Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Father's Day
  • Flag Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Halloween/Reformation Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Advent and Christmas
  • New Year's Eve
  • New Year's Day
Each of which (or most of which), of course, requires cards, gifts, decorations, candy, special foods, parties, trips, activities, etc. And if you want to throw in things like Grandparent's Day and Secretary's Day, the insanity never stops!

All that to say - I can let go of some of the guilt. I don't have to let corporate American coerce me into holiday-caused stress, frustration, and eventual entrance into an insane asylum. It really is okay to let myself calm down, minimize holidays (or at least bring them down to a reasonable level), and not feel the massive load of Pinterest-style guilt over not taking each holiday to the max.

New Year's Eve 2013 - Some serious Pinterest-style guilt going on here. 

Additionally, when I look back to my own childhood, I realize that my family kept holidays (especially minor ones) very simple. St. Patrick's Day meant eating corned beef and wearing a green item of clothing. Simple, yes. But I loved and treasured the holidays - even without my mother thinking of a non-stop string of perfectly coordinated crafts to make things magical. Kids don't need that much to make holidays memorable. 

I know that there are a lot of you mamas out there who simply delight in doing lavish holidays, and I really admire that. Keep it up. I'm not trying to criticize those who revel in celebrating holidays. This piece is for those of us who find complicated holiday celebrations stressful and need a way out. 

My second thought is this - I need to standardize our holidays. I need to find out what works for each holiday that we choose to celebrate, write it down, and keep it the same (for the most part) from year to year. 

I didn't actually come up with this idea on my own - I read it recently in an article which outlined why children actually have more meaningful holidays when there are fixed, reliable holiday traditions. It adds to their sense of security and joy in the season when they know. for example, that Christmas will always bring mom's Christmas cookies and the special handmade angel on top of the Christmas tree. When they look forward to the same beloved items on a holiday menu. When they know that there will always be board games and tamales each New Year's Eve. 

Again, looking back to my own childhood, I realize that a huge part of the magic of various holidays was knowing all of the various loved traditions to look forward to. Christmas cookies for Santa, quiche for Easter, church on Christmas Eve, tacos on New Year's Day, etc. Half of the fun was looking forward to each tradition! Indeed, in my later teen years when my mother started wildly experimenting with our Christmas menus (coming up with something different each year), a lot of the fun went out of Christmas dinner. "Hey! Where's the green bean casserole?"

Christmas sugar cookies - our favorite Christmas tradition.

This is a big one for me, because I've felt stressed out these past few years about trying to come up with new, fun, creative ideas for foods and activities each year for each holiday. It's exhausting - and thus, burnout. I am planning on taking notes on what works for each holiday, and working into some routine-based traditions. It will be a blessing for our family, and it will save my sanity. (I hope. It may be too late.)

I am also planning on completely ignoring all minor-minor holidays, which will be an additional blessing. Holidays - they're nice, but we have way too many. As far as I'm concerned, it's open season.

What do you all think? Any non-crafting types out there who share the same problem with holiday overload? Leave me your tips and tricks for coping!

Love to all!


  1. Amen to this!

    I personally want to celebrate the 'bigger' holidays with my kids, and I took a Hebrew class in high school, so I also want to celebrate a few (2 or 3) Jewish holidays, but I am letting anything smaller go because it is just. not. worth it!

  2. Add my amen, too. I hate holiday overload, and we skip the little ones altogether. We have a few "set in stone" traditions that I can mentally gear up for, and they are easy-going traditions that don't make me insane because an insane mom makes the whole family unhappy. Then, if for some reason I have more energy than usual, we have room to add a few fun extras in. And if I'm pregnant or have a new baby or have some other issue we're dealing with I know we can do the bare minimum, and everyone will feel that we've celebrated. I wish you well in figuring out what will bring your family joy in the various seasons!

    1. I think that is going to be my new approach, for sure! :)

  3. We've done both before, celebrate too many or too much and not do enough. Finding the balance is key, I agree. For us, we tried a big New Year's Eve celebration this year. Well, big for us. A movie, some games, and I set up a photo booth with our new camera. It was fun and the kids still talk about it, so we'll probably keep some sort of NYE traditions going, definitely the photo booth (which was easy, hanging tablecloths over a doorway and setting the camera on a tripod set to take photos every 5 seconds). Most others we don't do nowadays. We do Christmas and Easter with a focus on Christ. We have done a Valentine theme for our Book Club the last two years as well that is fun. Any other small holiday the kids have to come up with the celebrating if they want it.

    We've just finished the entire Little House on the Prairie series this summer and are talking about Christmas here too, simplifying more than our already limited budget limits us anyway.

    1. "Any other small holiday the kids have to come up with the celebrating if they want it." - Brilliant. :)

      And yes, the Little House books are sheer brilliance for reflecting on how crazy American holidays have gotten. Every time I read them, I'm blown away at the difference!

  4. Yep, we only do the holidays we choose to do. We also study the origins of holidays and if we think they are not honoring to God, we will not celebrate them.


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