When you consider the holiday season, what comes to mind? Visions of sugar plums? The smell of simmering cider? The chill of frost on the window? Or do the holidays stress you out? As you move through your to-do list of gifts to purchase, parties to attend, friends not to be forgotten, family dramas to side-step, do you begin to question the point of the whole affair?
If you’re like most of us, the holidays are a mixed bag of wonderful memories, challenging situations, tender moments, accumulated stresses, and overdrawn bank accounts. And if you’re like most of us, you may find yourself getting bogged down by the stresses of the season. And you may even find yourself losing sight of why you celebrate.
This year you have an opportunity to do things differently. I’d like to invite you to set your intention for the holiday season and then be brave in scratching out anything that doesn’t fit with your vision.
Make a List
First, make a list of the things—and people—that typically throw you off. Is it a crazy schedule? Is it your crazy aunt? Do you lose sight of the daily practices that keep you sane? Are you caught in an endless list of “I have to?” Do you feel obligated to attend the company holiday party? Are you tugged in different directions? Really take time to think about the things that worry you, stress you, and that you find yourself dreading.
Once you have your list, take a look at it. How much control do you have over the things on your list? Do you have to attend the company party? Will your neighbors refuse to talk to you if you fail to give them gifts? Can you streamline your gift list and focus on one special gift for those you love?
Often, it’s hard for us to recognize what we want because we get so way-laid by the things we feel we must do. But, by making a list of the stressors, you can begin to get a better handle on why you might be dreading the holidays. Then, be willing to challenge the things you believe you must do. If you’re not willing to challenge the status quo, don’t expect anything to change.
As you move through your list, you may notice the very act of crossing things off the list makes you feel better. You may see yourself opening to options you didn’t think were possible, and that will prepare you for clarifying what it is you do want.
Make a Wish
Once you have clarified what you don’t want for yourself during the holidays, start to consider what you would like to have in your life this holiday season. But, before you start making a list of things you would like to have during the holiday season, take a step back, close your eyes, and make a wish.
When you consider your ideal version of the holiday season, what does it include? Is it you on a sandy beach far away from your crazy aunt? Or is it a new Christmas special each night in front of a cozy fireplace? Is it celebrating with family surrounded by all the trimmings?
Take a moment—or a day—and consider your vision for the holidays. What are the feelings associated with this vision? Is it exciting and festive or is it quiet and tender? What is it you need this year? Don’t get tripped up in thoughts such as “well since I can’t jet off to an island in paradise, I guess I’m stuck doing the same old thing I do every year.”
Your vision for the holidays has very little to do with what you are doing for the holidays and everything to do with how you are celebrating the holidays. Your vision is about mindset, intention, and attitude.
Choose a Word
Think of one word that describes what it is you desire this holiday season. There are millions to choose from, and your word doesn’t have to match anyone else’s.
Once you’ve chosen a word, consider what this word captures for you. Does it evoke an image of memories you’d like to make? Traditions you’d like to continue? Does it bring to mind a desire for adventure? A need for separation? Once you have your word, make a list of as many descriptors to help round-out what your word symbolizes for you this holiday season.
Now that you have your word, hold onto it. Everyday ground yourself in the power and meaning of this word. Carry the word with you, everywhere you go. Literally. Have it as the home screen on your phone. Keep it as a silent prayer you repeat throughout the day. Write it on an index card and carry it in your back pocket. Post it to your mirror, your fridge, your forehead. Breathe through the word when you find yourself tempted to make choices that take you away from your hope for the holiday.
This year has been an incredibly busy and stressful year for me and my family. We’ve had lots of changes, challenges, excitements, and activities that have kept us hopping. As I consider my vision for this holiday season, the word that keeps coming to mind is Simple. This year I not only need to simplify, but I want to simplify.
I don’t want to feel compelled to do everything I have always done just because that’s what I always do; I don’t feel up to meeting expectations. And I don’t want to overschedule myself and then move into the holiday feeling resentful, burned out, and frazzled.
This year my challenge will be to hold onto simple. When I receive invitations that deplete me rather than fill me up, I will politely say no. I will keep my favorite bakery on speed-dial. I’m focusing on simple, heartfelt gifts that embrace my value of connection rather than falling victim to consumerism. Lastly, I am going to resist the siren call of the mall and opt for online shopping instead.
Create an Image
Create an image in your mind’s eye of what you would like your holiday to look, smell, sound, and feel like. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with? Is there music playing? Is there a turkey in the oven? Do you have take out on its way? As you consider an ideal holiday season (that actually works for your life), what does the image include?
You can create this vision in your mind, but do your best to get specific about what’s included. Think in terms of the five senses. You can also find actual images that help you capture your hopes for the holiday. Browse through magazines and don’t be afraid to rip out a page that speaks to you. Create a board and begin pinning images that fit with your hopes for the holiday. Take photos of images that bring your wishes to mind.
Do your word and your vision match? If not, go back to the drawing board. You might be trying too hard to fit too many things in, or you may be getting caught by guilt and expectations (either yours or others). Your word and your vision should be consistent. They should both help you capture your hope for the holiday season.
Carry your vision with you the same way you carry your word. Make a list of ways you anticipate being challenged, and ways you can address the challenges. For instance, my family needs to be on board with my vision of a simple holiday. We may need to make some compromises that help each of us capture our needs and wishes this year.
But don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Don’t be shocked when you feel disappointed if you’re not willing to give voice to your wishes. Make a case for why you feel strongly about your vision, what it means to you personally, and how your loved ones can support you.
Be willing to hear the hopes of those that matter most to you. Sit down together and identify your priorities. If one of you is desperate to join the Messiah sing-in (that would be me), let your family know and then be willing to join them in their wishes for a marathon of Lord of the Rings movies.
This vision isn’t meant to be dogmatic, but rather to serve as a guidepost moving you toward meaning, connection, and values. Be willing to compromise. Be flexible. Identify priorities and let go of the rest. Even if you’re not able to get to everything you want, or find yourself having to do a bit more than you had hoped, recognize that vision is all about intention.
More important than what you do is how you carry yourself through the holidays. Do you carry a sense of peace and contentment? Do you connect with those you love and have energy to find meaning in the reasons you celebrate the holidays? This is my hope for you this holiday season.