Relatives bearing fruitcake–and other holiday horrors

The relatives are coming!  Does this turn your holiday ho-ho-ho into ho-ho-horrible? Blame it on Norman Rockwell and his picture-perfect illustration of the perfect family celebrating a perfect Christmas. Or a syrupy Hallmark movie where romance always triumphs and skaters glide about, hands tucked into their white-fur-trimmed muffs.

For most of us, the turkey ends up too dry, the pond still hasn’t frozen over and cousin Melvin and his rabid politics dominate the dinner discussion. And yeah, the traumatic memories that I mentioned in the last column.

And this is just the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie. I’ll take extra whipped cream on my pie, thank you very much. There’s the pressure from the gift giving obligations, a schedule packed with parties (if COVID-19 lets up a little, that is!) and oh, yeah, the anticipation of Melvin’s arrival.

This, my friends, is emotional clutter. And it’s enough to deck your halls with grief if it’s not recognized and controlled. This is the stuff that keeps you from truly enjoying your loved ones and savoring the moment. It can steal your holiday spirit quicker than a cat can take down a 6 foot fully decorated Spruce.

Here are some guidelines to prevent the accumulation of more traumatic holiday memories:

Realize NO is a complete sentence.  Don’t want to go to that Christmas Party–say no.  You’re asked to organize an event you’re not thrilled about–say no. Asked to take part in a gift exchange with acquaintances–no. Practice forming that word with your lips.  It gets easier with practice. You’ll also feel more empowered.

Find out what you DO want to do and stick to that. And because your schedule won’t be so packed, you’ll be able to enjoy it more fully.

Set boundaries for family interactions. Inform Melvin that dinner conversation this year will revolve around gratitude and other uplifting topics.

Rethink your gift giving strategies.  Instead of buying more items, why not share your gift of time?  Give young parents a free date night.  Give a donation to your loved one’s favorite charity. Get creative.

And oh, speaking of gifts, most people that bought on credit last year still haven’t paid off those bills.  Please honor yourself this year.  If you can’t pay cash for your gifts, please don’t overextend yourself.  Bake some cookies or make a gift card for a minor act of service.

Next, go volunteer somewhere.  I can’t think of a quicker why to mitigate depression or anxiety than by helping someone who is struggling to put food on the table or a roof over their head.

There are many worthy organizations that help ease suffering; pick one that aligns with your heart.

Finally, gratitude is a powerful tool in improving one’s quality of life and it is tragic that it gets relegated to just one day a year. Are you really short on bucks and can’t do gifts this year?

How about a gift from the heart?  This is not for the faint of heart because it will require some vulnerability on your part. Write a letter to a loved one expressing what you appreciate about them. The more details, the better.

Don’t just say, “I appreciated your help when we moved,” instead, “I wanted to throat punch someone on moving day and when you showed up with pizza, I wanted to cry with relief. I could make it through the day and I hurt no one.”

Really want to knock this out of the park?  Read it aloud at the dinner table. Have a box of tissues handy.

This proactive approach is not only effective at banishing emotional clutter–you will gain more clarity on what’s really important at the holidays. And for life.

Here’s to making new happy  memories!

Theresa Winn Lode is like Santa’s evil twin because she loves taking stuff out of house and garages.  If you wish to lure her to your home, her preferred bait is wine, not a plate of cookies. Her website is

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