The seductive period of the holiday season has arrived. We are in full planning mode – thinking of gifts to procure, treats to make, activities to arrange, and halls to deck, but Christmas Day itself is still a few weeks away. “Keep things fresh!” “Brighten up your holiday!” “Sparkle!” Pinterest and the ladies mags egg us on with the promise of glory. All seems within reach, and therein lies the seduction.
I’ve been down that road before. It sounds so doable, so fun, so important. I can dream up an entirely new theme and color scheme for decorating, from the stockings to the ornaments to the wrapping paper. And cooking! Why not whip up a prime rib roast dinner for twenty? After all, the magazine promises a hands-on time of only fifteen minutes. Sure. Don’t forget kindness to others – how about I gather dozens of our closest friends to go caroling at all the local nursing homes? I can design keepsake song folders. And everyone can come back to our house for a homemade eggnog and cookie party afterward.
Don’t be seduced. You can’t do it all.
Well, you can, sort of, but your family will hate you.
You protest: “I’m not a Martha Stewart wannabe. I just want to keep up with the traditions we’ve built up over the years. We always decorate the yard and put up three trees in the house and host a party and give cookie plates to the neighbors and make gingerbread houses and volunteer at the homeless shelter and do handmade gifts and put out reindeer food and have a Christmas morning brunch and a big dinner and, and, and.” That’s the problem. It isn’t just people trying to land an HGTV contract who get seduced into overdoing the holidays. Perfectly normal folks like us do, too, and here is why: we build up traditions over time – a craft here, an activity there – and we think we have to keep doing them year after year. If we would just slow down a second and think about it logically we would see the fallacy there, but we don’t have time to slow down because there are presents to wrap in hand-decorated paper and a wreath to make and appetizers to garnish and, and, and.
Think back to when you left home and set up your own household. Did that first celebration or two seem kind of disappointing? Kind of thin, somehow? If it was less than satisfying, it probably dawned on you that you needed to develop some traditions of your own. So you did. You decided to make your own tree ornaments, and add a few new ones each year. You thought it would be nice to have some friends over for a game night, so every year you planned an evening for that. You wanted the holidays to be a time to focus on charity, so you determined to give time and money to a different cause every year. If you were married, you included your spouse’s ideas with your own. Then children may have begun to arrive, and before you knew what had happened your family ended up with a whole laundry list of holiday traditions to plow through in order to make sure everyone has a “merry” Christmas.
At least that’s how it happened at our house.
I have a solution, and it doesn’t involve renouncing everything you and your family love about the holidays. It involves identifying what you actually do love about the holidays right now. It is simple.
All you have to do is ask each family member this question: What three things make the holiday happy for you?
It can be an activity, a food, a smell, a moment. Reassure them that their answers are not set in stone. They can think about it for awhile and get back to you if needed, and next year they can change them if they want.
Ask the question. Write down their answers. Do those things. Don’t worry about the rest unless you really want to, and don’t want to unless you can do it and stay sane and serene.
You may be surprised at what really matters to your family, at what really satisfies them. You may discover that less, when it is really what each person loves right now, is much, much more.
So tell me, what three things make the holiday happy for you? I really want to know. And I’ll share ours if you’ll share yours.