For most, the holidays are a time of joy and of giving, of camaraderie and love.
The commingled scents of pine and Christmas cookies waft through the air, old friends reunite, there are gifts and parties and maybe even the occasional snowfall.
But for many, the holidays are nothing so much as stressful -- best taken with a shot of courage and a brimming spoonful of the famously lurid pink Pepto.
Family feuds rear their ugly heads and duke it out over the Thanksgiving table. Travel delays and pernicious weather mire hundreds in airports across the country.
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There seem to be an inordinate number of holiday accidents: tree fires, ladder falls and even the occasional amputation, like the year my sister lost her littlest toe in a dog-on-leash-chases-flying-birds accident that precipitated Thanksgiving afternoon and evening in the emergency room.
It also inspired a running litany of lame jokes from my father involving the severed appendage and various dishes of holiday food ("Giblet toe gravy, anyone?").
On reflection, it's a stretch to expect every family to embody the picture-perfect familial love and on-screen perfection of, say, the Cleavers.
There will always be bad weather -- it's winter -- and people will continue to fall off ladders, gape as their Christmas trees go up in flames or any of the other hundreds of unfortunate, albeit often funny, accidents that seem to occur when the holidays bring numerous family members together under one roof.
However, there are ways I've found to overcome the pre-holiday trepidation and enjoy the spirit of the season as you used to. After three years of college winter breaks and trekking the long drive down south to rejoin the widespread and wild Best clan, I consider myself an expert.
Lesson one: Reconnect with your inner child. It's easy to get caught up in the holiday drama and stress and overlook or forget the parts that you love the best.
The solution is simple, really -- remember back to second grade and elementary school holiday parties. Remember back to when legends of Santa's infamous list and ever-watchful eye were enough to curb even the wildest of misbehaviors.
Back then, as children, our holiday enthusiasm was unparalleled. We all looked forward to winter break and holiday freedom, to reconnecting with family members unseen for years.
We looked forward to trips to the snow and watching replays of winter classics like "Frosty the Snowman" and the 1964 version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" playing continuous loops on CBS's holiday line-up.
Lesson two: Get that holiday shopping done -- fast.
Make your list, check it twice and be done. Buy gifts for the smiles they will bring, not for the price on the tag.
Lesson three: Reach out...to family, to friends and to the community.
Unless they are suspiciously green and hairy with a heart two sizes too small, most people tend to feel more forgiving during the holidays. It's time to patch up old arguments and reconnect with those you once held dear.
Lesson four: Be patient, especially with one another.
To the college kids moving home for the holiday break: Respect the fact that your parents have probably gotten used to you not being around, and your presence may stress them out a little (or a lot, depending on your mother's ability to cope under pressure and the number of in-laws invading the house).
To the overwhelmed, overworked parents: try to keep cool under the pressure.
To the in-laws: Try to lessen your impact and lend a helping hand; it will never go unappreciated, and who knows? You may be singlehandedly responsible for averting the next impending disaster.
The trick to enjoying the holidays again is to harness the childish enthusiasm so many people seem to have lost over the years -- the enthusiasm that has been replaced instead by worries over finals, or in-laws, or how to find the perfect gift or plan the perfect party.
Pull out your old holiday CD's early. Go ice-skating (and make sure to fall once or twice). Visit the snow and build a snowman. Be sure to reconnect with lost friends. Embrace the spirit of the season.
Happy holidays, everyone.
Brittany Best is a senior at UC Merced from Moorpark majoring in psychology with a minor in writing.