More than local gifts: Holiday 2021 is all about YOU.

vLife Holiday Blog Local Gifts and Self-Care Dec 2021

You’re in for a treat this month. Why? Because in addition to plugging the many benefits of local gifts this festive season, I’m gonna get personal about my journey as a recovering holiday stressball.

Local gifts are closer — and easier — than you think.

The author enjoys a holiday beverage, circa 1973.

Before I overshare, I want to acknowledge a few things: If you’re reading this blog, you probably care about local small business, shopping local, and finding those perfect handcrafted gifts. And even though it’s FUN to buy holiday gifts in your own backyard, it can also feel like extra work. And extra stress. I get it. 

But is going to the mall any easier? So many questions… Which Halifax bridge is less of a parking lot? The MacKay Bridge? The Macdonald Bridge? You’ve Googled christmas store halifax, christmas store dartmouth, halifax gifts for kids, and do you have any idea what to buy your great aunt or your cousin’s kid? (Is he your second cousin? Your first cousin once removed? Who understands these things??) 

The point is, I see you. vLife sees you. And we’re here to make local festive gifts an eeeeaaasier choice this year. And not just for your loved ones. We want you to treat yourself. In fact, no one deserves it more than you do. 

MY local gifts to you: Two sort-of-sad-but-funny stories

I think these stories nicely bookend my journey from People-Pleasing Christmas Victim to Human Who Enjoys the Holidays. Tragedy + time = comedy. Right?

Turkey neck… the gift that keeps on giving

On the morning of December 25th, 1997, I woke up early in my sunny apartment in North End Halifax. My then-boyfriend snored softly beside me, unencumbered by obligation. My first thought? MUST GET THE TURKEY IN THE OVEN. People (aka my future mother-in-law) were coming for dinner and it had to be PERFECT. I made a small movement towards the edge of the bed, and TWANG. My neck. Oh my god, my neck. I could. Not. Move. 

“Honey,” I whispered hoarsely, tapping him on the wrist, “I can’t move.” Tears slid down my cheeks, partly from the pain and partly from the bitter knowledge that I was assuredly defeated before I had even begun. Make no mistake — Christmas was for me, in those days, a bloody battleground. How could I make both of my divorced parents — who lived two hours apart — happy? What about my divorced (almost) in-laws? And my little brothers? How can I see my grandmother who might not remember me for much longer? And still produce a magical experience for my own new little family?

Sounds super fun, right?? 

The upside-down bird

Me and my mom on Christmas morning. It was the 70s… what can I say?

It was a muscle spasm for the history books, and there was nothing to do but surrender. I managed to slither out of bed and crawl into the kitchen, where later that morning I supervised my boyfriend and my mother as they prepared the turkey to go in the oven.

And goddess love them, they did a great job. Except they put the turkey in the oven upside down. (Which I have since learned through the magic of the internet, is a thing some people do on purpose.) Now, you’d think my mom, having cooked at that point in her life, conservatively, 60+ turkeys, would have figured this out, but no. (Sorry, Mom.)

To this day, 24 years later, we still refer to this incident and the affliction that caused it as “turkey neck”. As in, “I feel turkey neck coming on”, or “NO, nooooooo, not turkey neck.” I AM pleased to report, however, that it’s been some years since turkey neck has plagued me. 

Why? you ask. Because I have made some changes. Which brings me to my next story.

Holiday rage

Fast forward almost 20 years, one wedding, two kids, many cats, and four moves. We’re back in Halifax after living away for 10 years, and while I’m enjoying the holidays more than I used to (boundaries, people, boundaries!), I still feel exhausted and — frankly — burdened by MAKING Christmas for everyone else. vlife blog image overcoming Holiday stress local gifts

Enter my now-husband. Who is a darling, and loves Christmas. 

“I can’t wait for Christmas Day,” he sighs. “I love just lying around, eating chocolate, reading new books. You don’t have to do anything.”

I was frozen with rage. Not gonna lie.

“Do you know who makes that experience possible for you?” I smiled through clenched teeth.

It landed. That’s all I had to say, and things changed. (And, oh my, the LOOK on his face.) Today, he’s kind of the King of Christmas. He starts early and usually has most of the stockings done before the end of November, and thinks to stock up on frozen PC appetizers (guilty pleasure), smoked salmon, and wine. He actually takes charge. (And let me tell, you, it’s hot… Partners, take note. Wanna make your person feel special this holiday season? TAKE THE INITIATIVE. DO THE THINGS THAT NEED TO BE DONE. WITHOUT BEING ASKED.)

