With the festive season fast approaching, we’ll soon start thinking about family gatherings, food, decorations, gifts and while it is a fantastic opportunity to connect with the ones who are most special to us, for many it is a time of busyness, anxiety and stress.
The busyness can come from the actual planning, organisation and execution of the event, or from trying to live up to the general expectation that it is a season of giving, of happiness, and of love, even though things don’t always pan out that way.
When we see television commercials advertising Christmas, we see attractive looking people all gathering around a gorgeously decorated Christmas tree, or sitting at a table with an amazing spread of food cooked to perfection (no undercooked turkey!) with everybody smiling and laughing, and they are all dressed in white (I think that part must be an Australian summer thing!).
Although this seemingly picture-perfect scenario may make some people strive for a similar outcome, the reality is that setting such high expectations results in busyness that quickly diminishes any possibility of a joyous occasion.
Prior to my unbusy journey, I enjoyed organising gatherings such as my kids’ birthday parties. I would begin planning months in advance, firstly by selecting a “theme” and then spending hours on the internet and visiting retail stores trying to find the perfect decorations to match the theme. I spent hundreds of dollars setting up the event.
The night before the party, I would stay up all hours baking and decorating elaborate birthday cakes, each year trying to outdo myself: a carousel, teddy bear, giant cupcake, rainbow layer cake…My husband hated the night before a party, because he knew it would end with me stressing out over melting icing, or not being able to work with the fondant. It all had to be perfect.
And then of course the day of the event was always so stressful and busy, running around setting everything up and making sure all the guests were being fed and entertained. There was never any time to mingle with anyone, and I would almost always forget to stop and eat!
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the gatherings we had and my children loved their birthday celebrations, but the busyness associated with entertaining finally took its toll on all of us.
After beginning my unbusy journey, I realised that I could still entertain but in a way that did not create a day of busyness, stress and anxiety.
Here are some ways that entertaining can be simpler, more enjoyable and less busy:
- Change your expectations: By reducing your expectations and not trying to recreate a television commercial, you can focus your energy on actually enjoying being in the company of others.
- Ask for help: You are not being weak if you admit you need help, and most people like to be able to assist. When my in-laws have their Christmas party, each family brings a plate of food to share and helps out with the cleaning up afterwards. My kids also love setting the table.
- Downsize your gathering: Instead of holding an elaborate dinner party or buffet lunch, opt for a simpler option such as an informal “coffee and cake” gathering, or just going to visit family members without sharing a meal.
- Smaller guest list: Yes this can be difficult, as we don’t like to offend anyone but reducing the numbers can make a huge difference in reducing busyness. My kids no longer have parties with over 20 children attending- they now invite a few close friends to go to the movies or ten pin bowling with. Less stressful for everybody.
- Focus on what you can control: Family gatherings can be stressful when certain people don’t get along or if there is tension in the room. Although you cannot control how others behave, you can control the way you react to and perceive the people attending your gathering. By responding to negativity in a positive way, or at least not reflecting the same type of response, there is a chance that the situation will diffuse itself.
- Enjoy the moment: Learn to relax and enjoy the moment, rather than worrying about all the cleaning up you need to do afterwards. Things happen: someone drops a glass, there are muddy footprints on the floor, the cake was under baked, the Jones family arrived three hours late. Accept the hiccups, and move on.
By removing the busyness out of organising a family gathering, party or event, we can learn to focus on enjoying the day for what it is: the chance to spend time and connect with those around us, in celebration of life regardless of whether it is Christmas, Thanksgiving, a birthday or other occasion. We remember these occasions for the way they made us feel at the time, not what decorations were hanging or what colour scheme was followed.
How do you celebrate special occasions- are you a perfectionist with high standards and expectations or do you prefer to keep things unbusy and relaxed? Share your stories and tips!