The holidays needn’t be a time of relentless hustle, bustle, and unfulfilled, unrealistic expectations. It is easy enough to get swept up in the pressure and commercialism of the holiday season. Even for the most centered among us, you may find yourself getting stressed out about gifts for loved ones or pressured to be merry and bright at holiday gatherings, regardless of your true emotional state. And then, after all the holiday pressure and overindulgence, there is the boomerang effect of guilt and unrealistic New Year’s resolutions. However, I have good news! It is, in fact, possible to enjoy the best of the holidays and to enter the new year with ease, simplicity, grace, and acceptance. It is possible to simplify life during hectic seasons.
3 Ways to Simplify Life During Hectic Seasons
1. Give Simple Gifts
I grew up in a family that enjoyed the traditions of Christmas to the fullest. I fondly remember the holidays and recall a brightly decorated tree, overflowing Christmas stockings, traditional Cioppino on Christmas Eve, and the titillating excitement of wondering what Santa would bring. Every year, my grandmother would take my three siblings and me to pick out a new Christmas ornament for the tree, and we would wander the ornament shop for what seemed like hours, painstakingly selecting the decoration that most spoke to our young hearts. Some 30 odd years later, I still own many of those ornaments, and each one reminds me of my grandmother’s kindness and patience, as well as sharing in the holiday excitement with my two brothers and one sister.
As my siblings and I matured into adulthood, marriages, jobs, and grad school spread us out across the country, and our holiday traditions have changed with the times and in an effort to simplify life during hectic seasons like Christmas. However, it is my feeling that the heart of the holidays has remained intact in our family, and I believe our practices in simplicity and flexibility have assisted in that.
One such example is our tradition of gift giving. Perhaps more than a decade ago, my parents, siblings, and I decided to simplify our Christmas gifts. Each family member is assigned to give to one other family member. This practice eventually evolved so that the gifts were restricted to handmade goods only. We rotate who gives to whom each year, and I find this to be a wonderful way to spend time really thinking about the person to whom I am gifting. The gifts are unveiled on Christmas Eve, and each year we marvel at the creativity and care of each offering, no matter how humble. These handmade treasures have included a terrarium; handmade jewelry; hand-drawn, screen-printed clothing; paintings and photography; and delightful edibles such as homemade truffles, a kitcheree making kit, cranberry chutney, and pineapple salsa.
Last year, I made Kate O’Donnell’s Sunbutter Truffles as a gift for my father-in-law. I highly recommend these delightfully creamy, simple truffles as a gift or addition to your holiday spread.
These truffles feature sunflower butter, which is considered in Ayurveda to be lighter and easier to digest than peanut butter. Sunbutter truffles also contain an adaptogenic boost of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) for extra resilience around the holidays.
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons cacao powder
Shredded coconut for outside (optional)
- Mix together melted coconut oil, sunflower butter, honey, and vanilla in a small bowl. Add almond meal, cinnamon, and ashwagandha. Mix well. Cover the mixture and freeze for 45 minutes.
- To make the chocolate coating, combine 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil with maple syrup and cacao powder in a warm saucepan. The coating must remain liquid for dipping, so working out of a warmed saucepan helps.
- Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Remove the sunflower butter filling from the freezer, and shape into one-inch size balls, dropping them one at a time into the chocolate coating mix. Coat sunbutter balls evenly (using two spoons helps). Once coated, place them onto the parchment paper. Sprinkle with a bit of dried, shredded coconut if you like. These wonderful truffles are creamy, simple, and divine. Keep refrigerated until ready to eat!
I share my family’s traditions not to dictate what you and your loved ones should do. It is merely to plant the seed for ways that you might be able to simplify life during hectic seasons so you can relish the joy of the holidays, and hopefully, reduce pressure and stress. I think my family members will agree that by changing this one aspect of how we celebrate, we have become more liberated to enjoy the holidays, and we also suffer less from the stress and financial strain that can accompany the pressures of extravagant gift giving.
