My daughter Sara had just celebrated her first Christmas and I had taken some time off work for the holidays. A couple days after Christmas, I went for a run. When I finished, I looked at my phone and saw a bunch of missed calls from numbers I didn’t recognize. I was getting ready to check my voicemail when my phone rang again. It was my mom’s next door neighbor calling to tell me that the police had been trying to contact me all morning to let me know that my mom had been found dead on her back porch. Christmas Day was the last time I saw her alive.
Let’s face it: For a lot of people, the holidays can really suck. This time of year tends to bring out a wide variety of emotions. Everyone has their own experiences, some of which can make the next few weeks hard to deal with.
Depending on your personal experiences, this post may not apply to you. If you genuinely enjoy the holidays, look forward to them every year, and wouldn’t change a thing about them, that’s awesome. Feel free to stop reading and go do something more festive. If you leave though, you might miss some good stuff.
So back to my story: After my mom died, I spent a few years dealing with the holidays by getting blackout drunk during the second half of December and wallowing in my own self pity while counting down the days until January. Don’t do this. It won’t help you or anyone else. (Seriously, don’t do it. If you feel like that’s the only way you can get through the holidays, call me or send me a message and I’ll be happy to talk).
So what is a good way to get through the holidays if you normally dread them? I did some soul searching over the last few years and finally decided that even if you’ve had some rough shit to deal with in the past, the holiday season can be a lot more bearable if you follow these two guidelines:
- Give. Giving can be in the form of actually giving someone a physical gift or it can be in the form of doing something nice for someone. Either way, do it as often as possible without expecting anything in return.
- Forget the traditional crap that you’re supposed to do during the holidays and just have fun doing whatever you want.
Below you’ll find a list of some of the things I do to make the holidays more fun. They’re not listed in any particular order, but they all include one or both of the principles I mentioned above. Feel free to use any of them yourself. Regardless of what you think about the holiday season, I hope you’ll like some of these ideas.
10. Build a giant snowman with your friends
Then stuff it full of explosives and blow it up. Like this:
9. Anti-Black Friday
Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, I plan an anti-Black Friday outing which consists of going to a museum, art gallery, or some other type of attraction that has nothing to do with shopping. Places like that are usually empty on Black Friday since everyone is at the stores, which means you’ll have a nice relaxing day without having to worry about fighting for parking spots, navigating through crowds, and dealing with people pushing and shoving you in checkout lines.
8. Non-traditional Decorations
My Christmas Tree:
7. Spend a day doing whatever your kids want
Last year around the holidays, Sara and I had a date where we:
- Had lunch inside of the Willis Tower (or Sears Tower for those of us true Chicagoans who know the real name of the building).
- Stopped by the money museum inside of the Chicago Federal Reserve bank and had our picture taken with a million dollars (if you live in Chicago, the money museum is a hidden gem downtown that’s totally cool to check out if you haven’t been there).
- Went to Maggie Daley Park and spent a couple hours playing on the slides.
- Went out and got dessert.
I had no specific agenda other than throwing out random ideas based on what was close by and letting Sara decide what she wanted to do. It was one of the best days I’ve had in years.
6. Have lunch with a homeless person
It helps if you give someone money. But if you buy them lunch and sit down and eat with them and ask them to tell you a little more about themselves, I guarantee that you’ll learn something interesting.
5. Volunteer for a charity
We’re all busy during the holidays and volunteering may seem like something takes up too much time. It doesn’t have to though. For the last two years, I’ve volunteered for The Cara Program, which provides training and job placement for people stricken by homelessness and poverty. My contribution is simple: I spend a day conducting mock interviews for people who are close to finishing the program and giving them pointers on techniques that will help them land a job when they’re ready to go on real interviews.
4. Start your own charity
About 7 years ago, it was during the holidays that some friends and I came up with the idea for my charity, Pawsitively Famous (which is now called RACE). Since then we’ve raised funds to reimburse tens of thousands of dollars of vet expenses for homeless animals and coordinated transportation to help get countless numbers of adopted pets to their new homes.
3. Give Away Your Stuff
I wrote about this in one of my books, so I won’t spend much time on it here. The short version is that studies have shown that people who own fewer possessions tend to be less stressed. The holidays are a perfect time to go through your stuff, pick out the things you don’t need and either donate them to charity or give them away to people who can actually use them. You’ll be doing a good deed and de-cluttering your life at the same time.
2. Catch up with an old friend
Think of someone you haven’t talked to in a few years and give them a call or send an email or a text wishing them a happy holiday season.
1. Dress up in a goofy Santa costume and run a 5K for charity
Before I say any more about this one, let me add this disclaimer:
I received a free entry into the 2015 Santa Hustle 5K as part of being a BibRave Pro. Check out BibRave.com to learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador) and also to find and write race reviews!
Alright, now that the legal stuff is out of the way, here’s the deal: There are a lot of races like this during the holiday season, but the Santa Hustle Race Series is a good fit for this post since it offers races of varying distances in seven different cities, along with a virtual race. So pretty much anyone anywhere can participate.
The concept of the race is simple: the race organizers provide runners with a red running shirt, a Santa Claus hat and a beard. Then the runners all dress up like Santa and run together on race morning. It’s silly; it’s fun; and best of all, all of proceeds from the series go to the American Cancer Society.
A few other good things about the Santa Hustle:
- Besides water tables, the course has Christmas Cookie and Candy tables.
- The half marathon courses have ten music stations that play Christmas music.
- Half Marathon finishers get medals.
- There’s Hot Chocolate and Candy Canes at the finish line.
- There are live reindeer and a variety of other giant inflatable Christmas decorations and other props that make for great photo opportunities along the course and at the finish line.
- There’s an awesome holiday themed post race party.
Santa Hustle races are held in different cities on different dates throughout the month of December. So you can do more than one if you like the concept and want to travel. The Chicago and Milwaukee races are on the same day and include about 8000 Santa Runners between the two cities.
The Chicago event only has a 5K course. It starts in front of Soldier Field, heads south down the Lakefront path for about a mile and a half and then turns north and heads back towards the city. Runners get a nice view of the Chicago skyline during the second half of the race. There’s a cookie table at Mile 1, a water table at mile 1.5, and a candy table at mile 2. All of the tables have Christmas music playing and friendly volunteers dressed like elves.
The finish line for the Chicago Santa Hustle course is back in front of Soldier Field. There’s a small post race party with refreshments at the finish line and trolleys that bring runners to Navy Pier for a massive indoor post race party that includes hot hard cider and a few other holiday themed drinks. It’s a fun race that’s for a great cause and definitely worth adding to my list of things that make the holidays not suck.
So there you have it. The holiday season is in full swing and if you’re thinking about lost loved ones or have any other hardships that you’re dealing with during this time, hopefully the next few weeks won’t be too rough on you. If you have any of your own tips for making the holidays suck less, feel free to share them with me.