December 12 - Happy(?) Holidays

The holidays are here! Traffic is building; carols are in the air; and old stories abound. The children hear tales of Rudolph and Santa, but what stories are you hearing? What are you anticipating as each holiday season approaches? Exactly how are you visualizing this holiday time with your family? Are you expecting to be alone and lonely… peaceful and happy…stressed and frazzled?

Today, curiously explore your visions of December…what do you think is around the corner…waiting for you? Do you expect to feel fulfilled and satisfied, frantic and hurried, or perhaps disappointed and let down? Is there a pattern…year after year…to what the holidays have come to mean for you?

For years and years as the holidays approached, I braced myself for late nights, frantic shopping, and last minute wrapping. I would literally spend every evening and every weekend shopping, wrapping, shopping, wrapping. The songs and advertisements promising family get-togethers and holiday cheer were for other people, not me. I thought instead I had to make certain the house was sparkling and the decorations were up to par with Martha Stewart’s world of perfection.

Instead of baking with my grandchildren, I would purchase the ingredients and toss them out six months later still untouched. There never seemed to be time to fill the house with the intoxicating aroma of homemade chocolate chip cookies and children’s laughter. I could not figure out how to have fun and do everything perfectly at the same time.

As a result I began to dread the holidays. In mid-November, I would begin to moan and groan about how quickly the year had gone by and “How did we get here again?” I felt behind before I even started. As I remember those days, I can literally feel the chemicals being released from my brain even now in response to the perceived stress and burden of perfection then. I can only imagine how many of those chemicals I released back then!

Fortunately, one year I had the realization that this was an addictive holiday mood…not reality. I recognized that this feeling was optional and that I did not want to choose it ever again. I committed to designing a new holiday mood…one that was much more enjoyable.

When I decided to share this with my family, at first it was difficult to let go of our stressful traditions. Families get addicted to other family members’ moods as well…mine actually fed theirs. Unfortunately, lots of presents, a lack of time, and too much stress were how we all defined the holiday. It didn’t seem the same without that which “made” us miserable! After much conversation, we all agreed to give something different a try this one Christmas. We didn’t know what it would be like, but we did it anyway.

Instead of a huge sit-down Christmas dinner that took hours and hours out of my week to prepare, we decided to have a grazing day. A huge honey-baked ham on the table, a simmering pot of split- pea soup on the stove; and, of course, platters of homemade cookies (This year I didn’t have to throw out the ingredients for the very first time!) anchored our delicious buffet. Each family brought other dishes, and we had more than enough delicious food to last the day and punctuate it with good tastes.

Instead of hand-wrapping hundreds of gifts, including those in each stocking, each family got a holiday bag of goodies. Hidden under tissue paper were thoughtful gifts from the heart filled with love rather than resentment. They may not have been individually wrapped with fancy bows, but they represented my ability to be fully present with my family on this special day.

We had a wonderful celebration, creating a lot of new traditions… ones that honored each of the individual families that had sprung from the original. We invited each voice to be heard, and we honored all needs expressed without taking any of them personally. We worked as a team to make this holiday truly a happy one for all. That was quite a few years ago, and it has been our delight to declare this peaceful and joyful celebration our new family tradition ever since.

What mood would you like to anticipate for the holidays? What are some steps you can take toward that goal? What structures can you put into place to support that mood? What changes are you willing to make so that you can have what your heart has always secretly desired? What actions would allow your heart to sing “Happy Holidays” and mean it?

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