2. Let Go. Do Less.
Whatever your traditions may be, winter can provide a wonderful opportunity for reflection, release, and rethinking about what really matters. Something that I love about the holidays is that our collective priorities seem to shift. Professional ambition gets a chance to take a back seat to social engagements and quality time with the family. As we take time away from work and day to day responsibilities in order to celebrate and connect with dear ones, it seems there is a common understanding that productivity is slowed and that it is a time to rest, retreat, and revel allowing us the perfect opportunity to further simplify life during hectic seasons. I would like to emphasize that the choice about what to do with this special time of year lies with you. For some, time away from work is not an option, but if you have that luxury, I suggest you take a moment to truly consider what you want to do with the gift of downtime. What are the traditions that you want to invent, adhere to, or toss aside with the outgoing year?
There may be an unspoken pressure to follow suit when it comes to holiday traditions. However, interestingly enough, when one person leads the way in the rethinking and simplification of rituals, that choice often takes the pressure off others, and everyone can enjoy the freedom of eased expectations. For instance, I have shared my family’s gift-giving tradition with friends who have then been inspired to adopt it among their circles. When we encounter ritual, therein lies the perfect opportunity to explore and question what we want to keep and what actions are motivated purely by obligation, expectation, or even guilt.
3. Enjoy The Space Between
It may be comforting to listen to messages from nature as the days turn dark and cold. You may delight in festive food and twinkling lights (I do!), and yet, it is also helpful to remember that winter signifies the end of the life cycle. It is a barren time, and in many ways, time for stripping away, letting go, and reflecting on the year that has gone by. I often feel a tinge of sadness in the quiet days between Christmas and the new year. It amazes me how quickly the years pass, and perhaps I am simply feeling the existential melancholy that comes along with all human shortcomings. I am keenly aware of all that I failed to do and all the unexpected surprises, twists, and turns that the road of life has taken me on. Yet, in this quiet window, when the noise of holiday gatherings dies down, I can often get a glimpse at humbling self-acceptance, and that type of acceptance is relieving. With the pressure to do, be, and create temporarily lifted, there is a chance to realize that we are not our accomplishments. There is a beauty in the quiet, the stillness, and the space between, and in this space, one can find ways to simplify life during hectic seasons.
Rather than making stringent or grandiose New Year’s resolutions that will be forgotten by Valentine’s Day, the dawn of a new year can be viewed as the ideal time to enjoy some quiet reflection and to clear the way for the activities of the year to come. A few new year’s practices that I enjoy are taking time for silence, cleaning house, throwing away to-do lists, and retreating to somewhere quiet and restful for a few days.
Silence has a wonderful purifying effect, and you don’t have to go on a retreat to practice it. A decision as simple as choosing not to speak from sundown to sunrise for a few days can be a lovely way to reset and step away from the noise. The post-holiday time is also a great chance to purge the excess from your home. Excess clothing, odds and ends, and unnecessary paperwork can all be tossed out, donated, or recycled to make space for the freshness of the new year. I find the transition from one year to the next to be a good time to reassess my to-do lists and expectations. If there are tasks that are truly important, I try to accomplish them before the start of the new year. However, I may look at what I set out to do and realize that some of it can be put off, crossed out, or simply thrown out.
In regards to to-do lists, a lawyer friend once shared his experience after leaving a high-stress job at a law firm. He was cleaning out his desk and came across a long list full of tasks that he never accomplished. He then realized that although he had never done any of those things, nobody else ever cared or even noticed. He was still completely successful at his job and moving on willingly. Seasonal transitions, as well as life transitions, provide a prime opportunity for revamping, releasing, and making space to rethink our true intentions for the road ahead.
My message to you as you clean up holiday messes, return from travel, and transition into the year to come, is don’t rush in. Before you get caught up in the collective ambition of the new year, enjoy a little time to exhale and pause. Take a moment of silence, a walk in the snow, turn off your phone, throw away your to-do list, and hang out in the in-between for a moment. When you reflect on the year gone by, and all that there is to do and become, I suggest you consider how you can simplify and what you can let go of. By doing so, you give permission for others to do the same, and perhaps we can all move closer to a state of purity and grace as we strive to simplify life during hectic seasons.
O’Donnell, K. (2015). The everyday Ayurveda cookbook. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications, Inc.