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Stay Cool as the Holidays Heat Up!

It was going to be the perfect Christmas. The family was flying from three distant cities. The turkey was plump, the salad perfect, and a festive centerpiece graced my table. A checklist on the fridge ensured I wouldn't forget a thing. What could go wrong?

For starters, platoons of ants marched in through the heat ducts to dry their tootsies. The roasting pan sprang a fatal leak and turkey drippings covered the oven’s heating element. (Shrieking smoke alarm. Visibility, two feet.)

The centerpiece molted onto the salad plates, the dog was sick, and as I passed my mom’s special fruit cake, which my folks had hand-carried through the airport, I saw (in the nick of time) the ants had beaten us to it.

At one time, I would have been in hysterical tears, but I have vastly lowered my holiday expectations. You can too! Here are some suggestions for letting the holidays happen gently this year.

1. Don't let the "shoulds" get you down. Maybe your mother did bake her own cornbread for her homemade dressing; boxed stuffing tastes fine. Use paper napkins, even if your sister-in-law always uses linen. (Let the kids draw some holiday decorations on them.)

2. Don't fret. It doesn’t matter that the menorah candles are lop-sided or that all the blue lights are on the same side of the Christmas tree.

3. Cut TV time drastically and keep your level of activities sensible. Attend the holiday functions you choose; for others say, "We've got another commitment." (Which may be to take it easy at home.)

4. Develop traditions such as devoting a day to making cookies with the family or saving greeting cards to open together one night to think about faraway friends. Activities repeated from year to year lend structure and calm to the holidays.

5. Don't worry about spending exactly the same amount on each child or sibling. What matters is that the gift is right for the child.

6. Make meals ahead of time or rely on your grocer's freezer. Relax your diet. Don't set yourself up to fail, but do try to maintain your exercise program.

7. It's okay if you don't have remembrances on hand for people who arrive bearing gifts, though it’s nice. Be glad, not guilty. Take them something for Valentine's Day.

8. Emphasize the spiritual aspect of the season. Attend services. If your family is not religious, share beautiful poems or songs. Nurture quiet joy and peace.

Lynn Pribus is a mother of two sons, freelance writer, editor and musician.

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