First 30 Days Blog

17 nov

How to Survive the Holiday Season

Each holiday season arrives with its own joys and stresses. This year, many Americans are concerned (and rightfully so, given fears of recession and job and home losses) about how they’re going to get through it (and not just because of the usual familial pathos that accompanies such festivities.)

Feeling the economic burden, most people are trying to figure out how they’re going to manage travel, gifts and perhaps some very difficult conversations with children and loved ones. Now, more than ever, we need to be creative about finding holiday cheer. Instead of trying to keep it status quo, we’re giving you some new ideas on how to manage the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve so that you come out on top. It all comes down to the Three F’s: finances, family and food—and if we can add a fourth—fun! Yes, you can enjoy the most wonderful time of the year with a positive outlook and a little advance planning.


The one thing foremost on everyone’s minds this year: How are we going to afford things this holiday season? We can’t think of anything more stressful than budgeting for travel, gifts and all the unexpected expenses that crop up. That said, you can mitigate the damage by changing the way you think about giving. Try spending more time and less money on gifts this year.

1) Make gifts instead of buying gifts. D-I-Y is H-O-T! Put your creative brain to work and give a gift that really means something.

  • Knit scarves, sew pillows or make an article of clothing.
  • Get a journal and write out your family history, or all the things you love about someone. Fill it with words, sketches and photos.
  • Framed family photos, scrapbooks, hand-painted mugs or homemade cookies are always well received.
  • Go shabby chic (and eco-friendly) with flea-market finds—formality is out, frugality is in. Now more than ever, it truly is the thought that counts.

2) Recycle/reintroduce toys.
There’s no need to feel bad about recycling items with small children. Pick ones that have lingered at the bottom of a toy chest or under the bed. Wrapping paper goes a long way in making old new again! You can also introduce new toys throughout the year. At the next birthday, unwrap all the gifts but take a few aside to be used for the next holiday or a “just because” gift.

3) Limit your list. Let’s be honest—how many people could do with a simple card? Pare down your gift list.
If you have a large family, scale back the amount of gifts or agree on doing a Secret Santa this year. It’ll probably relieve the pressure for lots of people. Remember that people don’t love you because of what you give. It’s OK to simply acknowledge their place in your life with a note of gratitude and best wishes for the season!

4) Manage your expenses. There are three things to say no to this year: Credit cards, parties you’d rather not attend and group gifting.

  • Pay for all your purchases in cash (if you plan exactly what you’re going to get and adhere to your list, this should be a cinch) to avoid exorbitant interest fees. If you don’t want to go to Aunt Betty’s Christmas Eve Eggnog Extravaganza, politely decline.
  • Avoid getting sucked in to the whole “everyone chip in $100” for the boss/office party/ building super scheme. Simply offer your regrets and say it’s not in your budget, but that you’d be happy to offer a card or other smaller token instead.
  • There’s no shame to sticking to a budget, and there’s no need to drill deeper into debt because you’re being pressured.
  • If you’ve been disappointed in the past over the commercialism that pervades the holiday season, this is the year to act against it. Have the holidays your way—without mountains of stuff and the bills that go with it!

5) Set expectations with family and friends. If you’re concerned about taking all the joy out of the season, relax. It’s OK to change the way you think about the holidays, as long as you bring everyone in on your thinking.

  • Experts agree that younger children can become fearful and insecure if they sense their parents are in financial trouble. The bottom line for the little ones (under 12) is just to know it’s all going to be OK.
  • If you have older children who want to help, explain to them the situation you find yourself in and what you’re doing to recover. If they want to help, suggest a way for them to pitch in, like getting a part time job or helping more around the house.
  • Chances are you’re not the only one feeling the financial pinch, so it shouldn’t be hard to have an honest conversation with friends and older family members about what’s going to be possible this year. [more]


If everyone’s supposed to be brimming with cheer, why is mom crying at the stove and Uncle Pete hanging out down at the local bar? Probably because of all the baggage we carry into the holidays. This year, aim to create peace and harmony amongst loved ones.

Family is all about acceptance. Give yourself one goal—to love them as they are (yes, really!). If you must choose being right or being kind, choose kindness. If all else fails, create a sense of impenetrable harmony within. Keep your daily routines up during the busy season to give yourself stability. Ditto for exercise and rest—you’ll need both to stay sane!

1) Stay home. Given the choice between flight delays, crowded highways, sleeping on a pull-out couch vs. the comforts of home, we’ll take home any day! There’s never been a better time to stay put for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas. You can plan a family visit for sometime next spring or summer, and stay home with your friends, significant other or the kids. It’ll be a low-key holiday full of your kind of fun, and best of all, it’ll be (relatively) stress free.

