A Primal Take on the Holidays: Surviving or Thriving?

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Often I hear people talk about “surviving” the holidays. I read “holiday survival guides” and the like. I’ve even used the term myself in the same way on occasion. You could say perhaps the whole survival reference is purely tongue-in-cheek, but the fact is too many people do feel imposing stress this time of year. According to one sizable survey (PDF), close to 40% of us (higher for women than for men) experience stress around holiday preparations/family gatherings, financial pressures, commercial hype, limited time and food temptations (especially true for those who embrace a counter cultural diet). That doesn’t sound like much of a Primal party to me.

The older I get and more I think about it, the more I wonder at the “survival” reference as much as I get the joke in some cases. Surviving the holiday routines, the carb-happy buffets, the office parties, the in-laws’ visit, the onslaught of expenses – it’s all in the five plus weeks of every year we put under the umbrella of the holiday season. (Yet so are all the good memories.) “Surviving the holidays” suggests to me a distant and unhappy (or at least blase) tolerance of it. In life as in food, I always juxtapose the concept of what it takes to survive versus what it takes to thrive. The very comparison throws a whole new light on the subject.

The truth is, I always enjoy this time of year in my own way. That said, I’ll admit I’m not the sentimental type who’s buoyed by my own creative vision of the season. (I admire people who are – like kids and certain friends/family because their enthusiasm is uniquely genuine.) For my part, the commercialism wears on me. The gargantuan expectations fatigue me. I’m not one for large crowds. So forth. I don’t let that stop me from making these weeks some of the best of the year. I do what I enjoy and what makes me feel revitalized. I spend time with family. I do a bit of traveling. I usually snowboard to get a week of true winter experience and to just get away from the business of life for a while. I also say no to a lot of things I’d rather not do. When it’s time to change the calendar, the fact is, the holidays were ultimately my holidays as much as anyone else’s. I don’t anticipate getting these weeks of my life back at a later time through the tail end of a random time warp. I hope I can do more than tolerate this or any other period of my life. I’d like to think my Primal perspective (and basic sense of life expectancy) asks it of me.

If we up the ante on “surviving” the holiday, how do we own the experience and take responsibility for our enjoyment, sanity and health throughout these weeks? Think about those cornerstone Habits of Highly Success Hunter-Gatherers. Why should these weeks be any different? What about the Primal lens could suggest an alternative to the stress inducing routine? Maybe you all can come up with a better word for it, but let me call it mindfulness for now. If we push aside the “shoulds” and “have to” and “but we always” and “everyone is expecting,” we can get off the roundabout for a few minutes and be in the actual moment. When we do, we realize we always have a choice. (Anything, really, is possible, which can be unnerving.) That means awareness of how we participate and how we really feel about the choices we make – be they social plans, holiday menus or family activities. Rather than another list of shoulds to practice, maybe a Primal approach is busting open the question itself. What does it mean to bring a Primal mind and mindfulness to the holidays? I hope you’ll help me take this one apart and add your own best thinking.

The basic customs of the holidays of course hearken back to Grok era communal rituals that contributed to the complex social evolution of our species. Back then perhaps participating in social ritual really was about survival. It was dangerous to be a loner in those days. Today as products of our evolutionary patterns, we’re still impelled to fit in to some degree. We value or at least recognize something of the value of participating in the larger culture we call home. Still, the intense and commercialized expectations today feel like a far cry from those simpler social times. As is often the case, what was once adaptive necessity has been distorted by modern magnification, stretched far beyond its original sense and proportion – hence the literal “fight or flight” experience we put ourselves through shopping in large crowded malls. The irony…yes?

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