Every change of season – spring, summer, autumn through winter, heralds the arrival of major festivals in many cultures. Seasonal greetings fill your home, but you feel anything but joy. Your shopping list is out of control, so is your mind. Your stress levels and sleep deprivation are off the charts. The ads assure you that you should be having fun, the streets are festooned with tinsel, goodwill and joy are supposed to abound. But you are more about panic attacks than peace and joy. Reality sucks – festival season is a minefield. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.
How exactly does festival management overwhelm thee? Let’s count the ways. First off, there is the pressure to do a ‘perfect’ festival, to replicate what the grandparents/parents purportedly achieved – the beautiful wall-to-wall rangoli/alpona, the exquisite table centre-pieces, the magnificently decorated tree, the gracious open house and open smiles all day long. That nostalgic fantasy is twinned with keeping up with whatever the Joneses or Jains are doing, who always seem to have more fun doing it than you.
Add to that the organisation of massive quantities of food, factoring in the diabetic diets, the allergies, aversions and obsessions various. Then there’s the shopping for thoughtful, appropriate gifts that will neither feel too gaudy nor too cheap. Not to mention juggling the children’s schedules, your own work deadlines, seating plans where feuding family members can be corralled safely apart, which invites to accept and which to refuse, the busted budgets and waistlines and on and on! – till everything spirals into a mega-catastrophe rather than merry making. Perfect storm and galloping stress.
Merry-making’s a tough job
As with other things, festival anxiety is also gender unequal. Studies carried out in UK and USA show that more women than men feel stressed by festivals. Since a disproportionate amount of the work of households devolves on women, naturally more women than men feel overwhelmed at festival times. Given that the gender inequality is far worse in the East as compared to the West, let’s not even talk about how much greater the pressures are on women in Eastern societies. Making merry involves serious amounts of hard work and most of that workload lands squarely on women.
It is not as though everyone can go all out and celebrate, either. That adds another layer of complexity to the issue. None of the messaging depicts anything else but a one-dimensional traditional family – father, mother, two kids, preferably a boy and a girl. No blended family, no single parent household, no same sex couple, nor interfaith ones. The festive season is a sharp reminder of ‘othering’ for anyone that does not conform to the traditional metrics – not exactly an incentive to feel cheerful.
There are those, too, for whom festivals may be linked to some family tragedy, an accident, a disability, a death. Those who grieve are particularly hard hit. Grief and mental health issues do not take holidays no matter what the season.
Less panic, more plans
So, given all this, how can you cope better? Here are some pointers to consider:
1. Ditch perfection
Ignore the constant messaging. You are not obliged to replicate the exact festivals that your grandmothers had, nor the version the media are telling you to create.
Think about what your values are, how you want to celebrate your festival and what traditions you want to create/hold onto. Set your own priorities in consultation with your spouse/partner. Moderate and manage the great expectations. Do what suits your unique circumstances, whatever works for you.
2. Plan ahead
All things festival related go better if planned beforehand, at a time when you’re not frazzled by the prospect of the massive preparations. Sit down a month or two, or even six, in advance, work out your priorities as above, consider the stress points and how you can minimise them. Plan ahead, but also be flexible. Have a contingency plan ready.
The more you plan and delegate the work of merry making, the less stressed and therefore merrier your festival will be.
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3. Set a budget
Decide beforehand how much to spend on food and drink, decorations, gifts etc. Create a list for gift giving and allocate amounts for each recipient.
Budget time as well – it’s a precious resource, and parcel out who does what. The more family members you involve the quicker the work will get done with the least amount of stress.
Even children can help with wrapping gifts, addressing envelopes and other age appropriate tasks. Of course a gift wrapped by a 7yo is going to be vastly different from an adult version, but hey, remember the 1st point! the wobblier wrapping makes the child more invested and creates a lasting, meaningful memory.
4. Create homemade gifts
A handcrafted item makes a far more thoughtful gift than a store bought one. A grandparent is likely to cherish a photo frame hand painted by her grandchild more than a fancier frame. A knitted garment or a jar of homemade pickle is more likely to be appreciated because of its uniqueness, the valued time and effort that has gone into its making. Additional bonus, they don’t break the bank!
However, not everyone has the time to knit gifts or make pickles for the whole family. You can still add your unique imprint on gift giving in other ways though – by creating your own wrapping paper or name tags, much less time intensive. Children can be recruited to help with this too. Planning ahead lets you add these personal touches which can mean the world to senior family members.
5. Learn to say ‘no’ without guilt
There is no compulsion to attend every party you are invited to. Refuse and be upfront about it. Just because there are multiple parties at the workplace doesn’t mean you have to participate in them. The same principle applies to your social circle. Attend those you can’t afford to miss. And trim your own guest lists as per your priorities.
6. A word about the F-word
Prodigious quantities of FOOD is central to all festivals, the preparation of which is a major stressor for most women. As with everything else, ditch the societal pressure stat – there is no right or wrong way to entertain. Be open to rethinking. Do what suits best.
Consider carefully what you want to prepare at home versus outsourcing, if budgets permit. You might keep a couple of absolute-must-haves homemade and get the rest from a caterer/restaurant.
Alternatively, if you’re cooking the whole shebang, consider a menu where side dishes can be made ahead, to free up time for only the mains on the day itself. Ask your close friends for help. They could come around on a party-prep day and make short work of hours of food preparation – all work gets done faster and more enjoyably when done in company. Or lastly, make it a dish-party/potluck rather than take all the pressure yourself.
Spreading the work also spreads the festive spirit around and fosters community and friendship.
7. Take time to relax
In all the pandemonium of preparations and hosting and party-going, make sure to prioritise your own health. Carve out some me-time to de-stress. Unwind with a cup of tea, a book, a favourite TV show. Get a quick manicure or a massage – away from all the chatter and noise, the high voltage, intense atmosphere.
Make time also for a loved one, do something together by yourselves, even if it is just going for a walk or a coffee. Spending time and connecting one-on-one with them is the best stressbuster.
8. Watch your intake
Studies have shown that women especially, take to unhealthy comfort eating/drinking to manage their stress levels during festival times. So watch the desserts and the alcohol intake, it is easy to overindulge. Be aware of exactly how much you are consuming and your personal limits. Eat, drink and make merry as per your own standards, do what feels comfortable for you to stay healthy.
9. Stay calm and carry on
It is also easy to veer out-of-routine amidst the daily upheavals of the festive times. Sleep deprivation is a major fall out of the season and does no favours to anyone. Make sure you are getting enough shut eye, take a nap during the day if you’ve stayed up late. It doesn’t have to be a full-on siesta, just a power nap of twenty minutes is enough.
Staying with your usual practices also helps – if you begin your morning with a leisurely mug of coffee or a meditation session, find time to continue with that. Cut down on the time period if necessary, but don’t give them up altogether. Sticking to your usual routine is a de-stressor, keeps you relaxed and ready to take on the work of the holidays.
With a plan and with help, you can strategise your festivals to be fun rather than fraught.
Essay/Article commissioned by: TDLM Editorial
Written by: Nilanjana Bose [Author; Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK; Mathematics]
Graphics/Art/Illustration by: TDLM Design Team
‘Festive Season Excites Me, But Can I Be Less Frazzled?’ First Published in The Daily Life Magazine on December 23, 2022