I love this time of year — decorations on the houses, a cold nip in the air, beautiful music everywhere you go. I often have a hard time understanding why so many people get so FRUSTRATED during the holidays — until I go out in public and partake of the madness. Between the crowds, the crazed spending, and the pressures to participate in every social event that comes along, it’s no wonder that some folks dread this joyous season!
So I invite you to make a pact with me — this is the year that you decide to step off of the treadmill and do your own thing. Who says that you have to have a nervous breakdown to celebrate properly? Where is it written that you must give in to the consumer feeding frenzy? If I remember correctly, the holidays are supposed to be a time when you celebrate all that is good about life — when you enjoy the company of your friends and family — and when you spread goodwill wherever you go. The holidays are a time when you get to practice being the person you always hoped you could be — how can you do that when you are going 90 miles an hour? Let’s take time this year to develop a few holiday rituals that focus on your true priorities.
TURN OFF THE TV
How much time do you spend during the holiday season watching the boob tube? TV execs have got things figured out this time of year — if they call it a “special,” everyone will tune in. But how many times do you really need to see the “Grinch” and “It’s A Wonderful Life”? Wouldn’t that time be better spent doing something meaningful with your loved ones? Try and trade at least one TV show for the telling of a holiday story — or go caroling around your neighborhood. The memories you share will be much more valuable than that lost hour in front of the telly.
FOCUS ON GIVING RATHER THAN RECEIVING
I received an e-mail 2 years ago called “The White Envelope” — and it really made me think about the true meaning of the holidays. On Christmas morning, a family came downstairs to open their presents and found a white envelope sitting on the mantel. No one was sure who put it there, but they eagerly opened the envelope, thinking it might be another present. It was, but not for any of them. Enclosed was a letter, stating that an anonymous gift had been given to a local community group on behalf of the family. No one ever confessed to having made the donation, but every year one member of the family would secretly take a turn at the tradition. And from that point forward, the family was more excited about opening the white envelope than their own gifts. What would you place in your white envelope?
TRY ON ANOTHER HOLIDAY FOR SIZE
One of my favorite holiday rituals is celebrating in the tradition of another culture each year. This doesn’t mean abandoning your own religious beliefs or personal preferences — it’s just an exercise in expanding your horizons. One year, we celebrated the last day of Hanukkah with some Jewish friends — another year, we lit the candles on the kenara each day of Kwanzaa. There are so many interesting holidays during the winter months — solstice, Boxing Day, Ramadaan — each with fascinating origins and symbolism.
You can also find hundreds of different ways to celebrate Christmas — try fixing a holiday dish from another country or instituting a foreign tradition. Maybe this year, you can put out wooden shoes instead of stockings (Holland) — or hang a blown glass pickle on your tree (Germany) — or have your holiday meal at midnight on Christmas eve (Mexico). This practice will liven up your holidays, give your family something new and interesting to do each year, and keep you from getting into a rut with your celebrations.
TURN CHORES INTO A PLEASANT RITUAL
Many people look at the traditional activities of the holiday season — putting up decorations, sending greeting cards, baking goodies — as a chore rather than a joy. I can think of nothing more distasteful than doing something because I HAVE TO! But I’ve found that setting the mood makes all the difference. Instead of sitting at a dreary desk with inadequate lighting and a cramp in your neck writing out cards, take your stationery to a cozy little cafe and make an afternoon out of it. Rather than fighting with those tangled strings of lights by yourself, invite your friends to a decorating party. Turn on some holiday music, order some food, and serve hot chocolate — you will be surprised at how much fun you have!
GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN
Which holiday party sounds better to you: one where you get to spend time socializing with your friends and family — or one where you spend all night running back and forth to the kitchen checking, tasting, basting, serving, and cleaning up? I personally would go for the first choice! Your loved ones will appreciate you much more if they actually see you than if you serve them a 17 course meal. Remember, Martha Stewart has a paid staff and tons of money and way too much time on her hands! Instead of trying to kill yourself entertaining, plan a potluck or a progressive dinner (where each guest prepares one course and you eat your way from house to house). Or you can even have your party catered. Do whatever it takes so that you can actually enjoy the celebration along with your guests.
SPEND SOME QUIET TIME
We often get caught up in the idea that we need to always busy during the holidays — going somewhere, doing something — we’re so busy having amazing experiences that we can’t even remember them all! There is a lot to be said for stopping and just sitting still. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy lighting a few candles, putting on some soft music, and curling up with a book and a cup of tea in front of the fire. That’s my holiday quiet time. Yours might involve a walk through the neighborhood looking at lights or time with your kids before bed. Build some silence into your list of rituals — you will find that the holidays seem much less hectic and more enjoyable.
GET OUT OF THE MALL AND BACK TO NATURE
Unfortunately, most of our holiday experiences these days seem to be inside of a building — concerts, shopping, parties, Festival Of Trees, indoor ice skating — don’t people get outside anymore? Develop some rituals that involve stepping out into nature. Hang pine cone ornaments (covered in peanut butter and bird seed) on trees in the woods — as a treat for the birds. Go to a Christmas tree farm and cut your own tree. Build a snowman. Just take a walk through the brisk morning air. Get “unplugged” for a little bit and reflect on the real meaning of the season.