15 Primal Ways to Savor the Holiday Season

This past summer I did a slow living inspired guide to enjoying summer. Those lazy days feel long gone now, but I’ve heard from a number of readers lately who are looking to fill their winter and holiday seasons with the same Primal inspiration. Besides the amazing recipes and great winter workouts, what food for thought can the Primal Blueprint offer this time of year? What can we do to make the most of these shortest, darkest days and busiest holiday weeks? What does it mean – in practical as well as broader terms – to apply a Primal lens to the season?

Let me actually reframe it this way: our evolutionary roots have something to teach us in creating a contented, fulfilling life – because I think it most aptly addresses the question. In making the Primal Connection, we’re motivated to embrace the full potential and pleasure of our physical as well as intuitive selves. We’re moved to reconnect with the natural world and our innate rhythms. We’re drawn to explore deeper, more essential dimensions of social relationships and expand our practice of creative play.

The modern dilemma is often untangling ourselves from the distracting and distorting cultural baggage attached to these fundamental inclinations. Look at what we too often put ourselves through this time of year. As much as we’re driven to fit in with our surrounding culture – a complicated instinct of its own – there’s a certain irony in the fact that these weeks are often our most unhealthy. While nature encourages us to lay low, rest more, and keep life casual, many of us are burning the candle at both ends. We sleep less, eat more junk food, rush more often, overspend more frequently, and then wonder why we’re so tired and cranky by the end of it.

A lot of great blogs and publications encourage us to slow down during the holidays. By all means, the slow movement is as applicable now as it was back in August. In the spirit of those readers’ inquiries, however, let me take it a step further. If slow suggests a pace for living and a subsequent winnowing of priorities, what practical cues can the Primal Connection add to that deliberation? What can our Primal roots remind us to prioritize in the midst of the commercial blitz? And how do we put the holidays in perspective and give the winter season its celebratory due? In short, beyond the buffets, what does it mean to keep it Primal this time of year?


  • With solstice tomorrow, make a point of observing what so many Primal cultures caught onto quickly – the significance of the longest night of the year, however you choose to see it scientifically, spiritually, or metaphorically. Some of you, I know, go all out celebrating solstice. I have friends who specifically go on personal or organized retreats for the night. Others throw parties. Still others purposely take a quiet evening at home or go star gazing outside the city. However you mark the occasion and make meaning from it, consider it your own private New Year’s.
  • As a culture we tend to put too much emphasis on specific days. The inclination too often results in an explosive or deflated critical mass. Why not make a goal to appreciate the beauty and significance of this darker, sparer season throughout all its months? Even if you don’t consider yourself a spiritual sort, check out Winter: A Spiritual Biography, a book specifically about winter as part of the natural rhythm of life.
  • Take advantage of winter’s dark-light schedule. Make fire a part of every week if not every night. Break out the candles, light the fire place, or clear the fire pit in the backyard. There’s something unique to the warmth and quiet of a fire, and I can’t imagine anything (well, almost) more Primal than that.


  • In keeping with the light and dark cycles of the season, give your body the benefit of dim evening and a full night’s sleep. Why not save a bit of money and do a weekly voluntary power outage?
  • Plan for stress – and its antidotes. Grok wasn’t ever in charge of the office holiday party, his kids’ scouting troupe caroling, the extended family dinner, shopping for thirty relatives and friends, and cooking and decorating for the neighborhood open house. Granted, if you can give some (or all) of the work away, by all means do. (No is a complete sentence after all.) That said, if you’re one who thrives in the center of the bustle, at least give yourself the benefit of some high caliber release time. Do something pleasurable for yourself. One hour of quality relaxation is worth five hours of sitting slumped in front of a television.
  • Prioritize healthy pleasures: home spa, professional spa, partner massage, sex, casual workouts, comfortable clothes, hot drinks, Primal comfort food (favorites?). A happy body does wonders for one’s mood. Imagine that.

Inner Life

  • Give yourself some psychic space by taking a break from media, parties, crowds, and other duties/chores. Especially for some of us, the succession of social obligations and extra responsibilities can leave us feeling burned out. When you add to that the regular barrage of (mostly bad) news, it’s crucial to retreat to your own Primal ground. Even within the closeness of the band community, Grok found plenty of silence and relative solitude for himself in a day. Make extra time for these when life is fuller and/or more stressful.
  • Rein in expectations. Can you imagine any event was as hyped in Grok’s day as the holidays in our country? We make rampant joy the goal, but the focus too often ends up counterproductive. I imagine Grok would see it as kind of a backward endeavor. Create the ceremonies to honor the events and/or particular values, and what will come will come. Release your attachment to the outcome, and you might end up experiencing something wholly unexpected.


