Holidays can activate powerful “emotional charges,” calling forth as much distress as joy. These strong feelings might be connected with past memories. They might have to do with wishes you have in the present for yourself and for those who are near and dear to you.

This article offers seven practical strategies you might want to consider using to create a more fulfilling and less stressful holiday experience. These strategies can be useful no matter which holidays happens to be difficult for you. They might be religious or cultural, or they might be personal celebration holidays such as birthdays and anniversaries of all kinds.

Holidays with strong emotional charges fall into three categories: family-focused, romantically-oriented, & memorials:

  • Examples of family-focused holidays include Christmas for Christians, the High Holy Days & Passover for Jews, Thanksgiving in the U.S. & Canada, and so forth.
  • Examples of romantically-oriented holidays include New Years Eve, Valentines Day, and other holidays when you wish to have a partner by your side, such as an office holiday party.
  • Examples of memorial holidays include national holidays of remembrance such as Veteran’s Day, family memorials of deceased loved ones, and personal memorials of lost relationships.

Attending to some or all of the following seven key dimensions can help you create a nourishing holiday experience for yourself and those with whom you will be spending that holiday. They are:

1. CELEBRATIONS & PLAYFULNESS: Many holidays provide opportunities for both children and adults to come out and play. Consider what kinds of activities would add fun and celebration to this holiday for you, and with whom. Some long-standing traditions feel nourishing to continue and sometimes you’ll want to create new traditions. Examples of playful celebration for holidays such as Christmas include parties, drives to the country, playing in the snow, caroling, tree decorating, attending concerts, etc.

2. SPIRITUAL EXPRESSION: Some holidays may carry a deeper or more sacred significance for you that you might wish to honor in some way. Which activities help you express your spiritual connection to this holiday? Examples of spiritual expression include meditating, prayer, attending services or rituals that are part of your chosen religious or spiritual tradition, volunteering in a soup kitchen or making other donations to charity, reading stories about the origins of the holidays you’re celebrating, etc.

3. REMEMBERING: You have probably noticed how some holidays can be particularly uncanny in their ability to invite old memories and recent losses to your awareness. You might find yourself remembering pleasant and painful holidays from your past. You might have experienced the death or loss of someone important to you over the past year. Others who are precious to you may be unable to be with you for this holiday. Because these issues come to the surface during the holidays, devote some time to honoring those people and memories. Set aside time, alone or with others, to remember those who you wish could be with you during this holiday and to grieve or honor those who have died or left your life this past year.

4. COMPLETING & LOOKING FORWARD: Some holidays, particularly those occurring toward the end of the year, offer natural opportunities to review the past year and set goals for the next. What goal-setting rituals feel nourishing to you to do, alone or with others? Examples of New Year rituals include doing a year-end review, expressing gratitude you feel for what you’ve learned over the past year, making amends with others, setting goals for the coming year, and expressing wishes you have for others and for the world in the coming year. Make plans for creating this holiday in a happier and/or more fulfilling way next year and forgiving yourself for what you didn’t do this year. Remember that changing holiday traditions takes time — often years — to fine-tune!

5. GIVING & SPENDING: Many holidays are times of giving, and doing this can feel deeply nourishing. At the same time, it’s important to not fall into the trap of over-giving. Over-giving includes spending more money on gifts than is wise for you, more energy cooking than your life balance allows, or too much time with people you’d rather not be with. Giving without regard to your own boundaries inevitably leads to resentment and exhaustion. An “Over-Giving Prevention Plan” can help: a commitment to pure giving out of love rather than contaminated giving out of guilt. Find your limits based on the life energy you have rather than “shoulds” or expectations. Pay attention not only to the total amounts of time and money you reasonably have, and within that to balancing the amount of time or money you devote to each particular task, activity or person. Here’s the simplest measure of overgiving: if you notice yourself becoming resentful you’re probably over-giving. What can you give and spend, and with whom, without resentment? How much money can you spend on gifts (or how much time can you spend making gifts) and sending holiday cards, and for whom, without becoming resentful? Allow yourself to get honest with yourself and live in alignment with your boundaries and your integrity.

6. PERSONAL RE-CENTERING ACTIVITIES: Holidays can have the nasty habit of compromising our life balance, both as we prepare for them and even as we celebrate them. The danger of neglecting the self-care activities that keep you centered and energized always lurks unless you remain mindful. Being true to your personal boundaries can help you maintain your self-care routines. Doing this will help make any holiday more joyous. Make specific self-care commitments to yourself ahead of time. It’s okay to take “time-outs” from the family or the hustle and bustle. Going on regular walks (alone or with others you feel particularly nourished to be with), checking in with growth-oriented friends, going to support group meetings, journal writing and meditation, eating well, moving your body, and getting enough sleep, are all important parts of a wonderful self-care plan. Which self-care/re-centering activities work best for you?

7. PLANNING FOR GLITCHES: If you’re like most people, you can can reasonably predict the hurts or other distress that you or those you know and love will feel, and/or fights that are likely to occur, around a specific holiday. Make a list ahead of time of the types of incidents you anticipate could occur and the specific new actions you are willing to take this year to take better care of yourself when or if these circumstances arise. Click here for another article in which I offer tips for visiting family without losing a grip on your own wellbeing.

I know from personal and professional experience that these strategies really do work to support joy and love during any holiday. I wish you a nourishing holiday experience!

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