I took a different path for Christmas last year, one without the stress and burden of tradition. For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve felt hectic and stressful. My mom loves to create complicated culinary ensembles for special family days but always forgets to delegate or release any control. By evening, she's too tired to enjoy all the dishes she’s prepared from scratch.
But I needed a change. The last few years had not been easy—my dad died from Covid-19 in 2021. I had moved five times, including a cross-ocean relocation, and I worried about loved ones back at home in Venezuela living in political, social, and economic upheaval. So, I planned a different kind of holiday while living on the island of La Palma, Spain.
Family traditions nourish the soul, but we need to remember that it is possible to break tradition.
Don't get me wrong. I love Venezuelan Christmas traditions: all the family gatherings, the cooking hallacas, the flavors, smells and sounds. Family traditions nourish the soul, but we need to remember that it is possible to break tradition, especially Christmas with its crowded malls, last minute shopping, long days in the kitchen, and never-ending fights with tangled lights. I was determined to step away from my big Venezuelan family’s noisy parties. I don’t see it as abandoning my roots, I just added new ways to enjoy life and special days.
I reduced holiday stress by creating new ways to enjoy them, and you can, too. Here are some ideas.
1. Take a short trip
We sometimes forget that we don't need grand gestures, expensive gifts, or fancy escapades. A simple drive to a nearby town can help you breathe new air and experience new adventures. Airports, train and bus terminals are usually crowded on holidays, but if you stick to a quick round trip, you'll get better results. I selected a couple of towns—Los Llanos and Punta Gorda—that most travelers don't put on their agenda, so I was able to set my own pace.
I was glad I took the bus. A private drive takes you straight to your destination, but the bus gives you the opportunity to make detours, see people of different nationalities, hear different languages, and understand other forms of embracing Christmas. I was not alone on my bus to farmers markets, artisans markets and walking trails. People from Sweden, England, Netherlands, Spain, and Germany were on and off the bus with the same idea, some with big backpacks, ready to camp out on Christmas night.
At the Punta Gorda market, I found organic products that don’t reach my city. I tasted fresh ingredients, witnessed local talent, and felt accompanied by the community. It was a great way to dodge the nostalgia and loneliness that occasionally strike the holidays.
2. Feel nature
Go to nature when you want a break from routine. For my trip I chose a town with a nearby trail to spend a couple of hours on a hike. As the unpaved road took me deeper into the forest, I left behind the view of a sea merged with sky only to find it again amid a picturesque bed of clouds.
I had planned a zip-line adventure, but the harsh wind shut that down, which allowed me time to sit and contemplate the scenery, including one of the best sunsets I've ever witnessed. Not everything goes according to plan—and that's fine.
3. Decide what's important
An elaborate dinner wasn't an option after spending a day away from home, so I went with pizza, basic and delicious. There will be plenty of other moments for big traditional meals, so celebrate the way you want. Choose according to what you feel and allow priorities to change along the way.
4. Make plans in your own city
There is nothing wrong with enjoing recreational activities in your home community. After Christmas, I decided to welcome the New Year at my temporary home in Santa Cruz de la Palma. I went out on the streets alongside thousands of locals and tourists, attending outdoor parties organized by the city council. I started the new year sitting on the maritime boulevard, just a few steps from the sea, watching fireworks reflect off the water as clocks chimed.
5. Give back
If you don't feel the mood for any kind of getaway, you can always stay in your community and participate in charitable activities. A friend recently told me that giving back has helped him cope with loneliness while away from his family for the holidays. Now, he organizes fundraising events that give him even more opportunities to be thankful for the blessings in his life.
You won't feel the same about your Christmas plans every year, and that's not uncommon. But if you need a break from the busy holiday season to jumpstart the next year with renewed energy, a minimalist, low-key, budget-friendly celebration can help.
Edgary Rodríguez R. is a Latina journalist, writer and audiovisual producer. She likes to escape to imaginary worlds while reading and to explore new places in the real world.