  • Prioritize primal level connections. We’re designed to seek out and benefit from feeling connected – to people, to community, to culture. Yet, we can strain to experience real bonding in the huge cultural and social nets we cast these days. Prioritize your tribe – those couple dozen or so people in your life you’d consider band mates in a different time. If you feel like you’re running out of social or emotional bandwidth this season, home in on a tighter circle. Likewise, take advantage of the whole season to connect rather than cram too much in at once. Quality matters over not just quantity but also over culturally imposed schedules. Send New Year cards in January (Groundhog Day, anyone?). Have your neighborhood open house in February. Remake your annual meetup with old friends into something more relaxed and fun post-holiday.
  • Value ritual. When you think back to your childhood, what stands out about the holidays? What did you enjoy? What is the stuff of good memories? Chances are, it’s ritual to some degree. Don’t underestimate the power of minuscule details in your own and others’ experience of the holidays. Ritual adds a sense of nostalgia to the events, yes, but it also adds continuity and equilibrium to life in general. (That’s nothing to sneeze at these days.) Wear the same old sweater your kids laugh at every year. Decorate the house the same way. Keep the same favorite dish front and center at the big family meal. Go to the same concert. Drive down the same streets to look at the lights. There are well over three hundred days in a year to experiment and throw off convention. When it’s all said and done, however, there’s something to the steadiness of the familiar.


  • Do an outdoor winter retreat. Every year friends of ours spend four days and nights between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays at a nature center in their area. The center hosts a full family retreat complete with winter sports, hikes, and kids’ activities. They consider it the best family time they share all year. In another take, a friend does a solo snow shoeing weekend in January as the ultimate time to get away and unplug from the universe.
  • Head out on a winter night hike. If you’ve never been, you’ll be hooked the first time. There’s something amazing about the light on the snow and quiet. The full moon is next week. Consider it the perfect time for a full moon night hike or cross country ski/snow shoe trek. Take the kids, and enjoy the giddy energy and imagination they’ll bring to it.
  • Make an outdoor winter bucket list, and do it Primal style. Too often (especially in those Northern climates) people get past the holidays and feel stuck in limbo until spring. See how many Primal activities can get you loving the winter season. (Remember: there’s no bad weather, just inadequate clothing.) Write down your old favorites, but make room for the new, unusual, and adventurous. There are undoubtedly activities you’ve never even heard of awaiting your discovery. (Hmmm…maybe there’s fodder for a post here.) And that doesn’t even take into account the outdoor festivals, competitions, sights, and trips. Sure, Grok might have never tried heli-skiing, but I’m still calling it Primal.


  • Schedule play if you have to. It seems contrary to the point, but some of us might need the structure in the midst of an overloaded schedule. (Sure, you might end up just taking a nap on the couch instead, but that’s not so bad either.) The point is carving out space for self-determined time and freedom. The wholly unself-consciousness and free form of play takes us out of the mindset of manic planning and orchestration that can reign this time of year. Preserve those times when you and your loved ones (kids especially) can do whatever you feel like in the moment. Some of the most fun and meaningful holiday memories happen when you allow yourself to just be in the moment and let crazy, spontaneous, or casual whim take over. Consider the schedule part a modern accommodation to keep the Grok spirit alive and kicking. We sometimes gotta do what we gotta do. The end result is worth it.
  • Use the post-holiday lull to take up or return to a creative hobby. Grok had more going on in that department than we imagine, and a quieter season of the year (not the migratory period, for example) would’ve been the time he indulged his curiosity. Be inventive. Push yourself in your craft. Try a totally new art or skill. January is one of my favorite months for this reason. Sure, I’ll be plenty busy with this one coming up, but somehow January always feels like the most spacious month. After the structure of the holidays and their obligations, January can seem like a wide open field. Add to it the promise of a new year, and the (relatively) sparse calendar is like a blank canvas for the creating. Make it what you will.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Share your own thoughts and suggestions on enjoying a full Primal season. Have a great weekend.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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71 thoughts on “15 Primal Ways to Savor the Holiday Season”

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  1. Great post. I am starting to believe that there is something to this whole primal seasonal rhythm. I was getting upset because with all these holiday parties I was gaining unwanted weight and have put on around 8 pounds. At first I was mad but then I realized that I wasn’t as cold as I was when I was 9% body fat. Perhaps this obsession with eating and holiday parties and food that humans have during the fall and winter months are meant to help fatten us up so we aren’t cold during the winter. So I am not worrying about gaining weight in December but I am trying to make sure some of becomes muscle so I am weight lifting a lot.

