As a kid, I never understood why adults always said that the holidays were such a stressful time. I mean, what’s stressful about spending two months wasting time at school making paper Indian headdresses and pilgrim hats and taking field trips to go see the Nutcracker, and then getting two weeks off during which you get a bunch of presents?
But now I’m sort of a grown up and I’ve hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner for eight, I am starting to understand what they meant. Just putting up the Christmas lights was a good four-hour affair complete with torrential rain, copious yelling, a minor ladder-related injury and some tears. December seems like a swirl of Black-Friday-Cyber-Monday-panic-shopping for the perfect gifts for everyone I know, a series of parties (and subsequent red wine hangovers) requiring me to figure out how to actually wear red lipstick while also eating food and always remember to add some Holiday Sparkle to my outfit. Holiday stress is real.
But holiday stress isn’t just about shopping, decorating, and having to dress nicely. The true spirit of holiday stress can be found in holiday eating.
Eating too much during certain times of the year is a special American pastime, and expressing guilt about it seems just as important. Even if you’re not usually a person who worries much about food or their weight, it’s hard to escape having to feel bad feelings about what you eat during the holidays.
I got an email from the wellness program that I participate in at work detailing exactly how many burpees are required to burn off a single serving of mashed potatoes (around 70 million) and the fact that you would have to run, like, twelve marathons in order to feel okay about eating an average-sized slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream.
Okay, yes, I am exaggerating. Because no, I did not even finish reading the email. I have enough dessert-related internal turmoil to make me pretty bonkers during the holidays, and I don’t need a side of guilt with my guilt, thank you very much. And while it’s fine to be a little more active when you know you’re going to eat a lot of buttery carbs, equating each bite of your grandma’s famous mashed potatoes with a requisite number of burpees takes the joy right out of those delicious forkfuls.
So let’s all try to put things in perspective this year. Thanksgiving is just a meal, albeit one which is more delicious and special than usual and which you might share with friends or with a lot of family members whom you might or might not get along with. You might have eaten too much pie and drank too much wine because you were happy or sad or stressed out and that’s okay. You don’t need to do 70 million burpees to make up for it (please don’t. I think you would actually die).
You might eat too many Christmas cookies because you only make them once a year and when Christmas is over there will be no more Christmas cookies in the world so you better eat 10 more because THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE.* And that’s okay. You might gain a few stress- and food-related holiday pounds. And that’s okay, too. (That’s why we all love sweaters and opaque tights this time of year.)
Just don’t waste your time freaking out about it, because 1) The holidays are stressful enough without worrying about precisely how many grams of fat are in your eggnog and 2) The holidays exist so that you can spend time celebrating with your family and friends. So relax, and eat, drink and actually be merry.
*You could also make Christmas cookies in March, if you wanted to. I am pretty sure that the Christmas cookie police will not root you out and arrest you for inappropriately timed holiday activities.