(Inner) Peace on Earth
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(Inner) Peace on Earth

Shopping. Cooking. Entertaining relatives. The demands of the holiday season are beyond stressful, but we've got sneaky (some might even say Scrooge-y) tactics to help you hang on to your bliss.

Americans are excessive. After all, we're the folks who brought you the Big Gulp, Kim Kardashian, and fried butter. Yes, we love to live large -- and can show the rest of the world how it's done -- but our fun-loving tendencies can get a little out of hand during the holidays. All we do to eat, drink, and make merry (including maxing out our credit cards and our waistlines) would likely hospitalize the residents of any other country. So this year let's draw a line in the artificial snow and pledge to take it down a notch.

Seasonal Stressor

Greeting Card Envy

No sooner has the Thanksgiving turkey been carved up for leftovers than they start arriving: the holiday cards and their bloated cousins, the annual family newsletters. You pretend to be charmed and display the cards and letters on your mantel, but your anxiety builds with each posed photo of a family on vacation, each ornate manger scene and, most of all, each chirpy update. You've been working on your own letter for weeks now. "Johnny, our 17-year-old, recently had a cameo on Cops," your latest draft says brightly. But then the mailman delivers today's haul and out falls a holiday missive from your high school best friend. She appears to have lost 30 pounds while summering at a writers' colony, where she crafted charming anecdotes about her captain of industry husband, her Olympic ski champion son, and her summa cum laude Ivy League daughter. "Yapples, our pug, took honors this year among smash-nose breeds at Westminster," she notes excitedly.

The Antidote: Dig out your high school yearbook and peer at the photo of your friend when she was fat and wore Larry King glasses. Then forget about holiday cards until January 2, when you'll send off a batch of whimsical little notes that say, "Let us be the last to wish you a Happy New Year."

Madness at the Mall

When did the job of buying every single holiday present become a mother's duty? Some anthropologists trace the custom back to the Neanderthals, though skeptics point out that they were notoriously cheap, often getting by with regifted mammoth bones. All we know for certain is that sometime during the intervening millennia men began claiming they were color-blind and couldn't pick out sweaters. Or even Favorite Teacher mugs ("they all look alike").

That leaves the modern woman with dozens of people to shop for. Everyone needs a gift, and at some point your children migrated from sending a letter to the North Pole to creating spreadsheets for Santa. Can we all agree that gift-giving is out of control?

Luckily, the advent of online shopping has eased your burden, as have all-night pharmacies. (What guy on your list won't appreciate a beautifully wrapped Mangroomer Essential Nose and Ear Hair Trimmer?) And you made a dent in your list on Black Friday by spending four hours at the mall. You'd have stayed longer had the National Guard not been called in to break up a fracas in the toy department, where 279 mothers were fighting over 278 Dirty-Nuke Suitcase Action Paks.

As you unload your booty, you congratulate yourself on not having gotten arrested. Besides, as a savvy online shopper you're confident you can pick up the dirty-nuke suitcase for a song on eBay. Just as you wheel in your last pallet of packages, your neighbor comes by with a plate of holiday cookies. You recognize this for the ruse it is seconds before she smugly drops her bombshell: "I'm pretty sure I got the last Dirty-Nuke Suitcase Action Pak in the tristate area. Now I'm thinking of selling it on eBay for $1,000."

The Antidote: Offer her $500.

The In-Laws

PopPop and MeeMaw arrive on the worst travel day of the year, when you'd rather take a bullet than drive to the airport. Your in-laws have flown long distances on the worst travel day of the year, when they expect massive amounts of sympathy for doing so. A self-pity standoff ensues.

By the time you reach baggage claim you're near meltdown since you just spent two hours on a drive that normally takes 30 minutes. You ignore PopPop's agitation on learning you're parked in the high-price short-term garage and MeeMaw's on learning she has to trek to "Siberia" instead of being picked up at the curb by the person she refers to as "my son." (Little does she know that her son is at his annual Christmas poker marathon, having left strict instructions not to be disturbed.) You load their four "vintage" suitcases into your Prius. "What's in there, MeeMaw?" you ask sweetly, knowing full well the bags are stuffed with toys your kids don't need, food you won't eat, and the "cutest holiday sweaters" no one will ever wear.

"That reminds me," she says as you pull onto the highway. "I still need stocking stuffers. Any chance we could swing by the mall on the way home?"

The Antidote: Point out that her son will be crushed if he can't see his parents right away. "He asked me to drop you off at his card game," you confide, "so you can meet all his friends."

Dinner at Your Place

When you hosted last year's feast you swore you'd cap this year's guest list at 15. The head count is currently 31. You've honed the menu to accommodate the dietary needs of your finicky sister-in-law, who claims allergies to a variety of foods including but not limited to mushrooms ("any fungus, really, tree nuts and anything with eyes, even potatoes"). And you've stockpiled extra boxes of egg noodles to feed all four of your brother's children, none of whom has been known to ingest any foodstuff that isn't soft and white. Then your cousin informs you that she has just become a lacto-ovo vegetarian who no longer eats sugar and also eschews honey "for political reasons."

The Antidote: Tell everyone to bring a favorite dish ("a potluck is so much fun") and don't cook a blessed thing. There'll be plenty of food to go around; on the off chance there isn't, so much the better: You'll avoid the usual five-pound holiday weight gain.

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve is always a letdown since people are basically getting together to watch the clock tick. After all, this is a night whose high point is turning on the TV and marveling that Dick Clark is still around. No one wants to stay up for all that, especially if you're not in the Eastern Time zone, because when midnight strikes in New York it's game over for the whole country.

This year you've planned a quiet gathering attended by a few of your nearest and dearest. The drinking will consist of white wine and a bottle or two of faux champagne. "Bring the kids," you tell friends, figuring that'll put a damper on things. "We'll play Twister!"

But something goes horribly awry. Everyone says yes. Your neighbors and their neighbors, your husband's poker buddies and their neighbors -- even your in-laws, whose flight got cancelled due to snow. And then your brother shows up with his "shot ski" -- an actual ski to which a row of shot glasses has been Super-Glued. Six guests have to down their tequila in one gulp at the same time or all get doused.

"Let's play Texas hold 'em all night long!" MeeMaw shrieks after her second shot, and you catch PopPop ordering in 10 dozen wings "Buffalo burnin' hot, to liven up this dump...."

The Antidote: You are suddenly so tired, so very very tired. But muster the energy to refill everyone's glass, toast 2012, and make a single New Year's resolution: to spend next year's holiday season in Hawaii.

shim