Local gifts give back — to your and to your community

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, or simply get caught up in the secular festivities of the season, the holidays can be stressful. There’s a lot of emotional labour, financial pressure, and again this year, the ever-present hum of worry that is COVID-19. I do have a few suggestions:

1. Be kind to yourself. 

There’s a reason this is my number one suggestion: Because it’s the hardest one to follow! But charity really does begin at home. If mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy. (I use the term “mama” loosely… one need not be the mother, nor even identify in the femme realm, to play the Holiday Mom role.) vLife Blog photo treat yourself this holiday season local gifts

Allow me to direct you to the Health & Wellness section of vLife, where providers offer everything from therapeutic massage to relaxing yoga to advice on saving money from Frugal Spending author Bridget Williams. Heck, while you’re at it, why not book yourself a little psychological support with Donna Mclean at Ocean Tides Counselling and Therapy or psychotherapist Jim Dalling? If there’s ever a time to attend to your mental health, it’s the holidays, amiright? 

Now that you’ve attended to your inner beauty, why not work on your outer beauty? You’re already fabulous, but vLife’s Beauty marketplace will make you even MORE fabulous – if that’s even possible! Try a facial or zap some of those unwanted hairs at Sincerely, Skin, indulge in some new extensions at Beauty Zone by Toya, or zshuszh up (I have no idea how to spell “zshuzsh”) that luxurious beard at Three Stacks Barbershop

2. Buy local, give back, amplify your impact — and feel better! 

We all have a part to play in the economic recovery of our communities. When you patronize local makers and local artists, and buy local food, you’re amplifying your impact in ways you may not have thought about. Buying from small local business instead of big box stores keeps more than three times your purchase dollars in your community, creates more local jobs, and keeps cash circulating through other local businesses. If you haven’t already watched vLife’s video about the benefits of buying local, now’s a great time to check it out.)

Local independent businesses also give more to local charities, ensure sustainable economic growth and supply chains, and help you reduce your carbon footprint. Plus, on a very personal level, hearing the shop owners in my neighbourhood thank me, by name, for shopping for local gifts in their stores feels really, really good.

One last thought: If you’re just getting started on your shopping now (no shade… I’ve been there), buying local holiday gifts is guaranteed to alleviate stress. If you missed last month’s post about beating supply chain anxiety, here it is!

3. Meaningful local gifts don’t always come from a store.

I know, I know… we tell ourselves the same thing every year: THIS holiday season, I’m going to keep it simple. Scale back. Spend less. Be more mindful. vLife holiday blog post skating with friends local gifts

We all know how hard it can be to change the way we — and our families — have always done things. (Stay tuned till the end for another little story about this very thing.) But if you’ve ever said to yourself, “This is too much. There has to be a more meaningful way to honour the holidays”… trust me, there is.

There are so many gifts we can give each other, but maybe the most important is the gift of our attention. Maybe take some of that shopping time and do something fun with kids or your special person. Make your mom her favourite hodgepodge, seafood pie, and blueberry grunt for dinner. You know your neighbour needs a break — invite her for a beer at Garrison Brewery Halifax. Or gather up a gang to watch new year fireworks, skate on the Christmas Halifax oval (okay, I stuffed a keyword in there — I admit it!), or check out other holiday events in Halifax.

One more story, and a word of encouragement

Today, I do things a little differently. About five years ago, I decided I too deserved to experience a Christmas Day of sloth and excess. So here’s what I do: I make a BIG meal on Christmas Eve, with turkey, lamb curry, tourtière, the whole works. (Only saucy, soupy, butter-laden vegetable dishes are permitted. No salad. And of course it’s all local food. The Bountywoods Farm turkeys are to-die-for.) I invite my extended family and we do that thing where we steal gifts from each other to see who can walk away with the best present.

The author’s Christmas Eve dinner… mmmmmm.

Then, on Christmas Day, I vej. I eat leftovers, I gorge on chocolate, I read my new books — just like everyone else in my house. I don’t make or attend Christmas dinner. And even though I got pushback from some family members the first year or two, everyone now understands that THIS IS WHAT I DO. And it’s fine. In fact, it’s wonderful.

So what would happen if we all laid down the guilt? Close your eyes and imagine 100 Holiday Moms in a room… and then ask yourself: What if we all just said no? No to even one thing. Maybe it’s spending Christmas Day cooking, like me, or maybe it’s buying gifts for your adult nieces and nephews, or maybe it’s driving all over the province to visit four different sets of grandparents.

Whatever it is, it’s okay. This holiday season, consider what you can let go of. What would happen — what COULD happen — if we laid down even a little bit of the guilt and pressure?

From me and the gang at vLife to you, have a happy, restful, healthy, creative, restorative holiday season! You’ve earned it. 

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