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).
Last Minute Gift Ideas
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).
- 10 Last-Minute Primal Gift Ideas 
- Happy Holidays From Lil’ Grok and the Korgs! 
- 13 Holiday Gifts to Support a Primal Lifestyle 
- 12 Holiday Gifts for Your Primal Tribe 
- Primal Holiday Gifts 
- Nom Nom Paleo Holiday Gift Guide 2014 
- Paleo Holiday Gift Guide 
Navigating the Social Aspect
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.
- Dear Mark: Family Dinner 
- Dear Mark: How to Politely Pass on Dessert 
- Top 7 Most Common Reactions to Your High-Fat Diet (and How to Respond) 
Savoring and Thriving, Not just Surviving
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.
- 15 Primal Ways to Savor the Holiday Season 
- Savoring the Holiday 
- A Primal Take on the Holidays: Surviving or Thriving? 
Enjoying and Appreciating Ritual and Tradition
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.
The Joy of Giving and Receiving
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.
- The Benefits of Giving Thanks 
- The Joy of Receiving 
- How Being Thankful Can Make You Healthy 
Dealing with Stress
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.
- The Definitive Guide to Stress, Cortisol and the Adrenals: When “Fight or Flight” Meets the Modern World 
- 6 Tea Ingredients That Can Help You Unwind, Relax, and Chill Out  (and 6 more )
- 15 Ways to Fight Stress 
- Hormesis: How Certain Kinds of Stress Can Actually Be Good for You 
- Rethinking Stress: It Could Save Your Life 
- And don’t forget Primal Calm 
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.
- 10 Active Ways to Celebrate the Holidays 
- 10 Ways to Stay Active in the Cold Winter Months 
- 15 Concrete Ways to Play 
- Why You Must Absolutely Play, Every Day! (plus 10 Pointers for Successful Playtime) 
- WOW: Primal Skirmish  (check out the other Workouts of the Week , too)
Using the 80/20 Rule
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.
- 80/20 Principle 
- Remember the 80/20 Principle 
- Dear Mark: 80/20 Revisited 
- The 80/20 Principle: When 20 Inches Toward 40 
- A Little Perspective 
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.
- Dear Mark: Managing a Cheat Day 
- Should You Eat Periodic “Cheat” Meals? 
- Dear Mark: Should I Increase Carb Intake for Weight Loss? 
How to Recover from Holiday Overindulgence
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.
- How to Recover from Holiday Overindulgence 
- Post Holiday Recovery 
- Flatulence: Foes and Fixes 
- Why Fast? Part Six — Choosing a Method 
- You can eat a lot during the Holiday Season and gain no body fat, as long as you also eat little 
Holiday Shopping Craziness
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.
- Choose Your Booze: A Guide to Healthy Drinking 
- Hangover Hacks You Can Hang Your Hat On 
- Alcohol: The Good and the Bad 
- Dear Mark: Beef Suet, Lowered HR, Alcohol, and Long Easy Runs 
- The Highbrow Paleo Guide to Binge Drinking  (and Addendum )
- Drinking while on the paleo diet 
- Paleo Drinking Cheat Sheet 
- Paleo Plus Alcohol: Now We’re Talkin’ 
Food and Recipes
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).
- Why We Crave Comfort Foods 
- Heritage Turkey and Mashed Parsnips 
- Crock Pot Turkey and Primal Stuffing 
- Spice Rubs for Your Holiday Roast 
- A Primal Thanksgiving Menu (plus a Contest) 
- Ultimate Walnut Pie Crust with Pumpkin Filling 
- Primal Holiday Desserts 
- Last Minute Holiday Recipe Round-up 
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!