There are many magical moments in the holidays. We drive down streets flanked with sparkling lights, cheerful music fills every store in town, and even strangers smile at one another and say, "Happy Holidays." Something is indeed different about December. Yet, that "something" doesn't always feel as good as the season's songs portray. Amid the tinsel and garland, many of us find ourselves more stressed, spread thin, and heavy-hearted than at any other time of year.
Our calendars are often more crowded. Expectations feel heavier, financially and socially. Work pressures and deadlines mount toward the end of the year. In contrast, some of us are desperate for work, knowing that it will be hard to provide for our families in the way we wish we could during this season of supposed abundance. Others notice their calendars are empty, illuminating their deep loneliness. And some of us are trying our best to muster a smile through our tears, aware of the aching in our hearts created by the empty seat at the table, knowing the holidays won't feel the same way this year.
While "holiday cheer" may seem elusive to many, it is worth it for all of us to cultivate peace this holiday season. To do so, here are some tips that may help:
1. Identify Your Reason for The Season
Before putting another gift in your Amazon cart or hanging another ornament, consider pausing for a moment to ask yourself WHY you are doing all this preparation and planning. As humans, we are the happiest when the actions we choose align closely with that which is most important to us. So, taking time to identify the true "why" behind the effort we put into the holiday season can help shift our focus from the pressures of the holiday to what matters the most to us. For many, that core motivation might be faith, family, friendship, or gratitude. The "reason" will likely look different for each one of us. Still, focusing our minds and hearts on what matters most helps us determine which specific holiday efforts align and which may be unnecessary distractions.
2. Intentionally Honor What is Most Important
As a society, we have so many traditions surrounding the holidays. Some traditions have been passed down through generations of family and carry many memories or meanings that enrich our lives. Perhaps you have a specific recipe you always cooked with your grandmother, and even the smell of the ingredients simmering on the stove fills your heart with warm memories of those you love. Other holiday traditions may be just for fun, or they started out that way but have now become a burden or stress; for example, think Elf on the Shelf or coordinating matching family pajamas.
Just because you have "done it in the past" does not mean you must continue doing it. Some "traditions" are more habitual than meaningful. After reflecting on and identifying your reason for the season, it may be helpful to assess which traditions reflect that reason and bring you joy and which seem to drain you. You can eliminate some traditions or create new ones that better reflect what is most important to you this season.
Due to life circumstances and changes, some of us cannot engage with past traditions like we have. Maybe you moved to a new city this year and all of your favorite holiday places to go aren't there. Or perhaps you have lost loved ones and the traditions you cultivated together feel too painful to try to replicate in their absence. In these cases, it is also important to reflect again on what about those traditions was the most meaningful. Reflecting might take some thoughtful creativity, but it could help you create a new tradition that incorporates that specific meaning.
You are correct if you're thinking, "but it won't feel the same" when you read this. It won't feel the same, but that is okay! You may feel free if you eliminate those habitual practices that now feel heavy. And if you create new traditions in light of different circumstances in your life, you can capture the value/meaning that is so important to you and maybe even share it with others in a new way.
3. Let Go of Perfectionism
Many of us get caught up in making sure our holiday table looks a specific way or that we have just the right presents under the tree. We can quickly be overwhelmed when comparing the lights on our house to our neighbor's house or ensuring every wrinkle is out of our dress before heading to that holiday party. But, this striving for perfectionism steals our peace. Instead of picking yourself apart for everything you did not do perfectly this holiday season, how about reflecting on what went well? Maybe the dress wasn't wrinkle-free when you left for the party, but you made it to the party!
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4. Give Yourself The Gift of Healthy Boundaries
Holidays frequently mean gathering with extended family members and friends whom we may not have seen in quite a while. Gatherings might come with uncomfortable or judgmental conversations or even pressure to act or speak in a way that is contrary to our values. As Elizabeth Gilbert said, "Family knows how to push your buttons because they installed them."
The concept of "healthy boundaries" is crucial to protecting your peace during the holidays. What is a boundary exactly? Boundaries, almost like a fence around the yard, help identify where you end, and others begin. We can have physical and emotional boundaries, which are helpful for our overall well-being. Healthy boundaries reflect the values, needs, and principles you set for yourself. A violation of those boundaries occurs when someone disrespects, ignores, or maybe isn't aware of your principles or personal needs.
Clear communication is the key to establishing healthy interpersonal boundaries. Be kind but assertive and communicate boundaries up front. For example, you might tell your aunt, with whom you frequently have tense political disagreements, "Before I come to dinner, I want to let you know that I am not going to discuss anything political this year. If a political topic comes up, I will not respond." In this example, you are clearly communicating your boundary and sharing your guide for yourself without judgment of the other person. One good way to remember how to set a loving, healthy boundary is this: Say what you mean and mean what you say; don't say it meanly.
In addition to interpersonal boundaries, we can also set healthy boundaries for ourselves. This season we might set a boundary for ourselves regarding how many desserts we will eat or gifts we will buy with our holiday spending budget. For example, determine what you can afford for gift-giving this year and stick to it! Your friends and family will feel loved even if gifts might be smaller than in the past years, and you will give yourself the gift of peace by setting boundaries for your shopping.
5. Give Yourself the Gift of Feeling
To practice peace this holiday season, allow yourself to feel all that arises. On some days, in some moments, you may feel as warm and content as the cup of hot cocoa in your hands. But in other moments, you may be flooded with harder emotions because loss, separations, changes in family dynamics, and financial pressures often feel heavier this time of year. They will inevitably pop back up when we attempt to run from the harder feelings and stuff them down. Like leaves that fall on a running stream, we can choose to allow the feelings to come and then naturally flow by, or we can attempt to build a dam to stop them. But when we do that, they back up, creating a bigger mess when the water overflows out of the sides. So, this holiday season, to experience peace, you must feel. In the magical and challenging moments, choose to feel and know that all of those feelings are okay.
The holidays can be both wonderful and challenging at the same time. Amid the holidays, we protect our peace when we find and meditate on the reason for the season. We can align our traditions and activities around what matters to us most and let go of the pressures of perfectionism that steal our joy when we give ourselves the gifts of healthy boundaries and emotions. Be kind to yourself this season, and may you have a peaceful holiday!