Keeping it Together for the Holidays


by Suzanne Zoglio, Ph. D.

Do you love the holidays but hate what they take out of you? Have you ever wanted to just slip away before one more Fa-La-La chorus? Is your heart in the giving but not in the accompanying chaos? If so, you are not alone.

Many of us literally ďlose itĒ around the holidays. We lose our heads and forget our budgets; we lose our focus and forget whatís meaningful; we lose our balance and forget ourselves. For many, the season of giving has gotten out of control and the joy that we once experienced has diminished considerably. If all this sounds too familiar, there are three things you can do to put the joy back in your celebrations.

Use Your Imagination
Find a quiet spot, and with pad in hand, take five minutes to list the things that you love most about the holidays. These might include: baking cookies, working at a soup kitchen, collecting toys for tots, smelling fresh evergreen, singing in the choir, listening to carols, attending services, reflecting on childhood memories, appreciating the generosity of strangers, praying for peace, connecting with friends, making a traditional dinner, visiting with family, decorating your house,  shopping amidst the bustle, or enjoying the magic of city lights. Whatever you love, just jot it down.

Now, create another listóall the things that detract from your holidays. Jot down anything that saps your energy, dims your joy, or just doesnít feel right. Your list will be personal, of course, but might include such things as: feeling obliged to give certain gifts, attending gatherings you donít enjoy, doing so much you get exhausted, forgetting to give thanks for all that you have, enduring family squabbles, not giving to others outside of your family, focusing on gift size instead of the thought, foregoing traditions in lieu of convenience. Write down anything that takes the sparkle out of your celebration.

After reviewing your two lists, sit quietly and allow your mind to create an image of a delightful holiday season. What are you doing and how are you feeling? Who are you spending time with? Where are you making a difference by giving what someone truly needs? When do you see yourself relaxing, reflecting, remembering whatís important? How are others behaving in your presence? What "gifts" are you receiving from others? How are you expressing what the holidays mean to you?

Plan So You Can Be Spontaneous
With your season choreographed in your mind, you have a picture of what would delight you. Now itís time to create a shared vision with significant others, so you can set about planning and perhaps even "negotiating" for a holiday season that everyone enjoys. For instance, if your mate really doesnít want to go to worship services but you do, youíll have to decide how important it is that you go together. Would you be fine in attending by yourself, or would it mean a lot to you to go together? Perhaps you can compromise on a different front that is important to your significant otherólike limiting gift buying to one per family member so the January bills donít knock your socks off.  Maybe you could invite relatives to your home if your spouse dreams of not driving on the holidays. If, as a family, you discuss what is important to each of you, what you most enjoy, and what you could do without, youíll all be "singing from the same song sheet" so to speak, and less likely to inadvertently detract from each otherís joy.

You can agree on boundaries for gift-shopping, responsibilities for decorating, the number of gatherings youíll host and attend, when and where youíll spend time together, and how you will keep the true meaning of the holidays alive in your home. You might agree on how to simplify celebrations, how to distribute the workload so everyone enjoys the season, and what non-material gifts (e.g., respect, quiet time, appreciation, affection, encouragement, empathy) each of you would most enjoy this year. Itís also not a bad idea to write down agreed upon commitments on a calendar or a holiday to-do list with completion dates listed so there is a visible, gentle reminder and no one has to "nag" another to keep a commitment.  

Help Each Other To Be Helpful
Few of our family members stay awake at night thinking of ways to make our holidays more hectic (although it might seem that way sometimes). The truth is that we all want to please those we love, but we donít always know how to go about it. Weíre not mind readers and arenít necessarily in tune with what would be appreciated by someone else. So we each need to observe and ask others how and when we can help and what little things are important.

We also need to assume responsibility for our own happiness by asking for what we want, expressing how we feel, and allowing ourselves to be less than perfect. To stay centered on being your best self (the person you mean to be), consider spending some time alone regularly. Just five minutes of silence every morning and five minutes of silence every night can make a world of difference in keeping your inner and outer worlds in sync. In the morning, try reflecting on what you desire for yourself and others and in the evening focus your attention on all that has gone well that day.

With visions shared, negotiations complete, and each person taking responsibility, you can do more than keep your sanity. You will create a holiday season that is filled with warmth, love, and meaning.

Reprinted with permission of Suzanne Willis Zoglio, Ph.D., author of Create A Life That Tickles Your Soul. © 1999, Suzanne Willis Zoglio, Ph.D. $21.95. Available in local bookstores, or call 800-507-BOOK or click here.

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