6 Ways to Slash Holiday Stress 
Get Out from Behind the Camera 
You’re a family member, not a historian, and this is Christmas, not C-SPAN. Put the video camera down and live the day instead of reliving it on TV later. Joe Berlinger, codirector of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, recommends focusing on key events that tell the story—the arrival, the toast, the presents. Record five 6-minute chunks throughout the day. You’re wrapped in 30.

When shooting family portraits, don’t force kids to be cute. They’ll go diva on you. Catch them 30 minutes after they wake up—they’re liveliest then. To elicit a fun reaction, extend a tape measure and then snap it back. Small kids love it, says Bambi Cantrell, author of The Art of Wedding Photography and a photographer in Pleasant Hill, California. With babies, brush their faces with a (clean!) feather duster for instant laughs.

Take the group shot an hour after dinner, when everyone is relaxed. Tell them all to stand at 45 degrees, 1 foot apart, front hip pushed away from the camera—the Great Slimming Technique. Have the back row hug the front row for an intimate and happy-looking family, even if it’s a huge lie. Shoot from the waist up—feet are irrelevant, unless you’re a family of podiatrists.

Knock Out the Greed 
Commercialism fuels terrific self-righteous anger in some people, but Santa isn’t a bad myth, and presents aren’t inherently evil. Maybe what turns “giving” into a great soulless gift orgy is the meaninglessness of it, especially when your kid will never ask for what he wants along with all the presents: time with you.

So give the toys and then play with him, says psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., author of The Over-Scheduled Child. Also give practical stuff—socks, mittens, Born to Run—to show there’s a utility to gifts. Then, when it’s his turn to give, he may take into account what someone else needs, says Melvin Oatis, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at New York University’s Child Study Center.

Simplify Your Shopping 
Whether you venture out on Black Friday or Christmas Eve, holiday shopping sucks, period. You can’t get away with undergifting your immediate brood, but cut your shopping time by deferring smaller gifts, like the present for that nephew you forgot you had.

Give him a shopping spree, says Robyn Freedman Spizman, author of Giftionary. All you need is a card and a simple sentiment. Cap the spending and promise to take him whenever he wants (after January 1). You’ll see what he really likes, and you’ll be spending time together.

Find a Gift that Earns You Sex
You can park this curveball without going anywhere near a mall. She keeps saying she wants to sing, paint, or speak Italian; prepay for some lessons and give her the space she needs to do them right. You’re showing her you’re interested in her soul. “The more you acknowledge who she is, the more you get back,” says Lou Paget, a certified sex educator and the author of 365 Days of Sensational Sex.

Of course, all this may take a little more prep time than you’ve allotted to this holiday season. Fortunately, the vintners of California, Brazil, and France have been working overtime on your behalf. Stop at a wine store and have the clerk help you put together a mixed 12-pack of good hooch. Pick robust reds for the winter months, lighter whites for the spring and summer. You’ll be out in half an hour, gift bags included.

Add some intimacy by attaching a handwritten list of the dates you want to have with her in the next year. The thought that, in December, you’re already planning a little dejeuner sur l’herbe (French for “picnic with a naked lady”) in July will make her melt with anticipation.

As a subtext to the presentation of your wine calendar, talk about the stuff you did when you started going out that you want to do again. This will not go unrewarded, especially if you leave out the part about having sex 15 times a week.

Write a Brag-Free Family Letter 
There’s room and purpose for a holiday letter, but it’s so easy for it to become an epic dumping ground for minutiae. (“Junior got an A-minus and still has that 3.8358 GPA!”) This thing should not resemble Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders.

It should be a quick, amusing update for friends and family, especially the ones you never get to see. Three rules: Keep it short, no more than a page; keep it positive, even if you lost a leg back in June; and don’t spend more than an hour writing it. It’ll still be great, and greatly appreciated.

Stay Sane Traveling by Plane 
You already know to book your flight to depart on Turkey or Christmas Day. Those are always less hectic times to fly. But if you’re traveling with the rest of the preholiday horde, at least minimize the pain by getting a ride to the airport—finding a parking space will be harder than getting curbside check-in at Baghdad International.

And use a secondary airport whenever you can. “Major airports are just goat rodeos,” says Sara Kanov, an Atlanta travel agent. And start planning for next year. Tickets go on sale 331 days prior, so if you know where you’ll be, buy now. It may not be the cheapest ticket, but you’ll have the choice of humane times and seats. The ideal one? The second exit row—it has the legroom and seats that recline.

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