When does creating holiday memories turn into holiday dread? Stress, conflict, expectations with crammed schedules and exhaustion make happy holidays turn into harried holidays! You plan your family picture and someone doesn’t show up—or they wore the wrong outfit that includes bright pink and purple to clash with the planned Christmas red. Someone has a bit too much to drink and stories are shared that shouldn’t be. And we haven’t even talked about food preparation yet!
In this article, we’ll focus on the last three main holidays celebrated at the end of the year: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I realize there are a few others sprinkled in, but these three holidays that are fairly close together tend to create gatherings that include family, friends and co-workers, thus creating holiday memories.
Halloween has escalated in popularity throughout the years. Compared to when our kids were small, there are more elaborate costumes, decorations and events planned for this day than ever before. I’m kicking myself for getting rid of the Ninja Turtle costumes I painstakingly made for our boys years ago—the thick felt took forever to cut out, and my fingers were raw after sewing and stuffing the three turtle shells.
It’s probably for the best I didn’t hang on to the bulky green chelonian costumes, as they were quite large. With the amount of stuff I have stored, there will be plenty to dispose of when we eventually completely downsize! And our kids like to do their own thing anyway. But still…they’d be great in the dress-up box for grandkids!
Planning in Advance
With Thanksgiving and Christmas upon us, focusing on what is most important—the actual holiday-- with the intent of advance planning has the potential make your season less stressful and more meaningful! In our family, even though we usually eat very well on both of those days, I personally get a bit stressed preparing a meal, trying to get everything on the table at the same time. There always seems to be one thing that doesn’t turn out quite right. Maybe that’s why I was often asked to bring just the rolls or salad to our larger extended family gatherings. My mother and mother-in-law seemed to manage meals so well with the green beans showing up piping hot at the same time as the turkey and dressing. I know there is an art to this, but even years of experience don’t seem to help me much!
However, there is one thing I noticed. When my mom put all the food out buffet-style on the counter, the kitchen looked like a bomb went off with a multitude of pots, pans and other items with baked on food hard as cement, ready for an army to clean after dinner. (Which my sisters and I usually jumped in and did!) This is contrasted with my mother-in-law. As we sat down to the table with all her hot dishes ready to be passed around, most of the cooking utensils were completely washed and put away. I honestly don’t know how she did it! I did not get the organizational gene from that side of the family—I got the one from my mother!
Focus on the Holiday Itself
What helps most in creating healthy and positive holiday memories is putting the focus on the holiday with thankfulness, not just the food or other event. When focusing on the holiday, the attention is moved off the specific shortcoming of a friend or relative who arrives late or grumpy. Or not wearing the right clothes for the family picture. This principle even helps to keep a healthy attitude when unexpected guest(s) that arrive at the last minute.
Raising sons, we also found planning some sort of activity helps move the day along. One Thanksgiving, my husband Greg cut out leaves with construction paper and had everyone write something they were thankful for to be read at the dinner table. It was surprising that most everyone participated. I hope to do this again this year, although I’ll go to Hobby Lobby for the leaves! As our society puts so much emphasis on Christmas, their biggest selling season of the year, we deliberately take time out to be thankful at Thanksgiving.
Our Biggest Celebration
Christmas always seems to be our family’s biggest yearly holiday. I know many cultures celebrate in different ways, but we celebrate traditionally with dinner, the opening of gifts, reading the Christmas Story and a short sing-a-long. Now, with adult kids it is getting more difficult to schedule all of our family getting together at the same time. One son, as a fireman, has specific days off and is in jeopardy of a forced hire on the holiday even after the promise of a day off. Another son flies in from Northern California and the one still living at home…he is a bit more flexible at least for the time being. Though it won’t be that way for long.
Flexibility, communication and making time to get together a priority and adding an activity, usually physical, have helped us the most in navigating the holidays. As we raised our sons, we found that boys like to move. So there have been basketball games, tape ball games and a number of other activities before dinner. Now at this stage, time to just hang and talk is super fun. As an introvert type-A personality that likes to keep the event going, it’s very enjoyable for me to stop and sit with a glass of wine and just chill.
Meaning of Symbols
Unplanned events end up being the most humorous, especially when we look back on them. Some years back, my dear mother thought she had such a good system for labeling gifts. She created this elaborate system of triangles, squares and circles to place on the bottom of packages to label them for grandkids. (I think she had eleven at the time) She did this because apparently the package-peeking gene was transferred down to the grandkids. I’m not quite sure where our kids got that from! Although I did find out what I was getting most years growing up.
When it came time to open gifts, we started passing them out, but couldn’t figure out the codes. It just happened that my mom couldn’t quite remember them either. The mix-up that occurred wasn’t as funny right when it happened, especially for the kids that had to give back a really cool item because they unwrapped the wrong gift and it was meant for one of their cousins! But it’s hilarious when we talk about it now. And the story just grows year by year! I just may start to put symbols on our gifts to our kids just to get a good laugh!
Freedom to Laugh
Another episode occurred when a certain family member was totally stressed from driving in a great deal of traffic, arriving late to dinner. One of our sons now furnishes a full bottle of red wine every Christmas to this family member, recalling the complete bottle that was consumed by her that day. It’s much funnier now than it was then!
There are no easy solutions to make every holiday special. I have focused mostly on family in this article, but the principles apply to other types of holiday parties and events, in which I have had plenty of opportunities to observe and participate as a professional musician. Letting go of some of the expectations and adding humor and focus on the actual holiday really help. Most important? Create some new memories and have fun at the same time. You never know, you may receive a gift with lots of symbols instead of a nametag and burst out laughing!
Four Focuses for Creating Healthy Holiday Memories
Focus One: Focus on people, not stuff. Healthy people are thankful people and aren’t just focused on what’s going wrong but grateful for what’s going right. (see: The Mindset of a Grateful Heart)
Focus Two: Take time to breathe! With younger kids, the more planned you are, the better. But make sure you let go of some of the details so you have the freedom to just chill.
Focus Three: Do something together. This is the way many new memories are created. Create a tape ball or shoot some hoops, especially with active children—even older adult children!
Focus Four: Communicate, communicate, then communicate again! People forget and don’t pay attention to the details! Just tell them again—it’s what it is!
FREE Download for the Christmas Devotional-one page for every day in December! Life Principles and Scriptural Focus for the Holidays. FREE Download!