I recently bumped into a friend at the store, and as we began talking, she expressed how she struggles with the holidays. When January rolls around, she feels like she somehow “missed out.” I understand this feeling because I have often felt this way. Life was so busy with the preparation of celebration, that I missed the joy that awaited each of us this time of year.
In life, there are two approaches people take. They either let life happen to them, or they make life happen for them. When it comes to this busy season, people apply the same way of thinking. They let the holidays happen to them, or they make the holidays happen for them. If you want to wake up January 1st and not feel as though you missed out, it starts by being intentional in your approach to this time of year.
How do we do this? Start by asking yourself, “What is my vision of the ideal holiday?” Make a wish list. Are you searching for the romantic stories we watch on the Hallmark Channel? Is it gathering your closest friends for a cookie swap, or maybe a funny ornament exchange? Maybe your ideal Christmas activity is spending the day in your flannel pajamas, curled up on the couch, reading a book.
Ask yourself what will bring joy to you this season and what will make you sad if certain activities do not occur. This helps clarify your expectations. Unless you can define what you want, you will not be able to turn your dreams into a reality. Taking control of the holidays begins with a wish list, followed by planning and execution.
I began implementing this practice about 10 years ago, and it has greatly increased my joy and happiness when it comes to celebrating the season. Here is an example of my personal list.
Things I dream about for Christmas and things I will miss if they do not occur:
*Attend a theatre performance
*Celebrate Christmas Eve service at church with my family
*Take a night to drive around and look at Christmas lights
*Dinner out with a group of longtime friends
*Host a dinner party at the house
*A day of service at a charitable organization
*Night with husband watching old Christmas cartoons
*Day of rest in my plaid pajamas (a “do-nothing” day)
This may seem like a big list, but I usually am able to check everything off by New Year’s Eve. I had to learn to be flexible, though. I live in the 4th largest city in the United States. For us, the problem can become not in a lack of activities, but an overabundance of activities. But, since I have written down the activities that are important to me, when things come up that are not on my list, I find it easier to say no.
While you are brain storming, ask yourself what causes you anxiety during the holidays. Find your stressor points and figure out a way to control this. This is a silly example (and has nothing to do with Christmas), but it is what I think of when it comes to controlling my stress. I do not like shots. As a little girl I would start crying before we reached the pediatrician’s office door. As an adult, I avoided the flu vaccine because of this same fear. I finally had a conversation with myself. “Ok, Lisa Lou, what is your stressor here? I do not like shots. Ok, how can I still reach my end goal but eliminate the stress of the shot?” Guess what? I solved my problem. I started using numbing cream! Yes, this might sound juvenile, but I live by the philosophy that I will not let life happen to me. I will make life happen for me. Since I began using numbing cream, I am faithful with my injections, and I have eliminated my stress!
The holidays can be filled with tension due to gift buying, activities, and even the normal daily grind. In a pandemic world where we must deploy an extra amount of creativity, our nerves can be on edge. There are ways around this, but you must first define what is causing you to feel frazzled. Spend a few minutes analyzing where your anxiety is coming from, then develop a plan to reduce or eliminate these items.
Are there certain people that are causing you a problem? If so, figure out a way to reduce your exposure to them. If it is truly a toxic relationship, take a friend with you when you see that person, or stay away entirely. Healthy individuals know how to put boundaries around themselves for their own self-preservation.
Is your stress emanating from the thought of overseeing Christmas dinner? If so, delegate. Once the family Christmas meal moved to my house when I was a young adult, my husband and I assigned all responsibility for the side dishes to family members. The only thing we provided was the turkey, drinks, and a welcoming place to eat. Christmas Day became one of the least stressful times in December once we implemented this design.
Side note: To be successful at delegating requires an ability to let go. If you hand out the responsibilities, be appreciative for whatever your guests bring. If Cousin Jack is in charge of dessert and brings prepackaged cookies from the local discount store, say thank you, and let it go. It is not important. If the choice is between you spending more time in the kitchen or enjoying the holidays with less stress, I am opting for less stress.
If an overtaxed schedule is what is causing your anxiety, do not accept every invitation that comes your way. If you follow my blog, you have heard me say repeatedly it is perfectly acceptable to decline an invitation, even when your calendar is clear. Do not let others control you. You control you. Once again, emotionally healthy people live in a world with strong boundaries. Learn to develop these very important guardrails, especially during the busy holiday season.
If you receive an invitation for an activity that will occur 5 days before Christmas, and you know it is going to be a crazy busy week, then decline the invitation. Give yourself permission to take a break. This is one reason I calendar “stay in my pajamas all day.” I make an actual appointment with myself. There is nothing worse than feeling like you wasted a day, but if you planned on wasting the day, then you are fulfilling your obligation and you do not feel guilty. (And I would argue that a day of rest where you do not get out of your PJs can recharge your battery in a way not much else can). Protect your calendar. Protect your boundaries.
Traditions are wonderful, but life brings constant change. I think most of us have learned to be more flexible now that we live in a post covid world, and this is a good trait to master. If you are too rigid you will set yourself up for disappointment. My most important reminder this year? Do not let your circumstances define your happiness. There are many annual activities that will resume this year, but some of our favorites are still on hold. This brings opportunity to pivot and create new traditions. How am I implementing some of my wish list this season?
Attend a theatre performance: In my home state, we will be attending an in-person performance. I am so excited! If you are unable to do this, though, do as my husband and I did last year. We downloaded a theatrical murder mystery radio show from one of our local theatres (the A.D. Players), curled up on the couch, lit a fire, and enjoyed a “who dunnit” night.
Celebrate Christmas Eve service at church with my family: Most churches are now open, but if yours is not, I invite you to celebrate at my church via our website: Second Baptist.
Take a night to drive around and look at Christmas lights: This is easy in a COVID world, and to add a little festivity to this year’s tour, we will be taking in the view from a horse drawn carriage.
Dinner out with a group of friends: We normally host several large dinner parties, but this year we have friends coming over for dinner-in-a-box, outside by the fire.
Night with husband watching old Christmas cartoons: Easy and relaxing.
Day of rest in my plaid pajamas (a “do-nothing” day): Always!
Life changes, and you need to change with it. Happiness in our circumstances is a choice, and the holidays are a perfect time to practice making happy choices. This can only happen, though, if you make plans for what you want.
If you are in a season of life where the holidays bring sadness, then it is important you be intentional about what you expect to happen. If you have experienced a loss of any sort (death, divorce, even children leaving home), often the best alleviator of this pain is to find ways to serve others. When we step outside of ourselves and focus on the pain of those around us, it can be the best healing agent. Invite another acquaintance over for a glass of wine. Play Secret Santa in your neighborhood. Call a local homeless shelter and see what their needs are. A suffering world always needs help. Find your place and lend your hands.
No matter what situation you find yourself in this season, to wake up on New Year’s Day with a heart filled with joy, you must be intentional. Live with purpose, and make the holidays happen for you!
Together with you,