I recently finished designing a holiday "thank you" card for my clients. On the cover, it says, "Happy holidays and many thanks!" While I have many thanks for my wonderful clients, I often wonder if the holidays are all that happy. Susan—my fairy godmother who used to be my neighbor when I lived in Chestnut Hill—is a therapist, and her busiest time of the year is the holiday season. "People get stressed, especially around the holiday," she told me.
Holidays have been hard for me in the past. When I was married to my former husband, who grew up in a traditional Taiwanese family, I used to be very stressed. Taiwanese wives are supposed to take care of all family members, and my former husband was the only and oldest son in his family. Taiwanese people are supposed to obey the elder. I had no say about who was coming to stay in our house, whether it be his siblings or cousins or aunties or uncles or anyone. I am a type-A person and wanted to please everyone. Would everyone like the food I cook? Would my children behave in front of everyone? Would I do anything to offend anyone? I used to worry that I would not be able to play my role as the good daughter-in-law. I had difficulty sleeping around the holiday season.
When I was going through my divorce (and after the divorce), the holidays were still hard for me. Yes, I didn't need to worry about taking care of a group of guests anymore, but I didn't know where I was going? My family is in Taiwan, and I no longer belonged to my former husband's family. Since my ex and I alternate parenting schedules each year, I don't have my children with me every holiday. It was very hard for me. Because I understand how hard it can be, I have so much empathy for those who suffer from the holiday blues. Over the years, I've become more mature and learned how to view things from a different perspective. I hope my tips would be helpful for you!
Tip 1: Allow Yourself To Feel
Have you ever asked yourself how you feel and then tried to identify your feelings? Allow yourself to feel happy, sad, stressed, scared, confused, exhausted, joyful, excited. Don't view sadness, confusion, or fear as negative and try to avoid them. The more you try to avoid them, the more it will overwhelm you. Be honest with yourself and your friends. It is okay to say you're overwhelmed. It is okay to not look forward to the holiday season. For example, I recently asked a friend of mine about her plans for the holidays. Discussing a parenting schedule with her former husband has always been hard, so she was concerned. I can understand her feelings, and I was glad that she was honest with me, rather than pretending everything was exciting and great. If the holidays are hard for you, never hesitate to reach out to a friend who you can trust and talk to them or seek a professional therapist to listen to you.
Tip 2: Be Realistic
Since I have worked in the food industry for many years, I know too well how the holidays can be marketed to the audience. Have you watched the commercials on TV? "Buy this pie plate! Not only will this plate make your pie amazing, but your Thanksgiving will be filled with joy and gratitude!" "Order this turkey meal from our restaurant. It's no fuss, and everyone is happy!" "Buy this Christmas tree, and then this Christmas will be merry!"
Let me tell you one thing: there is no PERFECT holiday party. I have planned many cooking parties for my clients. I know it's impossible to achieve perfection. You can do everything you can to make your party perfect, but things can go wrong, and that's okay. If your turkey breast turns out dry, well, just tear it up and use it to make stir-fried rice the next day. If one guest has a gluten allergy, and you forgot to buy a gluten-free pie, ice cream will be fine. Who says you must have pies on Thanksgiving? If you're hosting, just getting everyone together is great! Count the things you should be grateful for and know that Thanksgiving is not about a showstopping dinner or to show off your fancy lifestyle—it's about being with your loved ones.
Tip 3: Be Creative. You Don't Need To Follow The Rules!
Posting photos of your family getting together, eating turkey on Thanksgiving doesn't equate to happiness, and you don't have to do it! One year, I hosted a hot pot party on Thanksgiving with my friend Connie, and we all had a blast. Hot pot (火鍋) is a Chinese cooking method in which you prepare a simmering pot of soup stock at the dining table. It contains a variety of East Asian ingredients. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are placed into the pot and cooked at the table, similar to fondue. Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, tofu, and seafood. I love hotpot because everyone gets to choose the ingredients they like to eat, and there isn't a lot of work to do with the leftovers. It also can be healthy. If you are watching your weight, just cook vegetables and tofu.
Also, there is no rule that you must spend holidays with family and friends. Last Christmas Eve, guess where I was? I was in Logan Airport, taking a flight to Mexico. Since my children were with my former husband, I decided to explore another country on my own. I learned so much about Mexican cuisine and recharged. As a bonus, the flight was much cheaper on Christmas Eve. I am glad I was able to save a few bucks to buy more tacos!
Tip 4: Keep A Workout Routine
The holiday season can be the busiest time of the year for many people. You may have projects due before the year ends and social obligations to fulfill. If you have a good workout routine—such as yoga, barre or jogging—don't set it aside when you are busy. Never forget to make time to do those activities that keep your body strong and your mind calm. Avoid overeating and overdrinking during the holidays. Take good care of yourself first, and then you will be able to take good care of those who you love!
Tip 5: Be Sensitive
Last but not least, since holidays are not easy and carefree for everyone, try to be sensitive when you ask friends and family about their vacation. If you know this holiday may be hard for someone who might have lost a partner or who is fighting a disease, send your love, and prepare your listening ears. Your presence and understanding may be the best gifts for those who need some emotional support. If you have experienced hardship during holidays, use your experience to help them. Let your friends and family know that whatever they feel about the holiday, it's just temporary, and next year might be different.
If this holiday is hard for you, I hope this blog somehow touches your heart. Trust me; it's okay to feel not okay, and there are always people who care about you! Since I've worked in the food industry for many years, holidays—in general—means more work. I've learned to cherish each day with my friends and family. Every day should be a holiday. Seriously, I mean it!
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Melissa is 100% MIT (Made in Taiwan), where she worked as a food writer. She’s also worked alongside renowned chefs like Ming Tsai and Joanne Chang, honing her craft and gathering stories along the way. Part story-teller, part educator, and part food lover, Melissa brings a special blend of experience, skill, and enthusiasm to her work. She blends her Asian background, her new home of New England, and love of food and culture to bring joy, optimism, and inspiration to food lovers and fun-seekers everywhere.
What sparked your passion for the industry?
The desire to make things by hand. The joy of sharing delicious, hearty food with students. The opportunity for people to get connected via cooking and baking. When a child smiled broadly and told me it’s the best scone he has ever made and eaten, it really made my day!
In your opinion, what’s the most important course?
Well, I usually take a peek at the wine list first. I like tapas style, so the course doesn’t really matter. Cheese and charcuterie are always a good place to start. And since I’m a pastry chef, there is always room for dessert!
Bill Gates is picking up your tab, where would you go?