This year, as you plan your holiday celebrations, pay close attention to your feelings and those gremlins in your head. Are you looking forward to the holidays or are you filled with a sense of burden and dread? If you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to do it all and your traditions aren’t fun or meaningful, then you may need to take stock and prioritize your holiday celebrations.
During the holidays, expectations—especially our own—can run high. We often put unnecessary holiday stress on ourselves to do—or outdo—the things we’ve always done. But this year, with everyone being more cautious about spending, it’s the perfect time to make some changes. This year, give yourself permission to re-evaluate your holiday plans and scale back—everyone else is. By modifying your goals you can be more realistic about what’s feasible during the holiday season.
In our culture, women are often expected to be the ritual makers. With that expectation comes a long list of responsibilities: shopping, cooking, planning, inviting, buying gifts, sending cards, decorating, and of course, making sure everyone is having a good time. Assuming all those responsibilities by yourself, can be overwhelming.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!
Instead of taking it all on yourself, ask for help and delegate tasks among all the family members. Involve your family in every aspect of holiday preparation. They will appreciate you more. Pare down that long list of holiday activities and focus on the ones that bring you the most satisfaction. Think quality not quantity.
For most of my married life I’ve had the role of our family ritual maker. I’ve hosted Thanksgiving for more than thirty years and did everything myself, including making individual braided dinner rolls. I gave up on the rolls over a decade ago and last year I jumped at my cousin’s invitation to attend their Thanksgiving dinner. Two-dozen guests crowded around her table last year and every family brought something for the dinner. This year we pared down our Thanksgiving celebration to our own family. Just seven of us gathered, but there were four generations present and we shared all the responsibilities.
Take a look at your traditions. What do the holidays mean to you? Ask your family what they see as important during this time of year. If you sense that your holiday traditions aren’t working, maybe it’s time to make some changes here, as well.
Create New, Meaningful Holiday Rituals
Yes, we all have vivid memories of our favorite rituals, but some that made sense when your children were younger might not be appropriate any more. They may be too costly or take too much time. Whatever the reasons for your traditions outliving their purpose, you can create new, meaningful rituals that your family will cherish. In order for traditions to stay alive and meaningful to you and future generations, they need to be flexible as families and relationships change and grow.
A friend recently reflected on her family’s Christmas ritual and how it has changed over time. When her children were little, the family went for a drive to see if they could catch Santa as he came to their house. As her children’s belief in Santa disappeared, they still insisted on the car ride on Christmas Eve. Even after her children left home and couldn’t get together for the holiday, they took their own car rides and called each other to reminisce. In this way they were able to adapt their ritual to the changing beliefs and emotional needs of each family member and still stay connected.
Here are some suggestions from family therapist Carleton Kendrick for creating new holiday traditions:
- What did you most like and dislike about your childhood holiday celebrations? Use your most cherished childhood memories as resources for fashioning new traditions.
- Get input from all family members. Ask everyone—your kids, older relatives, and extended family members—about their favorite family celebrations and new suggestions.
- Research and discover different ethnic holiday traditions from your own heritage or others. Celebrating your cultural traditions gives children a sense of their ancestry.
- Be inclusive and try to arrive at a consensus. Respect all family members’ desires and conflicts regarding old traditions before embracing new ones. Be sure that everyone is dedicated and eager to make these new traditions a part of your holiday celebrations.
- Make a plan together. Discuss the details of your “new tradition,” decide which family members will take on each task, and make a calendar of important to-do dates.
During this time of year, people are so concerned about what others might say or think of them if they don’t do everything perfectly. Focusing on the positives and keeping a sense of humor is one of the secrets to surviving this sometimes-challenging season. One young mom said she posts this holiday reminder on her refrigerator door: You can’t please everybody all the time, and if you are, you’re probably doing something wrong!