The holiday season is here, full of cheer and delight, along with the annual temptation to get swept up in obligations and a feverish frenzy of gift giving.
If we find ourselves semi-dreading rather than eagerly anticipating the holidays this year, no need to worry: even if in years past we’ve allowed ourselves to succumb to stressful holiday expectations, we have the power to take a much easier and more joyful approach.
As a child, my most vivid memories of Christmas have been of watching my mom running around, depleting herself trying to make sure the house was decorated to the hilt, the table settings were perfectly arranged, and all of the traditional holiday fare was served.
I’ve watched her become so focused on preparing for, hosting, and cleaning up after family gatherings that she completely missed precious moments between loved ones, and I’ve seen her so exhausted after the final dish was washed that all she could do was collapse in a heap on the sofa.
Fast-forward 20-some years since those early childhood memories, to 2010, when I spent my first holiday season as a new wife. I found myself in the throes of expectation, decorating late into the night and pulling out the new china even though all I wanted to do was relax and watch TV with my love.
Now that I was officially a wife, I was mindlessly recreating my own version of the stress of Christmas past.
The anxiety of fulfilling a role that had been unconsciously handed down to me was exhausting. I kept trying to make it fit, but something inside was screaming, no! I craved something different—a sense of spontaneity to the holiday. Something that felt light and easy. Something that gave us more time to connect; to talk and look each other in the eyes.
I finally realized that I didn’t want to accept the torch being passed to me and that those subtly-forced family traditions were robbing my joy and the true spirit of celebration.
It’s so easy to become caught up in appearances at this time of year. The holidays seem to come built-in with a host of reasons why this time of year is a frenzy—we’re doing it all for the kids, we rationalize, or to accommodate out of town company. But there is a much subtler culprit, the nagging voice in our heads:
Did I do enough? Is so-and-so going to like their present? Did everything taste good?
And the icing on the top of the cake: Am I enough? So many of us squander the moment lost in the throes of comparison trying to measure up to some ideal of holiday cheer, all the while drowning ourselves in eggnog and having one too many of just about everything.
If we are seeking a little more spontaneity, relaxation, or want to write a new script for celebrating the holidays, here are three steps to help reclaim our holiday joy:
Step 1: Acknowledge that we have a choice.
Choice is powerful, and it’s vital to acknowledge that even when we feel that we don’t have a say in the matter, we always do. So many of our outdated holiday traditions persist because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
If we are getting tired of eating at Auntie Millie’s for Thanksgiving or visiting three relatives’ houses all on the same day leading to exhausted kids, overstuffed bellies, and a whole lot of driving around, then we can make the choice to create a new tradition. We have both the power and the right to spend our holidays joyously, listening to our deepest yearnings and doing what inspires us most.
Step 2: Become Curious.
Once we reclaim our power to choose, we can begin thinking outside of the box and get wildly creative. Does the idea of skiing in Colorado or heading to Disneyland sound amazing? Or maybe staying home in pajamas is the perfect plan.
To connect to our holiday dream, we can start by identifying the values that are most important to us. For example, generosity might one of the core values, or sharing quality time with family. It is great to make a list starting with the most obvious values first, and keep writing until 10 have been identified.
Sometimes we overlook those all-important internal values—such as peace, ease, grace, or simplicity—in favor of those that contribute to a certain outer appearance. Honoring our deeper internal values is the path to genuinely feeling happy, versus simply acting the part.
Step 3: Be Courageous.
Once we’ve identified the values that we most want to embody, we are ready to start expressing them with those near and dear. It is normal to feel a little hesitant about disappointing people, but consider that we might actually be speaking a truth everyone has been afraid to voice.
After my husband and I discovered that we did not want to uphold the tradition of frenzied holiday perfectionism, my husband and I decided to spend the day on our own terms. We shared our realizations with family and asked for their understanding and support. The response was great!
It took the pressure off of others too, and they started feeling safe to redefine the holidays for themselves as well. We have spent the last several years bringing massive joy back to what used to be a time of massive stress.
Once we awaken to our own inner truth and make honoring it more of a priority than approval or people-pleasing, we can take stock of the traditions that have been handed down and give ourselves permission to release anything that drains our joy. We can give away the china if we want, throw away that itchy holiday sweater, and heed the inner call toward freedom this holiday season!
Author: Shana Ekedal
Image: Flickr/Chad Sparkes
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Emily Bartran
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis