Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, or any of the other holidays that fall in and around late December, there are common experiences. Hosts hustle to get their homes decorated, cleaned, and ready for guests. Workers send emails and get caught up on everything before the holiday slow down. Shoppers fight throngs for mall parking spots and knit scarves; smarter shoppers wait patiently for the delivery truck to show up. Families gather. Gifts are exchanged. Food is prepared. Food is eaten. Merriment pervades and holiday cheer hangs in the air.
But there’s an omnipresent dark side common to every holiday, too: it’s not easy. We face mountains of junk food everywhere we go and easily-offended people who just won’t take “no” for an answer. We feel compelled to spend extensive time with family members, regardless of the state of our relationships or how we feel about them personally. We have to spend money. We have to cook, we have to clean, we have to follow the schedule and get things done on time.
It’s a lot to handle and we need all the help we can get. So today, I’m going to give you a cheat sheet for having a happy and healthy Primal Christmas (or holiday of your choice).
Don’t lie. You forgot. Or you procrastinated. Or you’re just stumped; there’s always that one person in your life for whom you have no clue what to get. Rather than spend several days researching the optimal present for the difficult among us and creating Excel sheets, simply select gifts from lists carefully and thoughtfully curated by people you trust. Like me (I hope).
The holidays would be a breeze if it weren’t for everyone else. There’d be no one offering you “just another drink” or “just a bite.” You wouldn’t have to politely smile and nod at an awkward and inappropriate political rant delivered at the dinner table. You wouldn’t have to explain why you’re not eating the bread or why you added butter and not margarine to your sweet potatoes. Unfortunately, though, the world and its inhabitants are probably not illusions generated by your mind. These are real people you must talk to and actual social situations that you must navigate. Hopefully, these articles will help you do it.
As much as we like to discuss how hard the holidays can be on everyone, they can also be pretty darn joyous, uplifting, and beautiful. You get out what you put in, and if you’re approaching the holidays with a survivor’s bent, you might miss out on all the great things happening.
If there’s one thing that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom, it’s that we follow rituals and maintain traditions. We bury the dead. We ritualize mating and coupling with rings and marriage ceremonies. We make art to commemorate things greater than us. We do things like they used to simply because that’s the way they’ve always been done. These things seem silly, maybe even quaint when you examine them closely. Buying a miniature pine tree, standing it up in your living room, and adorning it with lights, glass spheres, and various other icons? That’s pretty strange, viewed in isolation. Do most people know why they’re buying a Christmas tree? Maybe not. I don’t think it matters as long as it makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. That’s an important part of being human, and it doesn’t require formal religion or even “spirituality” to make you feel good and whole.
Getting an awesome gift is great. But the best part of receiving something might be the confirmation that the person giving it really cares enough to devote time, money, and brain activity to your happiness. Same goes for giving to others. Having someone in your life who inspires in you the same kind of dedication and thoughtfulness required to give a great gift is priceless. Also, and this is actually central to the discussion of giving and receiving and general goodwill toward men and women, receiving and especially giving gifts confer health benefits. Some might call this selfishness, and so what? Selfishness can be a good thing.
Most of the other sections are at least tangentially related to stress, usually because they discuss stressors – events, activities, responsibilities, and people that upset homeostasis and create stress in your life. Learning how to handle those stressors is an important aspect of dealing with stress, but there’s more to it than that. How do we handle stress itself, directly? Whether it’s mother-in-law-related stress or trying-to-get-the-house-clean-in-time-for-company-related stress, there are helpful methods for improving our resilience and getting a handle on the physiological stress response.
You’ve got your significant other nagging at you to do this or that. You’ve got family to pick up at the airport, presents to wrap, shopping to do, food to prepare. Hitting the gym is likely the last thing on your mind. And the devil may care “it’s the holidays!” justifications for sedentism are persuasive and tempting, but don’t fall for it. The need to stay active doesn’t go away just because the Christmas tree is up, and if you spend the last two weeks of December eating garbage, drinking, and sitting around in ugly sweaters, you’ll regret it. Those extra few, extra soft pounds around your middle, the middling results when you actually get back to the gym for the first time, the reduced stamina and strength, the icky feeling (yeah, “icky” isn’t a word I like to use, but it was about the only word I could find that captured the feeling) of not really moving for an extended period of time. It’s not good. Plus, staying active can actually deepen the holiday spirit, particularly if you involve your friends and family in the activities.
The 80/20 rule was created with the holidays in mind. It acknowledges the reality of the world in which we live and the way our minds work. We can’t — and probably shouldn’t — be perfect. More often than not, those folks who claim perfection are sinning internally, barely keeping the grain and junk food lust at bay by sheer will and absolute avoidance. Pure, as it turns out, isn’t really pure. Perfect is impossible. The 80/20 rule allows us to safely sate our desires, whether those desires be to eat a slice of pizza because we’re craving it or because we just don’t want to eat salad while everyone else digs in to the pizza. Sometimes, it’s easier and healthier to just compromise.
For some, the best approach to a cheat day is total avoidance. The straight and narrow works for them, so why stray? Others benefit from cheat days, finding them useful outlets for temptation. Whatever happens, it’s usually helpful to acknowledge the “cheat” and own it. Don’t eat a cookie, say “that’s the last one,” and then go back and do it again ten more times. Be honest with yourself. If that means abstinence, cool. If that means arranging a formal holiday cheat day schedule, great. Just be consistent.
Despite our best intentions, we’re gonna overindulge. We’re humans. It’s what we do. We make mistakes. And even if the overindulgence is planned and absent guilt, there are still the physiological and metabolic ramifications to deal with. Luckily, there are articles for that.
Ah, the holiday deal. There’s nothing quite like it, is there? Standing outside a store twelve hours before opening, sizing up the folks on either side of you (“I bet that guy wants the 40-inch LED TV. I could totally take him!”), spending weeks scouring the deals forums for inside scoops on sales. Your entire being consumed by the pursuit of the deal, you become a sex organ for the holiday economy. That’s all well and good, but I’d argue there are better ways to spend your holiday.
Alcohol is a big part of the holidays, whether because red wine goes great with the roast lamb you’re having for Christmas dinner or because drinking makes tolerating your extended family possible. You can abstain, of course. That’s a fantastic choice that many people take. But most people won’t do that. If you intend to drink, particularly more than normal, it’s important to drink well and help your body recover from your indulgences. Luckily, there are ways you can mitigate the harm of drinking by bolstering your body’s antioxidant capacity and choosing healthier sources of ethanol.
Last but not least, food! Food is the foundation. People come together, and eat. They “pass the gravy” to each other. They take bites and compliment the chef. They mutually coo over how good something tastes. It’s a beautiful thing, sitting down with people you like and love to eat good food. You may not be “breaking bread” at your Primal functions, but the intent and effect are similar. Another thing: since you’re something of an ambassador for the Primal movement in your respective families, you owe it to the movement to cook something delicious and uniquely Primal that makes people realize maybe we aren’t so crazy after all. If even one person rethinks their stance on your “caveman diet thingie,” that’s progress. Good cooking is the universal language. Become fluent (or at least proficient).
Above all else, revel in love — for self, for family, for lovers, for friends, for pets, for community, for nature, and for life itself. If you do that, a lot the other stuff tends to fall into place.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy Holidays!