A Holiday Survival Guide: Be Intentional
Updated: Jun 3
Just yesterday I ran into a friend that said she always struggles with the holidays. When January rolls around, she feels like she somehow “missed out.” I understand this feeling, because I, too, often felt this way. Life was so busy with the preparation of celebration, that I often missed the joy that awaits each of us this time of year.
In life, there are two approaches people take. They either let life happen to them, or they make life happen for them. When it comes to the holidays, people apply the same philosophy they do during the other 11 months of the year. They let the holidays happen to them, or they make the holidays happen for them. To wake up January 1st and not feel as though you missed out, it starts by being intentional in your approach to this time of year. YOU control the holidays, do not let the holidays control you.
How do we do this? Start by asking yourself, “What is my vision of the ideal holiday?” Make a dream wish list. Do your holidays resemble the romantic stories we all watch on the Hallmark Channel? Is it gathering your closest friends for a cookie exchange? Or, maybe your ideal Christmas activity is to spend a day in your flannel pajamas curled up on your couch reading a book.
Ask yourself what will bring joy to you this season and ask yourself what will make you sad if a certain activity or action does not happen. This helps clarify your expectations. Unless you can clarify your expectations, you will not be able to turn your dreams into a reality. So, taking control of the holidays begins with planning and dreaming.
I began implementing this practice about 10 years ago, and it has greatly increased my joy and happiness when it comes to celebrating the season. Here is an example of my personal list:
Things I dream about for Christmas and things I will miss if they do not occur:
Attend a theatre performance
Celebrate Christmas Eve service at church with my family
Take a night to drive around and look at Christmas lights
Dinner out with a group of longtime friends
Hosting a dinner party at the house
Day of service at a charitable organization
Night with husband watching old Christmas cartoons
Day of rest in my plaid pajamas (a “do-nothing” day)
This may seem like a big list, but I usually am able to check everything off by New Year’s Eve. I must be flexible in seeing my plans through (an important trait when dealing with others) but having this list and knowing it is being implemented puts ME in control of the holidays instead of the holidays controlling me.
I live in the 4th largest city in the United States. For us, the problem can become not in a lack of activities, but an overabundance of activities. From the local ballet company performing The Nutcracker, to the symphony’s seasonal performance, to the endless tree lighting ceremonies throughout our community of almost 7 million people, the list is endless. It’s easy to feel like you are missing out because there is so much to do. Thus, the reason creating your own dream list becomes important, because it keeps you focused and helps eliminate all the noise.
The abundance of activities is one reason a top activity on my personal list is to “do nothing.” When you get caught up in the whirlwind of celebrations and activities, although they may sound fun at the moment, if they are not YOUR desires for the holiday, then when the season is over, you will feel empty, because you did not accomplish what YOU wanted to accomplish. You let the holidays happen to you instead of making them happen for you. Create your wish list and find those things that fulfill this list. Then, ignore all the other chaos around you.
While you are making your dream list, also ask yourself what causes you anxiety during the holidays. Find your stressor points and figure out a way to control this. This is a silly example and has nothing to do with Christmas, but it is what I think of when it comes to controlling my stressor points. I don’t like shots. As a little girl, I would cry every time I went to the pediatrician just due to the anticipation that I might have to get a shot. As an adult, I would avoid the flu vaccine because of this singular fear. I finally set myself down and said, “Ok, Lisa Lou, what is your stressor here? I don’t like shots. Ok, so how can I still reach my end goal but eliminate the stress of the shot?” So, guess what I started doing? I use numbing cream! Yes, this may sound a little juvenile, but I live by the philosophy that I will not let life happen TO me. I will make life happen FOR me. Since I implemented the numbing cream, I am faithful with my shots, and I have eliminated my stress!
With most things in life, there are ways to overcome what is causing you anxiety and discomfort. The holidays can often be filled with tension due to all the activities and parties, and when you add extended family and maybe a few kooky relatives to the mix, the pressure can sometimes be more than we are comfortable handling. There are ways around your stressors, but in order to know how to get around them, you need to know what they are. So, spend a few minutes figuring out where your stress comes from during the holidays.
Are there certain people that particularly cause you stress? If so, figure out a way to reduce your exposure to them. If it is truly a toxic relationship, take a friend along with you when you must see that person or it might be best to stay away altogether. Healthy individuals and families know how to put boundaries around themselves for their own self-preservation.
