For many, the holiday season comes with a full helping of emotional baggage.
There may be sadness or disappointment from Christmases past, or simply a feeling of longing for the simpler, happier times of our childhood. Some have lost loved ones over the holidays, coloring the festivities with shades of grief and loss.
But even those who normally look forward to enjoying the pleasures of the holidays with family and friends may find themselves struggling with unwanted feelings of stress and despondency.
Many will succumb to the intense expectations of the season: finding that perfect gift for everyone on a lengthy list; being the ideal host or hostess for the perfect Christmas party; RSVP every party invitation; and of course, maintaining a cheerful attitude throughout. The financial strain can also be intense, and many will welcome the New Year with significant debt as a result of the pressure to spend more than they can afford.
And then there’s the post-Christmas ‘lunch bag letdown’ syndrome which often follows hard on the heals of all the pre-holiday frenzy. We spend too much time (and money) focusing on meeting so many unrealistic expectations, and suddenly it’s all over in a blink. We sit stunned, surrounded by mounds of wrapping paper and leftover turkey, nauseous from all of our overindulging. And then come the credit card bills.
This is not the vision of Christmas that Dickens imagined for us.
So how do we bring a simpler, more joyful mindset to our approach to the holidays? How do we recapture the essence and spirit of this wonderful time of year without bowing to the burdens of commercial and traditional expectations, and the pressures of perfection?
The first step in redefining the season is deconstructing it.
This means sitting down and creating a personal inventory of all those things about the holidays that actually mean something to us. Start with a full list of all the events, expectations, and elements that you can think of. Then sift through and pick out only those items that matter most to you.
Some like to celebrate one of the various religious meanings at this time of year. Or maybe for you it’s all about being with family and friends. For others, entertaining is a favorite activity, while those with young children may place extra importance on creating a magical time for their little ones.
Take a bite out of Christmas spending by drawing names for gifts within your group or family, instead of buying for everyone. Or suggest creative alternatives to material gifts, such as spending time together engaged in festive holiday events like sleigh rides, attending a Christmas play, or volunteering at the local soup kitchen. Many are choosing to donate to favorite charities in the recipient’s name in lieu of buying gifts.
By listing activities and traditions in priority according to which elicit feelings of happiness, love, and meaningfulness, and curtailing or eliminating those that only contribute to the burden of stress or debt, you effectively renegotiate the holidays on your terms.
This can be a difficult task for many. Expectations are intense, and we can sometimes be made to feel as though we are being ‘grinchy’ in our down-scaling. Remind yourself that the holiday season is meant to be fun and joyful, not painful and draining. Don’t let corporate-driven materialism, or the artificial expectations of the media define what joy and happiness should look like for you.
No matter what our final list includes, we can all make the conscious decision to incorporate a little more kindness, understanding and gratitude into our Christmas season. They don’t cost a penny, and will add to our enjoyment of the holidays in ways that no gift or party ever will.