Creating a Christmas that’s Meaningful
It starts at Thanksgiving, that feeling that the pressures of the season are
upon us. And what’s with that countdown to Christmas? You’ll hear, “Only 21 more
shopping days until Christmas,” and feel a sense of pressure, panic and maybe
even dread. Is that what it’s supposed to be about?
When you think back on Christmas seasons past, what stands
out for you as an especially good, meaningful holiday time? On the flip side,
what do you remember as a Christmas that wasn’t joyful or happy?
Now the more meaningful question: what was it that made you
feel this way about these holidays?
Chances are, Christmases that you remember as good were
filled with feelings of love and joy and general contentment. The difficult ones
are usually marked by family squabbles, stress that’s been building since
Thanksgiving (or even before), elaborate plans that didn’t work out as expected
or a sense at the end of it all that something’s missing.
A plan for Christmas fulfillment
Now’s the time to take a deep breath and realize that this year, you don’t have
to get caught up in activities that wear you out, leave you feeling spiritually
empty and create tension in the family. You have the time to take a step back,
before things get crazy, and remind yourself not to repeat the things that never
seem to go well at this time of year.
But even more importantly, you still have time not just to
decide what you don’t want to do, but also to decide what you do
want to do. True, it’s important to identify the things that have always bugged
you, whether it’s the last-minute shopping, the overeating, the non-stop parties
and other gatherings. It’s good to cut back on those things that make life
difficult around holiday time, but it’s also important to replace them with
This year, why not make some overall changes that are
compatible with your beliefs, values and lifestyle? For just about all of us,
the more connected we feel to our loved ones, to our communities and even to our
own core beliefs, the more satisfying and rewarding life is. Why should the
holidays be any different?
Here are some ways we’re suggesting for you and your loved
ones to create a holiday season that leaves you feeling full of love and joy.
► Focus on family
It’s important for you, your spouse and children to stay focused on the reason
why we celebrate at this time of year. Talk with your children about the values
of your family and the meaning of the season, so that they understand that
holiday time is not just about getting lots of stuff.
If you don’t have children, it’s a good time for your and
your spouse to think of new ways to create a special celebration that is
meaningful to both of you. It can become a tradition that you’ll come to cherish
and look forward to.
If you don’t have a spouse or partner, think about creating
a tradition with other friends. You’ll be able to look forward to it from year
► Remember loved ones who have died
Sometimes we think we shouldn’t bring up the family members who are no longer
with us, fearing we’ll upset others and bring the whole celebration down. But
when you think about it, aren’t your loved ones who have passed away still very
strong in your memory at holiday time? In a way, they are still there
Instead of keeping the memories under cover, why not take a
few moments during your celebration—it could be before dinner, in the evening
when you’re sitting by the Christmas tree, or whenever it is that most people
are together—and honor the people who are no longer with you? It doesn’t have to
be dramatic or extremely sad. A simple expression of love and fondness will
suffice, like, “Let’s light a candle now for Aunt Jane, who brought us so much
happiness throughout her life.”
This can actually bring the family together in its
remembrance, and remind everyone of their connection to each other.
► Strengthen your connection to community
Another way to keep meaning in your life during
the holidays as well as any other time is
to spend time helping others. Living a compassionate lifestyle can help you feel
deeply connected to other people. This in turn can give you a new perspective on
life and help you respond well to the stress that comes your way.
If you help serve meals to hungry people, pass out presents
to children who would otherwise have none or visit older people who have no
family left, you come to see that your own problems may not be so difficult. You
get a bigger picture, which puts your own issues on a smaller, easier-to-bear
► Nurture your religious or spiritual life
Even when you’re trying your best to stay grounded and centered, during the
holidays, unexpected events can send you and others around the bend. Maybe it’s
a relative who doesn’t understand why Thanksgiving can’t always be at her house.
Maybe it’s the call from your son who says he won’t make it home for Christmas.
Or an even more serious situation such as a loved one’s illness.
Remembering your core beliefs at times like these will pull
you back to a comfort zone that’s always there for you. Don’t neglect that side
of things, even though this is such a busy time of year. Daily prayer or
meditation rituals are as important now as ever—maybe even more so!
► Take care of your body
Caring for your own physical needs can get lost in the shuffle of holiday plans.
Remember to put your health first. This is especially true if you have a chronic
condition that seems to get worse when you’re under stress. If daily walks or
swims, healthy foods, yoga stretches or any of your other helpful activities are
what you need to keep yourself feeling good, don’t sacrifice them for a few
trips to the mall.
► Revisit your gift-giving habits
Buying presents can get out of hand, and not just because it takes so much time
and money. What are the real reasons you buy a gift? A man named Robert talks
about the gifts he used to buy for his mother after his father died. “Mom didn’t
have a husband anymore, so I tried to step in and get special things for her
that my father would have bought. But after a few years, I realized that no
matter what I did, we couldn’t escape the fact that Dad wasn’t here anymore. My
present to Mom couldn’t bring him back. And the financial pressure on me was
getting to be too much. I began buying gifts that were more appropriate for me
to give, and that’s taken a lot of the pressure off.”
It’s common for divorced or separated parents to compete
for their children’s affections by trying to buy the biggest, best gift. This
too, can backfire, and actually hurt children in the long run. It creates a
feeling in them that they always need something bigger, something more, and they
learn not to be satisfied with what they have.
Simple gift-giving makes everyone happier in the long
run—even, eventually, children.
► Promise yourself you won’t be attached to
Expecting perfection from others or yourself is a sure way to set yourself up
for disappointment. Relatives will argue, your house might look messy, a meal
may not turn out right and your kids might act ungrateful about their gifts.
Chalk it all up to the realities of life. Nobody expects you to be perfect, so
why should you expect it of yourself?
After you’ve added so much meaningful activity to your
celebration, it will probably be easy to let go of the things that aren’t so
important to you. There won’t even be room for them, in fact.