    Happy Holidays everyone!

    1. Last year I put on a few pounds this time of year and almost started questioning this primal thing. The weight fell off in the spring and I was stronger. The winter weight is back. It seems that my weight is doing it’s own primal thing and, like you, I don’t get as cold in the winter as I did in my pre-primal days.

      1. My carbs are up and down and my weight goes along with it (I have some genetic insulin resistance). And my scale shows body fat and body water %s. I watch those 2 numbers fluctuate BUT sometime in September those very carbs change what I retain. Summer it’s water. Winter it’s fat and I develop a thin layer all over. This has happened the last two years. Coincidence? Probably – but it does make me wonder if there’s something to it.

        1. Happy to read this thread, as my scale had my BF% at 29.6% just before Thanksgiving (first time below 30% in YEARS), but after the holiday my weight went up 3 pounds and the BF% has been stuck at 31%, +/- 0.5%.

          I’ve been IF, lifting heavy, and doing various types of metabolic work, but the % hasn’t moved. The concept that maybe my body has a “season” to hold onto some extra fat is very appealing. I think I’ll adopt this concept and try not to obsess too much about it.

          Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. With 11 days off work, I plan on doing a lot of hiking around the neighborhood. Hopefully there will be plenty of fresh air and sunshine (or snow is good too, but I’m not getting my hopes up….darn TN weather). Merry Christmas everyone!

      1. That sounds interesting. I might have to look that up. I already do quite a few pushups because I take Taekwondo…maybe incorporate a pulling exercise into it too for balance….hmmmm…

  3. Lovely post, Mark. For me, it’s definitely the catnap on the sofa – I just had one. Soft lights, a miniature
    Christmas tree for my dolls, fragrant bone broth simmering in the slow-cooker, blissful peace and contentment. Add in Nat King Cole’s Christmas Song, and you have perfection. Happy hols to all!

  4. Although anyone from my home town in the Midwest will kill me for complaining. But man I miss the snow here in Sam Diego. Everything you described I the nature section hit home. Got me amped to take in winter. . It’s actually cold here right now (sd cold) and time for a trip to the mountains to take in some real winter weather!

  5. Someone has to figure out why I’m here or what makes me tick. Existence is no way to live and I’ve long since failed to find the meaning of life beyond the number 42.

      1. Read some Joseph P. Farrell and all shall be revealed…

    1. C’Mon – Purposeless scientific materialism should never be allowed to interfere with warm,fuzzy illusions of meaning, especially during the holidays.
      How do you expect to offer new dimensions in the paleo/primal space?

    2. I’m 52 and I still get caught muttering “what’s it all about Alfie?” 🙂 I try to stay detached most days and just go with the flow. Have a great weekend, everyone!

    3. According to Sartre, the freedom to define your existence is also a great responsibility. The first part, realizing existence is not tied to anything, is painful and disorienting. But the second part, creating your own meaning,is difficult but rewarding. Realizing that the possibilities are virtually limitless is a little terrifying for us as humans, since we are so used to being defined or to behaving in defined. 42 is a great start; it means that even in absurdity there’s humor!
      The other thing I’ve realized is that coming to terms with the idea that there’s “only” existence is not such a bad thing. I’m always a little late to the table when it comes to accomplishing things in life, but eventually I find myself doing things that I love because I’m drawn to them despite daily ennui or drifting attention span.

      1. Sarte – the metaphysician who denied he was a metaphysician – and the antithesis of both science and “rational” metaphysics. Might as well quote Sun Myung Moon.

  6. I have found winter much more bearable by spending as much time outdoors as possible. Winter hiking and snowshoeing are a great workout and the woods are gorgeous in the winter. Instead of buying each other gifts for Christmas, my husband and I are renting an overnight heated ice shack to ice fish later in winter. Mt. Washington observatory also does day trips, where you can ride the snow tractor to the top of the mountain. So many fun things to look forward to, rather than sitting inside waiting for spring!

