Do the holidays seem more hectic every year? As if we’ll never have time enough to accomplish everything we tell ourselves we absolutely must? Certainly the season starts earlier every year. We’re bombarded with messages and surrounded by decorations before we’ve even consumed our Halloween treats.
I propose a different approach. Start by brewing a pot of tea or pouring a cup of coffee, and sitting awhile, mulling over what the holidays mean to you on a personal level. What do you dislike the most? could take-or-leave? really look forward to and enjoy? What would make this year more meaningful?
How do the holidays affect your family? What memories do you want your children to carry with them? What traditions add meaning? Have any become crazy making? Is your home a haven? Or chaos central? Are the kiddos “swinging from the chandeliers”? Are you biting your tongue to keep from spewing obscenities? Where’s the peace? the joy?
Peace is a hallmark of a joy-filled holiday season. We know that, but we’re human, and, therefore, prone to over extending, too often saying yes when we need or want to say no, and ending up frazzled. If we have kids in our lives, we need to be particularly mindful of the daily routines that keep us grounded and insure we take care to our basic needs to eat, sleep, and exercise.
Jeanette Molineaux, a certified child life specialist and founder of Baby in Mind offers these insights for keeping the peace in families with young children.
For better or for worse, the holidays often throw us out of our normal routines. This can be tough for our kids. When possible, stick to your typical meal times, bedtimes, nap times, and even to that daily trip to the park. A predictable routine will do wonders for your kids. You are the expert when it comes to your own children’s behavior. Enjoy holiday festivities, but know your child’s limits. As soon as you see signs of hunger, fatigue, and overstimulation at the neighborhood holiday party, trust your gut about what your child’s behavior is telling you and call it a night.
The holidays are a great time to focus on giving and thinking about others. Our children learn about generosity and compassion from observing the actions and intentions of the adults in their lives. As a family, bake something special for your child’s bus driver, the next-door neighbor or a community helper. Decorated cookies or crafts made by kids do not have to be picture perfect. Acknowledge the act of helping and giving to others, and don’t worry if the cookies don’t exactly look like the picture in the magazine. Giving kids an active role in making something special for someone else lets them know that they too can be a generous helper.
Family traditions make meaningful memories and are important to children. While the media may want us to believe these traditions need to look like the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, keep the traditions simple and tailored to your child’s age. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or travel far and wide to make the holidays special for your kids. An afternoon at home, making a special family meal together, decorating handmade cards, or going on a child friendly family hike with a thermos of hot chocolate are simple yet meaningful holiday traditions you can start with you own kids. As they get older, you can expand on these traditions, but for now, keep it simple!
Keeping the holidays simple leaves room for the unexpected and the spontaneous and allows us to savor the moment. My mother loved Christmas and delighted in family and friends. As she grew frail, she expressed her desire to see all her many nieces and nephews, and together we decided on an open house on the first Saturday in December. I rallied the troops, an easy task since almost all consider her their absolutely favorite aunt, the one who never forgot a birthday, even when illness forced her to delegate the writing of the cards.
Mom watched as we decked the halls with her favorite seasonal decorations and insisted we accept all offers from my cousin’s to bring something for the buffet table. She knew that many hands make light work and by welcoming the offers I’d be lightening my load. The morning of the gathering Mom woke too weak to dress and take her place by the living room window. Ever practical and determined – the embodiment of “keep clam and carry on”- she announced that I was to invite everyone to visit her in her room.
And indeed they did. Both surviving sisters, all the nieces, and most of the nephews came from places near and far. Hugs, words of appreciation, comfort, and love were exchanged, memories shared, stories told, promises made amid laughter and tears. Unexpected. Spontaneous. Precious.
Mom died before sunrise 22 December and was buried on Christmas Eve, at the insistence of the minister. Family, friends, and acquaintances surrounded us. The service could not have been more beautiful or deeply heartfelt. Officiants fulfilled promises made and spur-of-the-moment volunteers provided the special music requested. And the church served a delicious lunch to those who could stay, and many did. On Christmas Eve.
Christmas is a season of giving. And the best gifts come from the heart. That so many people gave so generously of themselves speaks volumes. Their gifts epitomized the spirit of Christmas.
We’re sure Mom planned her passing to insure her children spent Christmas together. We siblings are close but with one of us living on the opposite coast, we’re rarely together for the holidays. We were that year. Bleary-eyed and exhausted, we celebrated a quiet, peaceful Christmas, cherishing time together, sharing memories, and taking naps. Ours was a joy-filled Christmas, despite our loss and because of the gifts, valuable beyond measure, that we’d received. Our memories of that different-from-all-previous Christmases are ones we hold dear.
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