Kathy Knotts
Bay Weekly
December 23, 2021

hristmas is upon us. We hope that your holiday has been one of joy, laughter, love and friendship.

After all, it’s the season of joy, says Dr. Michael Merzenich, the brain behind BrainHQ, leading pioneer in brain plasticity research, and chief scientific officer of Posit Science. Merzenich says all those joyous sentiments are really good for your brain. In fact, he says our brains have been programmed to respond to holiday decorations, Christmas trees, lights, gingerbread houses and the jolly man in red with a release of dopamine.

“Much of the positive good spirits that are in the air are in anticipation of good things to come. If you are in the holiday mood, you anticipate the joy, and the dopamine is released, and then you feel the joy,” Merzenich says. “You feel it again in anticipation of being generous to other people, and yet again in anticipation of your loved ones being generous to you. It’s just a joyful time for all swept up in the spirit.”

But what about that in-between time? When all the presents have been opened, Santa’s gone home to the North Pole and it feels like there’s nothing to do but wait for the New Year’s Party? Is there a way to keep the happy feelings going?

“For many people, the holiday is so filled with joy (from the release of all that dopamine) that the period after the holiday can be a letdown,” says Merzenich. So he offers this tip. “As you pack away the ornaments and other decorations, give some thought to next year. And, also think about all the great holidays that will be coming in the new year. After all, the anticipation of events also revs up the brain machinery that creates joy.”

We can agree with that. And we have another tip to throw into the mix:  Extend your holiday. You can still enjoy all the great parts about the holiday season after Dec. 25.

Gather with the friends or family that you didn’t get the chance to spend time with earlier this month. There’s still plenty to do and places to go. And if getting “out” just isn’t of interest, we also have ideas for staying “in” while still wringing a few more great memories out of the year.

GOING OUT

It’s hard sometimes to catch up with everyone you intend to in the short time period we have between Thanksgiving and winter holidays. This in-between week is a great time to call up the girls—or guys—for an outing.

Think about restaurants that specialize in group dining or can help you make a meal extra special. Think special seasonal menus, wine dinners, fondue restaurants or a spot in a different town. Maybe just gather for coffee, brunch or cocktails. The days after Christmas mean fewer crowds, so you can get together and try out that new (or long-established) place you’ve always wanted to visit.

Depending on the day or night you gather, there’s still a lot going on between now and New Year’s Eve. If you didn’t get the opportunity to visit Lights on the Bay (lightsonthebay.org) at Sandy Point State Park, go now. The illuminated displays are open every night (5-10pm) through Jan. 2. Same thing but in a more southerly direction—visit Annmarie Garden in Lights in Solomons until Jan. 1 (nightly 5-9pm). Or head to Upper Marlboro’s Watkins Festival of Lights or Zoolights at the Baltimore Zoo.

Catch a show at Classic Theatre of Maryland,choosing from the last performance of A Christmas Carol or the final presentation of A Broadway Holiday (classictheatremaryland.org). Go ice skating at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, Glen Burnie Town Center, Navy Brigade Center Skating Rink, Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton or the Bowie Ice Arena.

Miracle on Annapolis Street on Dec. 26 is your chance to meet the Budweiser Clydesdales in West Annapolis (11am-3pm). There will be food trucks, games, activities and more for all ages. The arrival of the Clydesdales is just the precursor to the 2021 Military Bowl. Game day is Monday Dec. 27 with the 2021 Military Bowl Parade at 10am through the streets of historic Annapolis. Then make your way to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the matchup between Boston College and East Carolina University. Gates open at 1pm, kickoff at 2:30pm.

STAYING IN

Maybe the holiday season was simply too busy and stressful. Take care of that stress by prioritizing self-care.

If socializing falls into this category, so be it. Invite some pals or family friends over for a pajama party with hot cocoa and movies. Mix up your own cocktails (see Start with Eggnog) and pull out the board games or have a Super Mario Party video game tournament. Maybe you want to do some baking or just cookie decorating. Gather the family and try a do-it-yourself kit (see Kicking Back with Cookie Kits).

If you feel like being a bit more creative with your at-home gathering, start by developing a theme, says Kelly Bell, owner of The Bell House Catering.

“If you want to do something like a girls night pajama party, you can then plan to make different varietie

Bell says if you have the luxury of a little time, plan ahead and pay attention to timing so that you can prepare things ahead of time and not miss out on your own party. “A gathering doesn’t have to be a major blowout. Just a couple of snacks and some fun beverages. Figure out what you want it to be.”

She suggests gatherings such as an at-home happy hour with fun finger foods, a special beverage for the kids, and host it at 4pm when you can play games, but then bring out the fire pit when the sun goes down.

Or an early morning brunch, prepped ahead of time with a French toast casserole or a quiche that can be made the night before and popped in the oven when guests arrive. “Add in some fruit salad and mimosas, and there’s a memorable way to catch up with your friends.”

Whatever you decide, says Bell, remember the purpose. “Keep it intimate, don’t over do it, and don’t stress yourself out.”

And don’t forget about those friends who may be home sick right now, she adds. “Make a little charcuterie box and porch-drop it to a friend. It makes other people feel good and then you will feel good, too.”

It’s advice quite similar to what Dr. Merzenich, the brain scientist, gave us. “We are designed neurologically to be connected to one another; we are designed to attach to one another.”

So start making some new traditions and create your own holiday in-between.

s of flavored popcorn. Maybe a rosemary-parmesan, a caramel, a cheesy popcorn and a truffle oil popcorn. Pair that with some type of boozy hot cocoa and you have a fun gathering.”