  7. Ironically we are celebrating Xmas with a few family members early this year, they are not primal beings…..yet!!! But I was explaining some of what I have learned (short of being a primal cop) and it was what you just shared. Guess much of what you have written has sunk in. Thanks Mark!!

  8. Mark,
    Where I live in Tennessee, the sun sets around 4:45pm right now and rises at about 7:00am. Do you think Grok, with no electricity, would have gone to sleep by 5pm and up with the sun at 7am? That’s 14 hours of sleep, just wondering your thoughts. Conversely, in the summertime when the sun doesn’t set until 9pm…would he have operated on less sleep?

    1. Here in Washington state sunrise is 8am and sunset is 4pm. Sitting in front of the fire and doing crafts in the evening was a pretty common way of spending winter evenings historically.

      1. And “sunrise” is a pretty generous way to put it in Western WA… 🙂

        1. Yes,”sunrise” is a very loose term in the PNW. Makes me crave the non-coastal winters of cold weather PLUS sunshine!

          I enjoy winter evenings of knitting/crocheting by the fire, even if it is gas fireplace!

        2. Too true, lighter grey would be more accurate. I haven’t actually seen the sun in awhile.

    2. Hello fellow Tennessean! In an attempt to answer your question, I would say that, yes, without modern technology and culture we would probably sleep a little longer during the winter months. Whenever I go camping away from the artifical lights and stimuli of the modern world, I notice I want to fall asleep shortly after the sun goes down and wake naturally to when the sun starts to creep up over the horizon. It feels very natural. If you want to test out your “natural” winter sleep pattern, try turning off all the lights when the sun starts to set and fall asleep when you begin getting drowsy and get up in the morning when you no longer really feel the urge to sleep (might help to open up the blinds so you have the sun shining in on you). I don’t think 14 hours is realistic, but you might go from 8 hours of sleep to 9-10 hours. Just my 2 cents. Merry Christmas!

      By the way, what part of TN do you live in? I live right outside of Nashville in the Mt. Juliet area.

      1. I was thinking yesterday about how I am happy to go to sleep so early lately (sometimes by 8:30) and I decided that I was “hibernating”.

      1. I am totally in the “two sleep” mode: Falling asleep early (like 7 pm) and waking at 1 am or so for a while, then sleeping again until 4 am. My biggest problem is regardless of how early I get up, that late sunrise makes me think I don’t need to leave for work!

    3. A spent a couple of weeks in Alaska during the summer a couple of years ago, and had to force myself to go to bed around midnight/1 a.m. using blackout curtains to be able to sleep, then wide awake by 4 a.m. I didn’t feel tired, drowsy or sleepy the entire time I was there (and this was pre-primal). As soon as I returned home (Texas), I fell asleep at sundown and woke up at sunrise (east-facing windows with no covering). I can see Grok sleeping in rhythm with whatever climate he was in.

  9. Every holiday season I am usually finishing some quilts for presents. I always start too late and take on too much. Well, not this year. I did order some quilt panels that I was going to quilt and give as gifts until I had a light bulb moment and said, not this year! They can be presents for next year, and I think I will do them in January. Thanks Mark! So this year I did the simple. There is an olive oil place in Salt Lake City that ships so I picked out 2 nice olive oils and 2 balsamic vinegars each for my siblings and had the shop ship them. Easy peasy.
    And a very primal gift. For my immediate family I ordered gifts online and kept them very simple. I also kept within my budget. Christmas stocking stuffer candy is very primal dark chocolate from Whole Foods. I also took three weekends to decorate my house rather than trying to cram it all in one weekend. I love sitting in my living room with just the lights of the Christmas tree on, sipping on some tea and relaxing. This is going to be a very good winter.

  10. What if sitting in front of the television IS my quality me time? Last night I put on Harry Potter, turned out the lights, lit some candles, and curled up with a hot mug of decaf with Bailey’s (what? Grok didn’t have Bailey’s?) and it was an excellent night!

  11. Being on the opposite hemisphere, I have to revisit the posts on savouring summer! The longest of the day here! But definitely lessons here on how to cope with the crazy Christmas season regardless of the weather outside.

