After Halloween passes, it is common knowledge that the holiday season is on its way and along with it comes one of my old enemies: stress.
Around the first of November, it treads lightly. But as Thanksgiving gets closer and closer, it begins to barge into my life like a crowd at Walmart on Black Friday, or Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
At that point, although the holidays are an anticipated time of year, they can become overwhelming. For me, it all started about a month ago, when my grandmother informed me that it was my turn to host Thanksgiving dinner this year. It was my first time hosting and I was assigned to cook for 14 people.
I spent the entire first half of November dedicating my nights and weekends to making lists, shopping, cleaning my house and figuring out how to fit 14 people at a table for six. Sure, it was a bit stressful, and even caused me to get the first cold sore of my life, but I handled it.
Things didn’t take a turn for the worse until last Wednesday. Just as I was about to leave work for the day to begin my long Thanksgiving weekend, I received some terrible news: I had a flat tire. I had hours worth of cooking ahead of me that night and was now stuck at work.
Fortunately, several members of the editorial staff offered to change my tire. After hearing the joke “How many reporters does it take to change a tire?” from passersby about 10 different times, my tire was changed and I was ready to hit the road. I could finally begin my cooking and last-minute preparations.
I spent the entire rest of that day cooking. I have never spent that much time in a kitchen in my life, but I got about half of my menu prepped. Although I was very stressed at that point — imagine boiling pots overflowing, the timer going off incessantly and the dirtiest kitchen floor I’ve ever had — it didn’t compare to what happened after I went to bed.
That night I dreamt about turkeys — dancing turkeys, talking turkeys, turkeys that no one wanted to eat — all kinds of turkeys. I woke with a start at about 6 a.m. and the cooking extravaganza began again. Around noon, my family started to show up for the day’s festivities. And fortunately for me, my turkey, although it neither danced nor talked, ended up tasting pretty darn good. Crisis avoided.
Sure, I was stressed out and had nightmares about turkeys and wasn’t sure that my dinner would be edible, but now it’s all over. I felt a wave of relief wash over me as the last family members said their good-byes and walked out the door.
That relief lasted for about five minutes. I immediately began thinking: “I’ve got to get the house clean! Have I gotten enough Christmas shopping done? I need to check out the Black Friday deals! Why isn’t my tree up yet? Should we put the lights up on the house tonight? And why is my eye twitching again?”
OK, realistically I didn’t think all of these things, but sometimes that’s how it feels. Thanksgiving comes and goes, but the stress sticks around through Christmas. I’ve made a pretty solid dent in my shopping list, but I don’t think that underlying stressful feeling is going to disappear until Dec. 25 has been marked off on my calendar.
You see, I’ve never been one to handle stress well. I usually keep it all bottled up inside until I hit my breaking point and frantically drive to the store in search of candy bars and the whipped cream you can squirt straight into your mouth.
However, after reflecting on all the work it takes to put on a successful Thanksgiving dinner and buy the perfect gift for everyone on my list, it makes me realize that it’s all worth it. I’ve got a greater appreciation for the years I don’t have to cook Thanksgiving dinner, and I love seeing the looks of happiness my family gets when they open that perfect gift.
I just have to remember to breathe.