I love holidays, but I don’t love them more than my family.
I love traditions, but I don’t love them more than relationships.
While holiday traditions certainly hold value, they can also involve stress. Sometimes it is not feasible to travel to be with family. Maybe you or those you love have to work the day before, the day of or the day after a holiday. This year some of my kids are coming after Christmas. Holding too tightly to unreachable expectations can evaporate all of the joy out of the holidays. Letting go of expectations can eliminate stress and create room for happy memories.
When I became an adult, it was difficult to be with my parents and my extended family for Christmas. Most of my adult life, I have been in a different country or at least 10 hours away from my parents and my siblings. Yearly, my extended family prioritized being together. Sometimes we took a Vance Vacation to build our family community. We gathered at other times of the year as well. As a parent of grown children, I know my parents must have been sad on those holidays when we were not able to be together as we had been as children.
As my children are now all in their 20’s, we know they will not be with us on many of the holidays. I am thinking of how my parents must have missed us when we grew up. I deeply miss my children. Their dad and I prioritize togetherness more than traditions. We place the highest value on being together physically on an agreed upon day during the holidays. Our focus is to encourage them to build their own families and holiday traditions. One of my daughters and her husband have their own little girls now. They are beginning to form their own traditions for their little family. We celebrate family. Our current season of empty nesting constantly invites us to examine our traditions, keep the best ones, re-arrange our expectations, try new things and focus on making memories.
As we build our new life in the mountains near our much of our immediate and extended family, we are asking everyone what they liked best about the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Some of the responses have included cinnamon rolls with quiche and fresh fruit, decorating the tree together, giving gifts, advent calendar, Christmas smells of potpourri from the stove and candles, caroling in our home and out, the musical events throughout the season, Mexican hot chocolate and more. My intention is to keep some of the favorites and add some new ideas to see if they are keepers.
While I certainly do not have all the answers to changing expectations, I can share a few ideas that have helped me enjoy the holidays with a spirit of flexibility.
- Don’t forget what is really important. Spiritual Awareness. Family. Relationships. The holidays of Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas are rich with traditions involving family as well as spiritual importance. Planning to read the Bible passages that enhance focus on spiritual awareness of the holiday. To fully appreciate each season, I start reading scripture and related material to keep my mind on heavenly things. My attitude is adjusted properly when I place the spiritual significance before any secular celebrations. For example, as I look at Christmas I evaluate what events will allow me to worship and grow in appreciation of Jesus’ birth. Next, I prioritize activities that will grow my family relationships. This year we moved to be closer to two of our children and our extended family. So, it is time to plan new traditions. Already we have a date for a Christmas tea party for all the girls, big and little. With school and work obligations we had to stratagize our family get togethers early. Since Christmas comes fast and furious, we planned a Christmas tea party for the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
- Keep the best traditions, but don’t feel trapped in keeping all of them. As you and your family move through the years, your jobs, physical nearness and availability may change. Some of my favorite new ideas involve a sushi making party for Thanksgiving and making candles as a group. This Thanksgiving we are going to the beach with as many of our grown kids as are able to come. The plan is to eat pizza on the beach. Why? Because we can.
- Add new “traditions” to make each holiday fresh and exciting. Keep your favorite ideas to repeat next year. We are keeping our Christmas breakfast tradition from my family of origin which is quiche, cinnamon rolls and fruit. Everybody asks for that meal on Christmas morning. One time my extended family all gathered for Christmas. Because we did not communicate well about he food, ALL of us brought cinnamon rolls enough to feed the whole group. Currently, I ask my family and others about their favorite traditions so that we can do something new. Please send me any of your favorite ideas.
- Acts of kindness toward family, near neighbors and friends creates such happiness. The joy of giving is so poignant. Find the deep satisfaction of giving generously to your family, to your near neighbors, to your spiritual community, to friends, to strangers and to those who cannot give back. Find a way to give at least one person an anonymous gift that meets a need or shows love. Look for those who are lonely, caregiving, single parents, adopting and suffering with physical struggles. Your blessing will always be more than the recipient of your gift. Focus on giving, not getting.
- Normal is not our normal. Different is exciting. Don’t feel like you should do what you are seeing in social media. You do you! Like pizza on the beach for Thanksgiving and sushi for Christmas Day, your imagination is the limit.
- Be on the alert for anything that will negatively affect your relationships with your family and friends. Imagine how traditional activities can be re-positioned or eliminated. Be sensitive to adding new family members to your family community. We have a new daughter-in-law. I have already asked her what her family does for the holidays and what she likes best. As she joins us, I want to do things are familiar to her on these holidays. Some topics aggravate certain family members. Seek peace. Limit or eliminate conflict. Purposely affirm. (See Affirming Grows Gratitude.)
- Do ask your family what is important or meaningful to them. Keep all the things that they love. Consider doing something that is a favorite for each person during the holiday. Ask each person individually ahead what matters to them. When at all possible, plan early to ensure understanding and allow for spoken expectations.
- Celebrate when you are together. Don’t be stuck to the actual day of the holiday. Togetherness matters most.
- Stay in your lane. Keep your mouth shut. Intentionally offer life-giving words. Work to avoid giving your opinion where it doesn’t matter or it might alienate. Ask yourself, “Is my opinion more important or is my relationship most important.” The answer gives you perspective.
- Take it slow. Have food prepared ahead that facilitates togetherness. Spend time around the table. Table time facilitates conversation. When necessary, prepare quality conversation starters. At our house my husband has the assignment of guiding table talk. This allows me to focus on the other hospitality details. Sometimes the talk just flows naturally and other times carefully directed questions generate the most fascinating dialogue.
Eliminate stress and create room for happy memories by letting go of expectations. If you want to give your friends and family a meaningful gift this year, give them your time. Don’t cloud or ruin the coming holidays with troublesome expectations. Be realistic. Be flexible. Be creative. Invite conversation about what is important and what needs to be let go of going forward. Focus on time together enjoying one another. Anticipate the difficult topics and intentionally practice affirming one another. Let the holidays ahead be relationship building.
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