One December in my teens, my parents informed me that we were going to buy an artificial Christmas tree instead of a real one. I was offended by this overture and let them know it. “But we always have a real tree! It’s a tradition!” My pleas were ignored. Not only did they buy a fake tree (dramatic pause), but it was one of those pre-lit ones! (Gasp.) And you know what? It was pretty and I didn’t have to water it. I got over my angst and it became our new tradition.
Most of us have family traditions, faith traditions, and cultural traditions. This time of year, it’s all about holiday traditions. These can be sacred, fun, and revered. However, they can also be divisive. For example, new couples may butt heads on whose traditions are more important. Do we open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Are we going to my mom’s house or your grandma’s house? Should we draw names or buy for everyone? Turkey or ham? (Psh, everyone knows it’s ham.) It’s one of the most stress-inducing parts of a new relationship!
And when you start a family, forget about it! Just ask anyone who has ever been a parent. Keeping traditions going or starting new ones isn’t always magical. Often it comes with a lot of stress, a little anger and just enough anxiety.
Take the Elf on the ding-dang Shelf. Do you have one of those? We do. His name is Duncan. He comes every December 1st. Seven years ago, Duncan was exciting! We couldn’t wait to see where he was going to be hiding each morning. The dude had pool parties with the Barbies. He hung from the chandelier. One time, he even took a selfie and made it the background on our desktop computer! Ah, those were the good ‘ole Duncan days. Now we’re lucky if Duncan moves from one tree branch to another. Finding new hiding spots each night really takes it out of an elf. He had good intentions at first, but the pressure is getting to him. Nevertheless, he returns each year on December 1st because isn’t it only fair that the younger kids get to experience the same elf-magic that the older kids did? I mean, it’s a tradition! Right?
While this example is trivial in the grand scheme of things, the fact remains that continuing some traditions year after year becomes taxing. If certain holiday traditions are causing you anxiety, I’m proposing something new. It’s called the “putting yourself/immediate family first so you can all actually enjoy the holiday season” tradition. (I’m workshopping shorter names.) That might include skipping out on a few holiday parties or cutting back on your spending budget so you can enjoy a more stress-free holiday.
This “putting yourself first” thing might feel selfish in the beginning, but it’s not. Because self-care is not selfish. Ensuring a safe mental space for yourself and your family is the compassionate thing to do. After all, the holidays are not just about pre-lit trees, bothersome elves, and having to eat stupid turkey when ham is obviously better. They’re about hope, love, and joy! You owe it to yourself to experience that magic firsthand.
Molly Woodman, Outreach Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Molly Woodman is one of the Outreach Coordinators at The Kim Foundation. Born and raised in Omaha, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Communications from UNO. Molly spent fourteen years as the Director of Admissions and Recruitment at an area private high school. Her passion for public speaking and advocacy led her to The Kim Foundation in August of 2022. Molly manages the foundation’s social media accounts, works closely with the Metro Area Suicide Prevention Coalition, and provides mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to the community through the Voice for Hope and Healing presentations.