S uccos heralds the last run of the overwhelming beginning to the new year. But even as the end is in sight, with “real life” just around the corner, the hectic demands and endless family togetherness can start to cause strain.

Succos should be a wonderful family time that warms the heart and builds lasting, loving memories, but it can easily turn into a time of tension and conflict.

Predictable routines tend to be emotionally stabilizing, and their lack can be emotionally destabilizing — more so for some people than others.

“My husband doesn’t do well with change. His current on-again, off-again work schedule is wreaking havoc with his mood. He’s snapping at all of us over even minor things.”

We all feel more grounded and calm when we can go about our business steadily, without interruption, and without the confusion of wondering what day of the week it is. Of course the holidays are meant to shake us up, wake us up from our complacency, and inspire contemplation. In this way, they are good for us, helping us recalibrate and make sure that we are on the right path. Without them, we might drive sleepily along a road that leads to a disastrous destination. Valuable as these reflective periods are, however, they also disturb our equilibrium in less beneficial ways.

Confusion and Chaos

Homemakers sometimes look at Succos as the last segment of a domestic marathon. They have negotiated the first part of the Yom Tov season and can now see an end to the seemingly endless chores of cooking, baking, cleaning, and hosting. Nonetheless, the long festival still weighs heavily upon them.

“I’m all cooked out. I don’t want to see another piece of meat or another potato! I need a holiday from the holidays — I can’t wait to get back to regular life!”

The late night meals, the constant kitchen work, the crying babies, bored kids, and testy teens — all of it can begin to grate. It’s only natural for a family to begin to show signs of stress.

“Succos was always a hard time in our family. My father was very uptight. He was always reprimanding us — we weren’t ready for shul, we weren’t quiet during Kiddush, we weren’t listening to his divrei Torah, we spilled food — there was always something and someone wrong. My mother was always telling him to calm down. He’d respond by screaming at her that she was never on his side. I remember slammed doors and lots of crying. That was Succos.”

It’s natural that the extra financial, physical, and emotional demands of Succos would trigger stress in individuals, marriages, and families. Moreover, at times of high spirituality, the evil inclination works hardest to bring us all down, to destroy everything most important to us.

Feeding on our irritability and exhaustion, it easily lights the fire of anger within us and quickly destroys our peace. Everything is consumed in the flames: our love of Torah, our love for our spouse and children, even our self-love dissolves in smoke as we become disgusted with our own actions.

A Good Yom Tov

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can outsmart the yetzer hara. We can ward it off at the pass by preparing to meet it there. Before the festival begins, studying any of the many seforim on anger can help strengthen our resolve not to give in to feelings of upset, frustration, or annoyance, all of which will inevitably occur over the long holiday period. We can continue learning from that sefer each day of the holiday, even if we only spend a minute or two doing so.

If even that is too much, then all we really need to do is hold the book — for a moment each day. Doing so helps establish our intention of remaining calm, and our conscious and subconscious minds can work on anger-reducing strategies even without our intentionally focusing on that goal. (I often joke that you don’t need to read my book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice. Just leave it out on the kitchen table — the title does all the work.)

It’s also important to manage stress. Now’s the time to cut unnecessary tasks, sleep a little more, put in less effort. Doing less will help you to love more. Take it down a notch to elevate your Succos. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 562)