Is your stress emanating from the thought of overseeing the large Christmas dinner? If so, delegate. Once the family Christmas meal moved to my house when I was a young adult, my husband and I assigned all responsibility of the side dishes and desserts to be brought by family members. The only thing we provided was the turkey, drinks and a welcoming place to eat. For us, Christmas day became one of the least stressful times of December once we implemented this design. To be successful at delegating, though, requires an ability to let go. If you hand out the responsibilities, you need to be appreciative for whatever your guests bring. You might wish for a beautiful homemade cake, but cousin Jack brings prepackaged cookies from the local discount store. Let it go. It’s not that important. If the choice is between you baking a beautiful cake or enjoying the holidays with less stress, I am opting for less stress.
If being too busy is what stresses you out, remind yourself that you do not need to accept every invitation that comes your way. If you follow my blog, you have heard me say on other occasions that it is perfectly acceptable to decline an invitation, even when your calendar is clear. Don’t let others control you, you control you. If you receive an invitation to a party for the last week your children are in school, and you know it is going to be crazy busy, then decline the invitation. Give yourself permission to take a break. This is one reason I calendar “stay in my pajamas all day.” This is an important appointment I make with myself. And if it really is an appointment, well, all appointments go on my calendar. There is nothing worse than feeling like you have wasted a day, but if you planned on wasting the day, then you are fulfilling your obligation and you don’t feel guilty. (And I would argue that a day of true rest where you don’t even get dressed can recharge your battery in a way not much else can do. This makes you more effective to those around you and more productive in your own life. Your stage of life will determine how often you can do this, but I’m a big believer in weekly rest.) Protect your calendar. Protect your boundaries.
In all things, be flexible. Traditions are wonderful, but life brings constant change. If you are too rigid you will set yourself up for disappointment. Don’t let your circumstances define your happiness (be on the lookout for my Happy blog series coming in January which talks about this topic). This is the first Christmas I will not be with my son on Christmas day. He will be getting married next year, and we are entering the stage of “who spends the holidays where.” My family attends church together on Christmas Eve, then we eat gumbo back at the house followed by opening all our presents (we can debate later if you are a Christmas Eve present opener or a Christmas Day present opener and who has the stronger argument for their day... 😊). When our son was little, Santa would come Christmas morning, and then both sides of my family would come together Christmas evening for the big family meal. It was a wonderful tradition.
In the spirit of being flexible, this year we still get to celebrate with our son and future daughter. We will just be celebrating Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. I am so thankful to them for thinking of us and putting this as a priority because in return it means they will be traveling on Christmas Day. I know Christmas travel can bring its own stress and they are making this sacrifice. We will attend church together, come back to the house and open presents. Since they won’t be with us for our traditional Christmas Day meal, I have decided we will just move that menu to Christmas Eve. Instead of serving gumbo, we will have the full Christmas dinner. This way, they get to celebrate with us in the same way we always have. All it took was some flexibility and working together.
Christmas morning will be quiet without our son, so my husband and I have decided to start a new tradition. We are going to wake up and cook a big breakfast, just the two of us. We’ll walk our dog, Colonel (check out Colonel's Corner), and watch a movie. That evening, our families will come over, and we will eat the big Christmas meal…again. Leftovers are always better the next day!
Life changes and you need to change with it. Happiness in our circumstances is a choice, and the holidays are a perfect time to practice making happy choices. This can only happen, though, if you are intentional about what you want.
If you are in a season of life where the holidays bring sadness, then it is especially important that you be intentional about what you expect to happen. If you have experienced a loss of any sort (death, divorce even children leaving home), often the best alleviator of this pain is to serve others. When we step outside of ourselves and focus on the pain of those around us, it really can be the best healing agent.
Instead of sitting at home, find a way to serve through your church. Instead of waiting for someone to invite you over for a meal, why don’t you invite them? You may not feel like doing this, but usually in life, we need to act first, then the feelings follow. Not the other way around. When you focus on others, it makes it harder to focus on ourselves. This is usually the best medicine to ease the pain.
So, no matter what situation you find yourself in this season, the best way to wake up in the new year with a smile on your face and fulfillment in your heart is to be intentional. Don’t let the holidays happen to you, make the holidays happen for you!
Together with you,