  12. My goal in 2013 is to be more social & play more. Less planned, organized schedules and more sporadic, spontaneous adventures. It is so easy to get caught up in routine. Sometimes it does the body good to just go off course every once in a while and enjoy.

    Happy Holidays everyone!

    1. This may sound like a complete oxymoron, but planned spontaneity. I have X free time this day or weekend and go… Keeping a packed travel bag at home or in your vehicle is a great way to be prepared for spontaneity. There have been many-a-Fridays that I’d leave work early and take off because I had a packed travel bag in the boot. Even better are quick midweek getaways (less traffic)

  13. What a fantastic post! And thanks for linking back to your summer one for us in the southern hemisphere! These are the kind of posts I love MDA for. There’s so much more to living primal than just what we eat. Happy solstice

  14. I have started to have Candle Nights at least once a week. So we have Candle dinner, Candle Bath and Candle Night Story (we have 2 young boys). The whole concept is that we don’t turn on a light during the evening, no PC no TV, however my wife still breaks the no lights rule to clean up the kitchen while I give the boys that Candle Bath and Story. They love it, Candle Bath also involves glow sticks, its just great and we go to sleep pretty much at the same time as they do after the story.

    It has now gotten to the stage where we have Candle Story Every night !!!

    1. Candle bath, candle story, candle bedtime for kids. Hmmm…I doubt you and the wife “go to sleep” the same time as the kids. Great idea!

  15. Let’s not fight our seasonal nature. Winter solstice is the best time to eat all the primal things!

    As for me, I’m ecstatically happy just to spend long hours with my boys. Thank goodness there is one time of year when people in offices agree to mostly leave each other alone for a week.

    My primal objective for the winter holiday: forget what day of the week it is.

    1. Tim, you bring up a great point on eating all primal things in solstice. Does anyone here (in their respective cold season- screw all you “equatorians”) do not eat green leafy veggies and stick to gourds, tubers, etc. A root cellar can port over a bunch of produce but even that has its limits. I am trying true local seasonal eating right now, which includes tubers, winter squashes, carrots, brussel sprouts, chard, beets, radishes, turnips, kale, etc. Also the ground is uncharacteristically not frozen and there is an extended growing season.

  16. Great post Mark – here in sunny Queensland, Australia we are enjoying our Summer Solstice day today, but I think the principles you esposed about rhythm are just as sound.

    14 hours of sunlight for us today – I better get out there and make the most of it! 4 of them are already gone better get moving!

  17. I love your emphasis on natural human behavior mark. Not just “PALEO”, mind you…

    If you can stir enough people to reconnect with their true natures, we can have a revolution of not just nutrition but of consciousness..neat!

  18. Not primal ? but I’ve been so happy learning to screen print, hand-dyeing fabric and shirts and sewing. My garage studio and sewing den make the lack of outdoor sports ok. Maybe grok and grokette used this time to stitch up hides and tinker with plant-based dyes, or paint on the cave walls. I get a deep satisfaction from these artistic pursuits. But when warmer temps arrive I’ll be back climbing!

  19. From Wisconsin: I thought of Mark’s “reclining in the grass in the sun” photos yesterday while I really got a total kick out of dealing with our blizzard (16″ of snow).

    Thankfully, I didn’t have to drive, so I could heave the snow boulders out of the end of the driveway, throw snowballs at trees, and haul broken branches out of our yard. Plus shoveling and roof raking. It was a lot more fun with some Grok attitude than it otherwise would have been.

    1. And my neighbors probably think I’m nuts because I like to say “RAWR” a lot.

  20. Play! I played tag with a 3 and 6 year old the other week, and it was the most fun (and best sprint workout ever)that I have had in years.

  21. These 15 primal ways will be definitely helpful for many persons. Thanks for sharing this useful ideas. We should follow these useful tips in day to day life.

  22. The last few days I’ve been staying with family but technically I’m still on a winter retreat that started around two weeks ago. At first I was staying outside with two tarps but a wet snowfall soaked my sheets and extra layers to wear at night so after two uncomfortable days and nights huddled in wet clothes under a wet sheet and tarp cursing and grumpy I moved shop to a small abandoned structure kind of like a school portable. It’s nice – my new little house, or, as I prefer to call it, secret lair. It seems animal-proof except for some rodent crap, which seems old and was only in a small area. I set up a bed just by laying some clothes, sheets, towels, and blankets on the floor. I’ll be back there soon. It beats sleep deprivation in a church or shelter.