What’s in your holiday celebrations? For many it’s their favorite time of the year. For others it means nothing but stress, anger or sadness. This process of inner dread may have already started as they have seen the decorations go up in stores and malls. Why are there such extreme views about this time of year? Let’s consider some of the reasons and possible solutions to having a more enjoyable holiday season.
The holidays are about family and pleasant memories of the past. The cultural images, advertising and many programs show warm winter scenes, perfect holiday tables and family celebrations. Homes are beautifully decorated awaiting the return of family members for loving reunions. The holiday shows and movies have happy endings with reconciliation among estranged family members. It is a fantasyland of a wonderful life many have never had. Once again they will fill their life with extreme stress trying to attain their expectations and be disappointed.
This season sets realistic expectations. Are you really Martha Stewart? If so, have at it and enjoy yourself, otherwise take that stress off. The important people in your life will treasure the time you spend together. If the workload of shopping, parties and dinner preparation is getting too much for you, don’t marinate in resentment; ask for help or change the tradition to a new one. Perhaps this means going out to eat rather than cooking at home.This may be considered holiday heresy at your house; however, if others are unwilling to take on some of the work, you move forward with a new family tradition. Things change including our holiday traditions. Be creative and look how to offload the work of the holidays for more enjoyable time with people.
Accept the fact that you are not going to fix years of family dysfunction in a few special days. Don’t set yourself up for that disappointment again. Dysfunction means the family is not functioning the way God intended. The hurts and unresolved issues going on often lie just below the surface and won’t take much for them to erupt. The core issues have usually been around for some time. They may have even been cycled through previous generations. To truly reconcile relationships and change the family dynamics would, in most cases, require some extended time in counseling by the parties involved. For that to happen in most families would truly be a “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Instead of being the family’s “Dr. Phil,” be more realistic and set boundaries to help everyone just have an enjoyable time together. The focus is on a fun time instead of resolution and closure. Turn your expectations down to zero. Then you won’t be disappointed. Remember (especially all or nothing thinkers) people are rarely all one thing (good or bad); they have parts to their personality. Some parts are good or kind; others irritating and mean. Seek to focus on the person’s more positive parts. Accept them for who they are. As believers we are to love and forgive others. That being said, we don’t have to expose ourselves to toxic relationships and allow “Uncle Harry” to continually rewound or abuse us. Decide ahead of time how much exposure you can tolerate with “Uncle Harry.” Once your limit has been reached and a prearranged exit speech and strategy has been thought through, use it and depart with a smile and abundant expressions of thanks. This can be done in sincerity while maintaining your sanity.
Once again this holiday season many will spend money they don’t have to buy things others don’t need to impress people they don’t like. Others will try to use gifts to salve feelings of failure or guilt in an important relationship. As humans, especially men, we are prone to compare and compete with others. This can be about holiday decorations, the cost of a gift or throwing the biggest and best party. Another stressor can be when we feel like failures for not having the financial resources to get that special loved one the gift they really wanted. This inability can create in us excess shame and feelings of inadequacy. By the time January rolls around and the bills come due, our anxiety, guilt, stress and depression can be off the chart.
A good way to avoid all these negative emotions is to set a holiday budget by talking through the budget process and truly agreeing on it. Another thing that can be done is to be creative. Especially among close family, people enjoy gifts with meaning. These can be handmade items, family heirlooms passed down, gifts of service that only cost your time or a unique display of family pictures that a person would never do on their own. This is a great time of year to teach children life lessons about generosity and the needs of others.
This holiday season keep the focus on the meaning of each holiday. Don’t get caught up in the craziness. Change your frame for how you look at the holiday picture this year. Do things a different way and you just might have some fun this holiday season.
Dr. John Hawkins, Sr. along with his son, John Jr., runs Gateway Counseling Center in Boynton Beach. He can be reached by visiting gatewaycounseling.com.