I’m not sure about you, but September and October are a blur at our home as we get back into the swing of things for school and sports – and then suddenly, bam! Halloween has come and gone and it’s holiday season before we even know it.
From November through January, the calendar is packed with events and activities. These celebrations should be bringing us joy, but often I find myself battling the stress of over scheduling and a hyper-obsessive need to coordinate the calendar meticulously.
My career is focused on helping individuals create intentional success in their lives, and this year, I am on a quest to ensure that I invoke that same spirit of intention myself during the holidays. I want the whole family to enjoy the season, and not just go through the motions.
The trick is to be extremely intentional about what truly matters to you. I hope these tips will help you create more joy in your holiday season!
1. Lower Your Expectations
Be honest with yourself for a moment: Do you have realistic expectations for the holiday season? Social media has drastically altered our perspective! Our worlds are filled with images that show partial realities. It is filling us with FOMO (fear of missing out) and the feeling of not good enough.
Oprah famously said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.” A slight variation might be, “You can do it all. Just not all at once.”
This year, why not vow to put away Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram if they are going to make you feel less than? We know the visuals are not the whole picture, yet our brains can’t help but feel as though we aren’t measuring up.
Stay alert to these common negative thoughts triggered by today’s do-it-all society:
• I don’t have enough money; just look at the vacations/gifts/parties these other people have!
• I’m a failure if I’m not crafty enough to deck out my house and children to look Pinterest perfect.
• I’m a bad mom because I’m working and can’t be at the classroom party to volunteer as the kids throw fake snowballs through a hoop.
When faced with these thoughts, take a moment to settle your mind. Then, make a list of the things that you are good at doing! Planning events, laundry, being on time to appointments, making a hot meal every night, etc. What makes you awesome at being uniquely you? If you notice things/skills you want to be good at, make a plan to get there. Embrace that spirit and decide what you want to be better at, then make a plan to do so.
2. Identify the Joyful Items of the Holidays
For a mom, it can often feel like you are a solo cruise ship activity director, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
I start by gathering a large list of all the events/commitments that we might consider doing during the holiday season. From there, we gather as a family and everyone gets to share their opinion on what is fun for them, what makes them happy over the holidays, and what they each find important. Right away, you can cross off the extra events that no one is interested in doing.
Common joyful events in our house include: breakfast with Santa; date night with my spouse to shop for gifts; New Year’s Eve count-down with friends; decorating cookies at home; and all of the ladies wearing ridiculously huge fancy hats to a dinner or tea.
3. List What is Important
The reality is that sometimes things are important, while not being fun for the whole group. There are extended-family traditions which are important, but not always fun for the kids and spouse. Be sure to keep some of these things on the list, but know that you can balance them with the fun list.
Another good tactic is to set clear expectations up front with your extended family. Let them know that time together is important, but that you also have other events to do with your immediate family/friends/co-workers/etc. Then talk together to determine which ones are the most important to attend.
Common important events in our house include: attending Christmas Eve service with the extended family; helping with the children’s classroom parties; mailing gifts to extended family (enduring the dreaded holiday post office lines!); and attending the office holiday party.
4. Block Your Calendar
It has been said that people will take any time you offer them, and that is true! Time is our most precious commodity, and it is up to us to carve out some for ourselves.
List your joyful and your important events on the calendar; these are non-negotiable! Next, list what I refer to as basic time on the calendar. Those are the time slots where you can simply relax and enjoy the season in a way that works for you.
Common basic time in our house includes: reading Christmas stories by the fire; wrapping gifts together; watching a holiday movie while drinking hot chocolate; playing board games in our PJ’s while eating popcorn; and taking a leisurely walk in the chilly weather.
5. Learn to Say No
This may be the hardest tip of all! To stay focused on your intentional joy, you will need to say no to certain events and invitations. It’s okay (and important) to say “No, thank you!” to an invitation that doesn’t align with your intentional joy plan. You don’t need to give an excuse or reason why, just politely decline.
If you receive an invitation that is amazing and you are excited to go, then visit your calendar and see what kind of swap you can make.
Constantly putting your own important plans on hold to accept invitations to other events will leave you feeling as though you missed out once the holidays are over.
Common events that we have learned to say no to include: events that were once a tradition, but our kids have outgrown; last-minute invitations that conflict with our basic time or other planned events; invitations that will cost us more money or disrupt our holiday budget; and volunteer or attendance requests for every event at school.
6. Be Prepared for Speed Bumps
Once you have this beautiful plan of what you will do, where you will do it, and what you will leave off this year, you better believe a wrench will somehow be thrown in. As moms and dads, we know all too well that not everything goes as planned.
Be prepared for illness, tantrums, exhaustion, or bad weather to sneak up on you.
When this happens, take a moment to recognize that you may feel disappointed in missing a planned event or having a minor catastrophe, but then try to laugh it off. We tend to place so many expectations on the holidays, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Common speed bumps that have affected my house:
• Is someone refusing to tuck in his shirt for your family holiday photos? While frustrating, it’s really not going to affect your world in the long run, so try to let it go.
• Did the holiday pie burn? Totally devastating, but it will be a funny story in future years!
• Forget to buy teacher gifts? Send them them a few bucks by Venmo.
• Someone wakes up with a fever on the morning of the big holiday? Remember that we can celebrate any day of the year – what’s most important is being well and together as a family.
The holidays are meant to be fun, but can sometimes become overwhelming with activities and expectations. Be intentional about how you spend your time and with whom. If you are true to your vision of joy and don’t take things too seriously, you will treasure the memories you made during a more relaxed and delightful season!
Photo: Scott Schwartzkopf