FOMO La-la-la: How I Deal With Holiday-Season Envy

Even in these pandemic times, is there any “crazier time” of year than December? According to most people in my orbit, no. Meetings can’t get scheduled until “after the holidays” because December is “so insane.” Dinner dates have to wait til January because the preceding month is so “absurdly busy.” Weekend trips, playdates, drinks? “Let’s shoot for early 2020.”

And yet a few weeks ago I looked at my calendar and other than the one afternoon marked off for my parents’ friend’s annual Christmas Open House, and an office holiday party… there wasn’t much. It reminded me of Mindy Kaling’s memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I always assume that yes, everyone is, and they must be doing so in a house more beautifully and thoughtfully decorated, more gingerbread-smelling, more Christmas-carol-filled and more holiday-spirit-imbued than mine.

FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a season-neutral phenomenon, of course, and can rear its nasty eighth-grade head at any time. But the holidays put an extra insidious spin on it, as there’s the pressure — whether imagined or real — to make sure you are in fact experiencing the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. It’s an established law of physics that no mere mortal will ever achieve the level of magical Christmas happiness of a) a person in a holiday-themed commercial of any kind, b) the movie Love Actually, or c) one’s Instagram feed, but the truth is, it’s rigged; there are forces out there conspiring to make us all feel ever-so-slightly inadequate this time of year. Like, we’re not happy enough, we’re not social enough, our mantles aren’t decorated enough, our children’s outfits aren’t matching enough, our presents aren’t thoughtful enough… I could go on.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, since none of us are actually in eighth grade THANK GOD. You can channel your inner Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister and stand strong against the forces of Holiday FOMO. Here are strategies I use to try to protect my own genuine love of Christmas, which, in my heart if not always my head, burns pure and bright.

  • Host. It doesn’t matter what. My husband and I throw a Christmas Eve party every year; some friends organize a gingerbread-decorating party for all our children; another friend hosts a women’s lunch. Heading up an event helps with a sense of control – as in, No plans? Make some. It guarantees that there’s something to look forward to. And an event that ends up being fun and successful has the potential to turn into an annual thing.
  • Oh, And Put Your Phone Down. The three horsemen of the social-media apocalypse – Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest – can do far more harm than good, however unintentionally, when it comes to stirring up FOMO, feelings to inadequacy and general holiday-themed insecurity. Keep those apps closed. Think of it as self-care.
  • Say Yes. Start paying attention to all the emails you’re getting, whether from schools or neighborhood listservs or local museums, and, instead of absently deleting them, RSVP “yes.” There are so many gorgeous holiday-themed events organized for the public every year (many outdoors), and being open to learning about them, gathering a group of friends who might be interested, and getting some of those commitments onto your calendar almost immediately infuses it with cheer.
  • Establish Traditions. If I gave a plain ol’ trip to the grocery store the name The Magical Market March, my children would instantly get all twinkly and precious about it and think of it from then on as a special holiday tradition. Preparing for and making a favorite meal or type of cookie every year, choosing an on-theme chapter book to read each December, making an annual visit to a beautiful local landmark – all of these things can make the month feel fuller — not in a socially stressful way, but in a rich and meaningful one.
  • Hunker Down. Screw plans! Sure, there’s a version of the holidays all about party-hopping in sparkly earrings and having a champagne glass permanently in hand. But especially these days, and especially for those of us with young children, a more realistic and ultimately more fulfilling version is the one right in front of us: time with our families at home. It sounds both obvious and clichéd, but that’s what many of us love most about this time of year – license to stay in pajamas all day, make cookies for breakfast, and say yes to our children more than we say no. As Buddy the Elf so eloquently described his dream day, “First we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookie-dough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle.” Get rid of the first two on that list and it’s a date, Buddy.

Easy, huh? Now. What are you doing next weekend? Want to come over and snuggle?

Alice Leiter is a recovering lawyer living in Washington, D.C. with her husband and four children. Her hobbies include making fun of her family on Instagram, watching Bravo, and worrying that people are mad at her. She hates when grown women call her “Mama.” Reach her at