2) Take a time out. If you are able to travel and find yourself at a sibling’s throat or exhausted from all the back and forth, give yourself permission to have down time. Take a walk, take a nap, meditate or hit a yoga class (or do some poses on your own.)
It’s OK to say you need to unwind and recharge. If you take a break from being so “on” 24-7, you might just make it through the holiday emotionally unscathed.

3) Let it go. Have you ever noticed that you end up having the same argument or rehashing the same old stories over and over each year? All that does is open old wounds and create tension where there needn’t be any. This year, resolve to only make positive statements. If you do feel anger, frustration or negative thoughts rising, allow them to pass through without articulation. Breathe deeply, leave the room for a moment if needed. Be the peacekeeper, and get people involved in creating new memories that will make better stories for next year.

4) Go do something good. If you can’t see your family this year or are just hanging with friends, get out and make yourself useful! Volunteer to help prepare and serve holiday meals, have a canned food drive or visit someone who doesn’t have holiday visitors. Sharing these special days with others will make you more appreciative for the things you do have, even if it doesn’t feel like you have much right now.

5) Put the smack down on sadness. For many, the holidays are just another painful reminder of what’s not going right. While you can’t ignore the heartache that the holidays can bring, you can do something about it. Rather than writhing your way to the new year, find ways to change positively. Invent new traditions, spend the time you might have spent on someone else on yourself (exercising, renewing an old interest), open up to being more spiritual. Replace sadness with gratitude by focusing daily on three new things to be thankful for. You don’t have to push down or ignore your feelings, but you don’t need to wallow in them either. [more]


A nibble here, a nosh there. Before you know it, the cupboard is empty (along with your wallet) and you’re breaking out the bigger pants. It happens every year, but this one can be different. Stay healthy this holiday season by staying mindful of both what you’re eating, and what you’re preparing.

1) Control the menu. If everyone is coming to your place for the holidays, ask people to bring one side dish or light dessert while you prepare the main course and perhaps a salad or healthy side dish. Not only does this save money and lighten the cooking load, it allows you to serve a hearty yet healthy feast. Even if someone brings a calorie-laden dish, you’ll still have plenty of options.

If you’re heading to a party, make your contribution wisely—bring a platter of fresh fruit or veggies or a pumpkin pie (lower in calories than any other pie on the holiday sideboard). That way, you’ll be assured of one good choice during the meal.

2) Go for a dessert plate. Just don’t load it up with cakes and cookies! A smaller dessert plate will keep your portions in check.

  • Get a good balance of protein and veggies, and keep refilling your water glass.
  • A glass or two of wine is heart-healthy, but any more than that and you’ll probably feel it in the morning.
  • A cookie or sliver of pie isn’t going to kill you, but remember to pace yourself—after 6 weeks of events, all those desserts that looked so good on the table aren’t going to look as great when you can’t get dressed on New Year’s Eve.

3) Take your time. If you arrive fashionably late, most of the food at a party will probably be gone from the table (note that this only works for cocktail and office parties, not seated dinners). If there’s still an abundance of offerings, make yourself a small plate and then find somewhere else to sit and eat it—standing and grazing at the buffet will make you eat twice as much.
Really try to savor and enjoy your treats, and stop when you’re full.

4) Get a move on! Fight the urge to lie on the couch after a big dinner. Get everyone together and take a walk or get a game of football going out back. Too cold outside? A frantic game of Twister or a spirited game of Charades keeps the blood flowing. If all else fails, challenge someone to a push-up contest, or at least do the dishes and help out cleaning up. You’ll burn way more calories getting dishpan hands than you will watching “A Christmas Story” for the 20th time!

5) Decide ahead of time what you’ll have. Know what you’ll eat and when. Compromise by indulging in a glass or two of wine, but skip dessert. Figure out whether you’d rather enjoy the nice dinner, or snack all day at various parties.Your body can accept compromises if you’re prepared.

Finally, don’t forget to have a good time! The whole point of the holidays is to celebrate traditions, spend time with loved ones and give thanks for the year past (no matter how difficult things might be or might have been.) Making a change to your seasonal routine doesn’t mean giving up things—it means reprioritizing what’s truly important to you. It’s OK to change the way you celebrate and make new traditions! Enjoy the holidays and make the most of each day…you’ll treasure each one.

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Posted by First 30 Days on November 17th, 2009 in General | 0 comments Read related posts in

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