Holidays are supposed to be a break from stressful daily life, the grind. A departure from our participation in the rat race so that we can slow down and appreciate the finer, more meaningful things in life that everyone tends to neglect: family, food, friends, gratitude, and higher callings. The modern dilemma is that between travel plans, far flung family members, gift-buying, road closures, school events, catastrophic weather, and conflicting schedules, too many of us turn the holiday season into another kind of grind. Rather than slow down and enjoy what truly matters, we sleep less, eat more junk food, rush more often, overspend more frequently, worry about plans and gifts and family, and then wonder why we’re so tired and cranky by the end of it.
Besides the amazing recipes and great winter workouts, what food for thought can the Primal Blueprint offer this time of year to help us savor the holidays? What can we do to make the most of these shortest, darkest days and busiest holiday weeks? How can we slow down and savor the holidays?
Observe the Winter Solstice
Christmas, Hanukah, and all the other classic winter holidays are certainly great, but they’re everywhere. You don’t have to look for them. Perhaps you should try observing and celebrating that most Primal of holidays: winter solstice. The solstice is the shortest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere), and so from an ancient standpoint it’s the darkest day of the year. But the thing about the shortest or darkest day of the year is that it can only get better and brighter from there. Imagine how meaningful that would have been to a people thousands of years ago who were hewed to the sun and the moon, who didn’t have electricity or reliable lighting at night.
There are many ways to celebrate it. You can have a bonfire with friends, food, and drink. You can do a quiet nighttime walk through the cold winter wonderland. You can stargaze. You can have a dinner party. Or it can be a quiet, contemplative affair. But use it as a place to stop, slow down, and savor the season. Take a breath—it only gets better from here.
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.
Plan a Power Outage
One reason the holidays are often stressful is we aren’t keeping with the light and dark cycles of the season. Instead of allowing the darkness to descend upon us and trigger our circadian rhythm to make us sleepy, we’re out battling fellow shoppers in brightly lit superstores. We’re squeezing in a late night gym session to work off the cookies and pie. We’re “relaxing” at the end of the day with a Netflix marathon. At least once a week, give your body the benefit of dim evening and a full night’s sleep with a voluntary power outage.
Protect Against Stress
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. Stress will happen, and you need to build up your resistance before it hits. Granted, if you can give some (or all) of the work away, by all means do, but if you can’t, load up on these anti-stress protocols.
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.
Take a Break
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 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.
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, especially during a full moon. If you’re in the snow, do snow shoes—one of my favorite childhood ways to get around. Take the kids, and enjoy the giddy energy and imagination they’ll bring to it.
Make an Outdoor Winter Bucket List
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.
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.
Take Up a Creative Hobby
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.