1. The idea of letting yourself go over the holidays is inconceivable

It’s the holiday break. My friends giddily anticipate having home-cooked meals, fancy hair cuts and expensive shopping trips paid for by their ever-doting parents. They can’t wait to sit by the TV and the fire to watch a classic Christmas movie. When I get home, my dad will look me up and down and confidently nod that I’ll still fit into my 3mm wetsuit. Having the holidays off means a surf sesh at 5 am in the morning at Salmon Creek (affectionately referred to in those parts as “Smashin’ Creek,” where many a man has paddled desperately away from a looming shark fin). If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, we may trek to Dillon Beach where we can let the dogs roam and snap at whitewater until we’re back on land. He also throws out there that my old rock climbing shoes are in the trunk. So is my harness and chalk bag. I start to feel suspicious. He planned this. He didn’t have to. I’ll spend my holidays hoping to avoid great white sharks and falling off the side of Goat Rock every year.

2. Christmas Eve is Not Complete Without a Night Hike

Christmas Eve is for night hiking. Forget mountain lions, park rangers, snakes and torrential downpours, this is a night for sweating, dilated pupils and heart-pounding fear. We don’t sleep off the post-honey baked ham fatigue, we gear up in waterproof jackets, beanies, and gloves. With dogs in tow, we tiptoe over and under the closed gates of Foothill Regional Park to trudge to the top of the hill where we can see everything and breathlessly attempt to take a family photo that masks the sweat-ravaged hair.

3. Stockings are for Fitness Accessories

The stocking is a special place in this family. You can fit the usual suspects – chocolate gold coins, a pack of gum, a toothbrush. But you can also fit a pair of DryMax socks from my mom’s favorite ultra running sponsor, in addition to some tiny running spandex and a new armband to put your iPhone in while working out. There’s obviously a Think Thin bar – creamy peanut butter – my favorite. My mom may slip in some S-caps for me to avoid leg cramps and maybe even some dope printed Moeben arm sleeves for my next race.

4. Bars are for Snacking

This family doesn’t fast in preparation to overeat because that’s bad for our blood sugar/glucose levels. The best way to eat is to snack throughout the day, and bars are a great way to tide over hunger pre-Christmas dinner. For once, unfortunately, I’m not talking about the ones that serve alcohol. I’m talking the ones packed with protein and fiber, wrapped in some strange biodegradable sleeve. My mother reminds me of this while I stand panting in the kitchen, impatient with a hunkering for buttery mashed potatoes and cookies. She points to the stack of peppermint Luna bars on the counter. “I also can make you a smoothie! Frozen blueberries, chia seeds, bananas, protein powder and kale. The chia seeds make you feel full!” Okay, mom. Thanks.

5. Dinner is for Going All In

It’s time for Christmas dinner. We’re going to overeat (even with the snacking throughout the day) because we burned enough calories on this morning’s pre-Christmas hike in Annadel State Park. We earned this. Minus my brother – when you’re a professional natural body builder, holidays are no different than any other day of starving yourself of fun. My brother is busily weighing options. Literally weighing them. He’s meticulously typing the oz’s and calories into his MyFitnessPal app while his scale (which is apparently NOT for drugs) is tipping ever so slightly. What is the best way to enter in my mom’s famous broccoli cheddar casserole? I don’t have the heart to tell him that it contains Cheese Whiz and Ritz Crackers. Ignorance is bliss. The rest of us will get a second helping because if our mouths are full, we can’t be expected to sing Christmas carols during the dessert round.

6. Gifts are for Experiences

Some families give gift cards, iPads, or a gift certificate for a massage. Mine gives “experiences.” It all started with a letter my father penned years ago: he got sick of attempting to wrap boxes, wander the mall the night before, and attempt to guess what we could possibly want to add to our collections of material shit. Instead, my father vowed to only provide us with real-life experiences that would contribute to our memories and allow us to mark off our bucket lists. One year it was sky diving. The next it was flight lessons in a Cesna over the Golden Gate Bridge. One was a snowboarding trip to Tahoe that resulted in a broken tail bone (followed by many more painful runs down the slopes because my father told me it was probably just a bone bruise), and I wouldn’t trade that pain for all the iPads in the world.

7. Our Idea of a Spa is the Local Health Club

Apparently, some people unwind during the holidays with hot stone massages, facials with fancy lava or mineral-rich clays, and hot hand towels. My sister and I load up our gym bags with cute bathing suits and our favorite hair products and makeup, then head to the local health club, where we’ll begin to undergo “Tribathalon.” It all starts with a yoga or barre class, followed by a short stint on the elliptical if we’re feeling frisky. Then we’ll head to the steam room where we’ll turn on the cold showers before laying down with wet towels to see how long we can breathe in the eucalyptus and sweat before we pass out. Then we jump in the Jacuzzi. Next step is a long and luxurious shower in the fancy bathrooms, followed by a slow and steady process of blowdrying and makeup application in front of the insanely gorgeous and flattering mirrors and lights. We may even take a selfie in the spirit of basic bitch-dom. This is basically a spa, you guys. We just have to do the work ourselves (alongside a lot of wrinkly naked old ladies).

8. New Years Eve is for Adventures

My family may crack a bottle of champagne at midnight, but we better be somewhere dope. Staring at the stars on top of Mount Saint Helena would do. So would a cave in Bodega Bay listening to the sound of waves crashing into rocks wrapped up in blankets and passing around a thermos of hot coffee. This year it may be Tahoe in a hottub in the snow. As my dad always said, “nature is God’s true church.” So this is what we call religion.

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