“Happy Holidays!” At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be, right? A lot of people have a love/hate relationship with the holiday season. We sing songs with words like, “Tis the season to be jolly and joyous,” but find ourselves stressed out and dreading the long lines, traffic and even family gatherings. We worry that little Nell won’t like her dolly or that Aunt Mildred won’t like our apple pie.
In Charles Dickens’ Christmas Classic, “A Christmas Carol” we read, “If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
Sometimes the stresses of the holidays can turn us into a Scrooge, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The holidays can be truly amazing. They can help us see the good in others and in ourselves. The holiday season can be full of joy, laughter and happy anticipation. The following 7 things can help us to ward off the scrooge that lives inside all of us and be energized this holiday season rather than stressed out and drained.
7 Ways to have happy holidays with your kids
1. Shift your attitude from expectation to gratitude: The holidays are stacked with so many expectations. We have expectations about how the pies will turn out, how many people will show for the parties, and what gifts we will give and get. It’s time to give up those expectations and trade them for some genuine gratitude. Instead of focusing on what didn’t happen just the way we wanted, let’s center our attention on what we do have. Starting today, spend just a few minutes each morning identifying a few things you are truly grateful for and then really feel that gratitude. Let the feelings of thanksgiving consume you. You will have plenty of time to worry the rest of the day, so just take 3 minutes to focus on each object of your appreciation and let those thoughts and feelings literally fill you up. Then, write them down on a sticky note or in your phone or where ever you want and remind yourself of those things throughout the day. Verbally approach the season from a positive place instead of spiraling into negative expressions and exasperated lists of all the things you need to get done, but haven’t yet. A deliberate attitude of gratitude can really make a difference in how the world looks to us and how we respond to the demands and challenges that are placed upon us.
2. Say, “NO, NO, NO!” along with your “Ho, Ho, Ho!”: Under commit but over deliver. Tis the season for over scheduling. Be mindful and deliberate about what you commit to. Make a calendar right now of all of your obligations and make an honest assessment of how much you can handle. If you find that you are already overbooked, cut something out. If you feel like you are at your max, decide how you will graciously decline new offers. If you can take on more, decide how much is realistic and stick to it. Maybe this means that you attend a party but choose not to host one this year. Maybe it means that you buy a Sara Lee Dutch Apple Pie at your local supermarket instead of slaving for hours to make your famous, gold ribbon family pie recipe. During the holidays we have pageants, concerts, parties and all kinds of gatherings. Volunteering is at its peak during the holiday season and we often feel socially obligated to do something more. I fully endorse doing service and helping during the holidays but not to your own demise. If you would like to help or volunteer, plan to do so after the holidays have come to a close. People need help all year around, not just during the holidays. You can schedule a time to help later.
3. Start a new, simple family tradition: Keep it simple but meaningful. Make it something that is completely your own. My wife and I both have traditions from our families growing up but it is fun to create something that is all our own. It can be fun to create something that is entirely unique and fits the personality of your family. My wife and I built a manger that we place next to our Christmas tree. Inside the manger we place a box with ornaments that tell the stories of the life of Jesus. We read these stories before bed with our kids and each of them get to place the ornaments upon the tree throughout the month of December. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It fits within our normal daily schedule, but it is special and meaningful to us and our children.
4. Simplify Gifts: Remember when you were a kid and you didn’t have any money so you made all of your gifts for your parents, family and friends? Remember how exciting it was to watch them open it? Remember how much of your heart you put into those gifts? The amount of love that went into those gifts was incredible and yet, the gifts themselves were usually pretty small and inexpensive. They were inexpensive and at the same time they were priceless. It’s amazing to me that as we grow up and grow in our skill and ability to create great gifts our actual desire to do so withers. Each of us has some special ability or skill that those we love treasure. It can be a special joy both to give and receive a gift that was created rather than bought. We could draw a picture, write a poem or story, sing a song, play an instrument, build something, sew something or put together a special outing to enjoy together. Each one of us has something different and equally valuable to give.
Remember with gifts that you are not obligated to give everyone you know a gift. Your kids don’t need multiple gifts and the amount of money you spend is not an indication of how much you love the recipients, which leads me to number 5…
5. Make a budget and stick to it: Make your budget before the emotion and stress of the holidays is in full sway. We can get caught up in gift giving, decorating, extravagant meals and everything else that comes up during the holidays, but if we are not careful we can end up with a lot of debt and regret when the initial momentary rush of feelings pass. There is even a psychological phenomenon called “Blue Monday” (The first Monday of January), that many people say is the most depressing day of the year. Many suggest that this day in January as well as the following month or two are the most depression and anxiety ridden months of the year due to weather changes, returning from vacation, as well as the regret and stress of excessive spending during the holidays. It’s important to manage our finances throughout the holidays so we can focus on the joys and pleasures of the season rather than on long term payment plans.
6. Remember your simple, healthy daily habits: Remember to take your vitamins, exercise a little each day, and get the rest you need. Use your days off to get out in the sunshine and enjoy yourself with the ones you love most, instead of sitting around. I’m not about to tell you to skip the pie, but be temperate with your calorie intake. Treats and desserts are traditional during the holidays and they can be tasty and fun in moderation, but they can also make you sluggish, mess with your mood and leave you with regret later.
7. Remember the reason for the season: Commit to focusing on something greater than commercialism and stress. Learn more about the holidays you celebrate. So many complain and “bah- humbug” about the holiday season because there is so much commercialism and greed that surround it. But, we get to choose where we place our attention and focus. Choose to focus on and promote something better. Promote the ideals that are so easily accessed around the holidays. Focus on peace, goodwill to others, faith, hope, charity and kindness. Focus on family and gratitude. As a Christian I focus on the birth, life and teachings of Christ and recognize it as evidence of a God that loves his children. Even if it is true that the holidays have become over-commercialized, we do not have to participate. We can simply step out of the general flow of meaningless sales and the appeals to our inner “gimmies.” We can truly make the holidays, “Holy days” for ourselves, our families and those we come in contact with.
A famous holiday song recounts, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. There are kids jingle-belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer. It’s the hap-happiest season of all!” The Holidays really can be some of the most wonderful, cheerful times of the year if we are willing to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to the beauties of the season. We can ditch the stress and experience the joy that will fill our homes and our whole life.