Think about the perfect Chagim and we may visualize beautiful scenes of family togetherness: Abba carving the roast chicken for a traditional family dinner; a smiling Imma putting out the Rosh Hashana simanim (symbols) for the family seder, Safta sharing cherished family stories with the happy children. Ahhhhhhh!
But all too often this sweet vision is only a dream. For many families, the Chagim can be a time of anxiety, strife, and overindulgent behavior.
We worry about the food and being in close quarters with relatives, who we haven’t seen for awhile. We stress over how our family members will get along and whether we will have enough and the right kind of food. We are concerned with all the work of cleaning and preparing for Chagim and getting through so many meals without totally blowing our diet. (Did I mention the food?). We think about last year and seeing the same faces, hearing the same jokes, eating the same food on the same plates and we sigh in resignation.
Wait! STOP the movie! It does not have to be this way. The following tips will help you make the chagim the special time that it was meant to be.
- Take Control of What Stresses You:
We often feel out of control at Chagim. We feel that our choices are limited by our family or coerced by the sheer force of family tradition. But you do have a choice. You can take some control over the holidays, instead of letting them control you.
For instance, you may find the family expectations overwhelming. You have to make the honey cake according to your grandmother’s recipe, even though you personally don’t care for it. You have to go over to your cousin’s house for the festive dinner, even though he always picks a fight. You have to buy new clothes for the whole family, even though you don’t have the budget to do so because everyone wears new clothes. You don’t really want to do any of these things but you have to. It’s a tradition!
Stop a minute! Breathe and open your mind to a new possibility. What would happen if you did things differently this year? Ask yourself why you are doing these things that make you unhappy. Make a list of what traditions you do for each Chag and why. Then write a list next to each tradition of reasons you shouldn’t do them. See what you can drop or change to make it more pleasant for you. If you can’t leave it out, perhaps you can change your response to it. Just making the list will remind you that you have a choice!
- Set Boundaries:
If you are too tired or overwhelmed to be the host for dinner this year, ask another family member to take it over. If you are the host, you can be gentle but firm with your family and guests about when they should arrive, what they need to bring, and how they can help out. There is no need to be the martyr, cooking and cleaning every day for two weeks. Everyone can pitch in and help.
If you are traveling to visit your family, it is also good to set boundaries with them about how long and where you will stay. If it is good for you, it will be good for everyone.
- Lighten up
Your sense of humor is necessary, especially now. Don’t take everything so seriously. Sometimes you just have to chuckle to yourself and move on. They are the way they are and you are not going to change them. The important thing is the family memories we are creating now.
- Plan your eating:
There is no point in setting yourself up for regret. You know there will be a lot of delicious temptations and having all of them is not an option unless you like being in a delirious state moaning, “I ate the whole thing!”
Tell yourself that you can enjoy yourself without overeating. Choose one or two of the delicacies and have a small portion of each. You can have your cake and eat it too if you use portion control. It will also help if during the preceding two days you eat lighter meals.
If you are the host, consider planning some lighter meals, vegetarian and dairy, to ease the burden on everyone’s digestive system. Everyone will thank you for it. Remember that the chagim are not just about the food. And just because it is there doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Eat what is good for you.
- Organize family activities:
Think of some fun activities that the family can choose to do together, preferably with some physical aspect like a walk or some other moderate exercise. The advantage is you can burn off some of those calories you have taken in and bond with family members at the same time. You can also go out solo if you need the space. It’s a great way to blow off steam and recharge your energy.
- Practice appreciation:
We often focus on all the things that are not going right in our lives or the ways in which our relationships are not the way we want them to be. Paying attention to the negative can only create more negativity and cause you to get into a downward spiral emotionally. This year, try something different.
Put your focus on the good! Think about each of your family members in turn. What character traits or strengths do you admire? What are you grateful for about each one? This may not be easy in the beginning, but with an open mind, you can find at least one thing to appreciate. You don’t have to tell them, but sharing something that you appreciate about another will almost always bring a smile. It may even change the whole family atmosphere.
Want to survive the upcoming chagim, family gatherings? Learn how to use these strategies hands on in your own family at my workshop, A Chag with a Hug on Monday, September 21st, 10 AM at the new Hub Etzion in the Gush Etzion Industrial Park.
The key to not only surviving but thriving during the upcoming Chagim is to remember that we have a choice in how we perceive and experience the people in our lives, especially our families. This year, choose to be good to yourself!
Shana Tova U’metuka!