Each year, around this time, many of my clients express to me their uneasiness about the holiday season. Many enter the season holding sadness about a missing family member, pain about unresolved relationships, and uncertainty about what to do to create a greater sense of ease at family gatherings.
This, along with the combination of typical holiday stressors – rushing around to buy gifts, worrying about money, feeling lonely or overwhelmed that seems opposite to the holiday cheer that surrounds you, along with the temptation to overeat and over-drink at every turn, and the awkward uncertainty of not knowing what to say when visiting with Inappropriate Uncle Jeff or that aunt who always seems so withdrawn and sad.
The truth is, far more people than we realize live in dread of the holidays. And many choose estrangement over exchanges, as a way to “survive” this time of year.
But even if our family relationships feel stilted or strained, it’s natural that crave connection. We all have memories of what Christmas was, or thoughts about how it could have been, along with the wish that maybe this year will fill what has been missing – while recognizing on a conscious level that this is a tall order. It seems in every culture and every century, we’re hard-wired for celebrating, decorating, getting together and feasting as the year comes to a close.
What Will Bring Significance into Your Holiday Season ?
Through the years, I have observed that people rarely answer “More expensive presents!” Once you find your answer to that question — outside of the commercial expectations — you can begin to make plans to consciously create a holiday season that nourishes yourself. For many of us, the answer involves a desire to connect with friends and family in positive, meaningful ways.
Re-imagine the days celebrating the holiday season to be uplifting by finding ways to give yourself what you’d truly like. Make a list of simple gifts to yourself – or even schedule in your calendar – gifts to yourself like
- sleeping in
- indulging in a warm bubble bath by candle light
- curling up by the fire with a great book
- laughing with friends
- watching a great movie
- turning up your favourite music
- whatever it is for you that brings you a sense of feeling at ease
A friend of mine recently shared with me what is important to her within the season, what she feels is essential to share with her children and I could feel myself leaning in wanting to hear more about their celebrations.
For the full month of December, she picks a nourishing activity to do with her children. Some of things they do together are crafting, candle or soap- making, and baking. A few of the days in the month are dedicated to gathering up some of these lovingly prepared items into a basket, and sharing them with elderly neighbors and her aunt who lives alone, across town and whom they rarely get to see. Much of the things they focus on as a family have a pay-it-forward, generous and lovingly hand-made quality to them.
This can’t help but to influence the children that the holidays are about more than the shiny presents but truly have the spirit of giving as the days build toward Christmas. What I loved about how her family celebrates is that it continues on for two weeks after the holiday, bringing that energy of giving, love and connection into the new year.
My aunt has been known to make many gifts that she gives over the season. What she does purchase, she finishes buying by the end of October, intentionally avoiding shopping during the busy times so there is more time left to have tea with friends or share time with her now grown boys.
Just like getting the shopping out of the way before chaos hits every shopping outlet, if there is a certain family member you usually feel triggered by you can also do some inner work to prepare yourself before spending time together over the holidays.
Often how we hang onto a hurtful argument of the past or a painful circumstance harms us much more than even the actual incident.
Take some time to consider the experience from a much wider view.
For example, if whatever you bring to Christmas dinner is met with criticism from your mom, get curious about her relationship with her parents and even her siblings. Was your mom made to feel whatever she did wasn’t ever quite right ? Is she simply replicating that family pattern – without even knowing it herself?
If it feels next to impossible to get close to your Dad, give yourself a moment to consider why that is instead of taking it personally. Perhaps you know that your Grandfather is stoic and your Grandma was always overwhelmed with tasks so rarely emotionally available to your Dad when he was just a boy. Perhaps expressing emotions feels as foreign to him as speaking Japanese. Yet all of these years you’ve been thinking he’d just rather watch the football game instead of catch up with what’s important to you.
Often underlying dynamics within family relationships can add to the stress we feel. Think of it like a slow leak in your tire. Give yourself the gift this year of freeing yourself from resentments, anger and sadness that will open a new sense of welcoming in the best this holiday season has to offer you.
How can you be kind and generous to yourself ?
Perhaps this year it’s the commitment towards less commercial and more simple keeping your attention on avoiding the overwhelm. Christmas doesn’t have to be a stressful time of year. We can make our way towards the JOY we are promised to find within the season, in our own way and on our own terms.
May you have a meaningful holiday and welcome the new year feeling rested with a nourished heart.