Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How To Have A Wholesome Holiday

This week, a succinct inquiry arrived at "O.G. H.Q." (otherwise known as the kitchen table, where my laptop resides- it's a complex operation; let me tell you). A one-liner included in a friendly email that wondered aloud, err, in print:

I'm curious how to make the holidays more wholesome.

So, I gave it some thought, hearkened back to my most wholesome holiday experiences, and compiled a few notes. Here's my take on how to make the season of giving a time of year that replenishes rather than depletes and remedy a mistletoe-induced meltdown without snorkeling in a vat of egg nog.

Falling into the Fray Will Fray Your Nerves: While holidays are meant to be shared, yet the constant exposure to crowded malls and festive gatherings of friends, family, coworkers, and the like often leave us needing a reprieve from all the excitement. Temper your commitments to others with opportunities to unwind by yourself or with a like-minded pal. For example, when one of my favorite pals visits her family in Boston from her home in San Francisco, we often bypass cocktails or exchanging fudge and fruitcake in favor of catching up with a yoga class or healthy lunch at our standby Thai restaurant in Cambridge. Ultimately, you need to find holiday activities that allow you to enjoy the season with your pals without losing your sanity by being subjected to constant over-stimulation, over-spending, and over-eating.

Address Expectations: Over-spending provides one of the largest sources of stress during the holiday season. While it’s tempting to stretch our means in the name of impressive gifts, this slippery slope often leads to buyer’s remorse, big bills, and, ugh, resentment. Here’s the bright side, friends: you’re not alone! Chances are many of your would-be recipients feel the seasonal strain too, which is actually a good thing since it can help you both escape the giving gauntlet this year. It’s early enough that you can easily give appropriate people the heads up that you think you should skip gifts and get together for a cookie-baking party, knitting group, nature walk, or Jenga tournament instead. What’s more, you might gather together to do something good for others, like sign up for a 5k race to benefit a charitable cause or log some hours at a local food pantry. It will be a gift you’ll both treasure—way more than yet another scented soap or box of chocolates. Can’t fit the quality time into your schedule or simply love the opportunity to wrap up a thoughtful bauble for your bestie? Define a price limit in advance, and stick to it. The peace of mind will be an additional gift to you both.

Pen Your Present: No matter how large or small the gift, it will have a valuable and lasting impact if accompanied by a thoughtful, hand-written card. (I know, so Martha Stewart of Om Gal). Consider a holiday card a chance to reflect on the last year of your relationship with someone and thank them for all that they give you year-round.

Celebrate the Season, Naturally: Stop buying pine-scented candles and faux green wreaths. Get outside and inhale the natural scent of the season. Bake the cookies from scratch. Indulge in the actual “fruits of the season” by stocking up on pomegranates, clementines, and other festive produce. For entertaining, seasonally appropriate, and healthful recipes via video, check in with my Canadian nutritionist pal, Meghan Telpner, who advocates Making Love in the Kitchen.

Have Silent Nights:
End-of-the-year revelry is expected, and it’s fun! However, you’ll avoid the likelihood of waking up on January 1 with a 2-month-long hangover, countless lost brain cells, an exhausted complexion, and no recollection of what a yoga mat does (Wait, there are other uses for the cushy floor piece than a place to pass out, after a night at the Liberty Hotel?) if you maintain a few nights to yourself sans the bubbly and boisterous atmosphere. Choose a regular yoga class; begin a meditation practice; treat yourself to 20-minutes in the steam room at your health club, or for heaven’s sake, read a book! Cozy up on the couch with your laptop to compile a kickass playlist or start a crafty Etsy-caliber project. Remember: small doses of solo activity will keep you feeling “whole” without missing the merrymaking.

Create Your Own Traditions: My friends and I enjoy a sushi meal on the eve of Christmas Eve each year. I go for a run on Christmas day. New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite days of year to practice yoga. Pick a positive activity that you’ll enjoy over the long-haul; share it with your favorite peeps, and consider making it an annual ritual.

Spend Time With Elves and Wise Men: Whenever you feel a case of the bah-humbugs coming on, spend time with people much younger or older than you. Their bright-eyed cheer or worldly grace will help you reconnect with the soul-nourishing nature of the holidays.

Bamboo, Not Bamboozled:
The holidays feature plenty of dining out and over-indulging, so put a little emphasis on the meals you do cook at home. I love my bamboo steamer, which makes crisp, steamed, nutrient-rich vegetables in a snap (just add the healthy sauce of your choice). Pair with tofu, chicken, or other lean protein, and you have the perfect, well-balanced meal. Don't be duped by the misconception that the holidays require you to abandon your healthy habits. What's more, you can even create new ones.

Feed Your Brain: Delve into a good book while traveling to visit relatives by train or plane. Pick up a new activity, like Acro Yoga or playing the guitar, to kick start the New Year. Take in a performance at the symphony. Seek out ways to keep your mind active and engaged rather than consumed by shopping, visiting, and entertaining.

Warm Your Heart: The best way to feel whole during the holidays and all year-long is to make life a little better, easier, or brighter for the people around you (call it hokey, but it’s the truth). Your gesture doesn’t need to be grand, but it should reflect who you are and what’s important to you. Feel strongly about supporting inner city youth? Find a local organization or charter school and lend a resource (e.g. time, money, ideas). Believe that sports save kids from the streets? Scour through your garage or storage unit and donate your gently worn baseball gloves and lacrosse sticks. Love animals? Offer to walk dogs or cuddle cats at your local ASPCA. Think no one should go to bed with an empty belly? Get thee to The Food Bank, and grab an apron. The options are endless—just like the genuine spirit of the holiday season.

Have a suggestion of your own for how to make the holidays happy and wholesome? Share the love; post a comment!


Dish This! said...

I love this post! The holidays can be stressful and these are some great pointers on how to make it through successfully and in one piece, mentally and physically.

Personally, I am trying to take the advice so many dieticians give, which is don't indulge every single day in holiday season, and make the special day (Thanksgiving, Christmas) the one indulgence. We'll see how long this lasts when holiday cookies start springing up around the office! ;)

sarah said...

This is a great post, Om Gal. I got a real chuckle regarding your advice to spend time with Elves and Wise Men. Come over anytime if you need elf time - my house is abundant with those people. I also would love to make a push for the "read a good book" suggestion PLUS add purchasing books for holiday gifts...they are affordable, portable and memorable (okay, so I stole that from the IndieBound website!) PLEASE consider shopping at and supporting your local independent bookstore. Check it out at

Om Gal said...

Fantastic suggestion, Sarah. Thank you! Books are my favorite gifts to give AND receive. Dish This, thanks for passing along the sage dietary advice surrounding the holidays.

Much love,