“Don’t sweat the holidays” is easier said than done, right? It’s true, but it can become your mindset and strategy for enjoying this time of year that otherwise can feel like way too much. You may be letting out a long slow breath saying: “I feel like I just took down my wreaths, tree, and garlands; is it really that time of year, again, already?” The holidays can be a reminder of what’s missing and the tipping point of stress to an already more than demanding schedule. We can maintain the magic of the season and let go of the little things that we sweat big time that end up stealing our joy.
When my kids were in their school-aged years, I stayed home managing all things family-related. I could never understand how anyone could have a “bah-humbug!” attitude during the holidays because in our household it was all fun and good cheer, and every year we visited the local Christmas tree farm and ran through the hills to pick out the most perfectly imperfect tree. We filled out the annual greeting cards. We spent time hunting for the most thoughtful gifts for each other, our friends, and stocking stuffers for our extended family. We looked forward to the magic of decorating the house with lights all over it (reindeer on the rooftop), decorating ginger bread houses, singing Christmas carols, baking cookies and attending holiday parties. It was all so much fun, and in those days, it seemed I had all the time I needed to merrily get it all done! In fact, I thrived amidst the hustle and bustle and “ho, ho, ho!” of it all.
While life was picture-perfect then, now, life is vastly different. I’ve been a widow and single Mother for seven years this December (a Grandmother, a.k.a. ‘Nana’ too) with a full-time career taking over for my husband and carrying on his legacy. My late husband Richard Carlson passed away without warning from a pulmonary embolism just before Christmas seven years ago. I feared that the memory of this tragic event would shadow the holidays for our family. Then, the following year in 2007, on the same day of December 13, our beloved golden retriever, Ty, died early too. (Ok, it’s true that, after two major losses, our family was feeling weary of the month of December.) Yet, our holiday spirit has prevailed, as we cherish the memories of such wonderful times we’ve shared as a family and refuse to buckle with cynicism. And, here are a few strategies that continue to bring holiday cheer this time of year.
Here’s one major strategy I embrace that imbues the holidays with good cheer; I’ve learned to make small adjustments and not to sweat the small stuff to make room for living the big stuff. Knowing that I have the power to choose helps me to maintain inner peace and equanimity. I’m committed to letting go of the small things that don’t feel right in the moment to make more room for more joy. I don’t buy into the idea that ‘things have to be a certain way.’ My holidays are far more negotiable than that! In fact, one of the great lessons I’ve learned in loss is that most things are negotiable that are not absolutely necessary for survival.
Life is a roller coaster, and many things change in our lives during the year: Our income changes. Our time expands or is limited based on what we have going on at work or in life in general. Our health changes, and our families spread out as the nest empties; the list goes on. As our lives change, it’s important to differentiate the extra activities of the season that bring you joy from those things that stress you out.
My best advice for enjoying this time of year, that was always meant to light up the long winter months with meaning, is for you carry forward family traditions that hold value for you today. Go ahead and make an honest assessment and give yourself permission to make new choices based on your current evaluation, or valuation, if you will. In this moment, question the activities that don’t serve you a good helping of holiday happy. This is a time to question anything that doesn’t resonate and add intrinsic value to your experience. Remember that you have the power to choose how you spend your time, —at least your home time. You can participate in those activities, parties, and traditions that allow you and your family to celebrate the season creating warm memories that work into schedule as it is now. Give yourself full go-ahead to delete the ones that you find are bringing a crease to your brow early in December, so you can be present to the ones you choose.
Anything that steals your happiness isn’t worth it, period. Embrace change and shift the way you do things, and move with the current of what’s going on in the ebb and flow of your life today. Be present to what feels right for you and your family, and let the small stuff go. Happy holidays are on the horizon!