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No More Have-To Holidays! How To Keep Your Family Happy This Holiday Season

Crowds, traffic, in-laws, extra bills to pay - no wonder the holidays stress so many people out. If you are one of these people, you are not alone. According to some reports, up to 90 per cent of all adults become stressed about at least one aspect of the holidays. And the holidays are especially stressful for women, who typically shoulder the brunt of the scheduling, planning, shopping and cooking each year.

This year can be different, if you are prepared to take your mood from stressed to holly-jolly. When you are ready, call on this list of radical advice for grinning all the way through your holidays, rather than grinning and bearing it from mid-November through early January.

Take charge. Declare yourself your life’s official cruise director. If you are waiting for others to make you happy - and feeling disappointed or resentful because they don’t try hard enough or try but miss the mark - stop. Make a bucket list for your life of everything you have always wanted to do and start checking off peak moments as soon as possible. Then, when you are done, put the whole family through the bucket-list-making process. Two books by author Lara Krupicka, Bucket List Living For Moms and Family Bucket Lists, make the bucket list creation process a lively adventure the whole clan can enjoy on a chilly afternoon or evening.

Determine your holiday preferences. If you feel like your extended circle of family and friends already plans every holiday out for you, you may have never actually considered what you prefer. Choosing not to choose is actually still a choice - but not a very good one. Ask yourself: How do I really want to spend my holidays? And then answer it honestly. And be specific, not just vague or reacting against what you don’t want. For example, if you’d rather wake up in a ski lodge on Christmas morning and have someone else serve breakfast, lunch and dinner so you can hit the slopes with the fam, so be it! Contemplate what you want - what you really want - so you can share your needs honestly with others.

Share your vision with your immediate family. If your family loves you, and I assume they do, then your vision for the holidays matters to them. Even if they don’t share your enthusiasm for shopping, caroling and marathon tree decorating, everyone should be able to accommodate everyone else in the family. Who knows? Maybe by the time you are done regaling the neighborhood with “Oh, Holy Night” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” everyone will be shivering and laughing in that ineffable way that makes lifelong memories.

Give each immediate family member a chance to chime in. Okay, so you have gotten clear on the ways you enjoy spending the holidays. Now it’s time to encourage the rest of your family to share what they want. Come on now, they tolerated your eccentricities and now it’s your turn to back them up. And, yes, you have to attend the sporting event you could probably live without and see The Nutcracker for the umpteenth time. You will also go to your spouse’s office party. If these are the things that make the holidays magical for family members, who are you to disagree?

Create your perfect holiday. If you can’t remember the last time you just stayed home for the holidays and unwrapped gifts from under your own tree, then maybe it’s time to simplify the festive season without feeling like you have to apologize to the entire world. The beauty of taking charge, having personal preferences, and sharing and receiving ideas within the family is you can now communicate what you all need to your extended family members. Yes, your family is allowed to carve out traditions and create your own memories. And now that you know what they are, it’s your responsibility to follow through as best you can.

Communicate without guilt. Give the extended family plenty of time to accept your plans. They don’t have to like them. In fact, you might think they will never speak to you again. But part of being an adult is learning to let other people face their own feelings without continually adjusting your needs to fit theirs. Guilt may have been the type of internalized shame that kept you in line in the past, but it’s time to shake off this type of programming and live the life that really makes you happy.

Be the change you want to see in your world. Perhaps you have heard the quote attributed to Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” But what he may have really said is, ‘If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.’ In other words, our personal happiness does matter and the way we live does impact the world. So in claiming our joy, we make the world a more positive place, as well.

Activate the power of personal choice. Be creative in your decision-making process. Remember, there is no such thing as one right choice for everyone.

Choose whatever makes sense for your family:

You could go to a soup kitchen or you could take this year off and make soup at home.

You could fly across the country to see your great aunt and grandmother or you could go next year.

You could go to every holiday party you are invited to or you could confer with the family about each choice first.

You could feel guilty about not visiting your in-laws or you could send a beautiful card and a thoughtful gift instead.

You could attend midnight mass or you could create your own spiritual celebrations at home.

You could invite friends and family over for holiday meals or you could just have one potluck for the whole season.

Whatever you choose to do this year does not have to be the new tradition. Try things and see what sticks.

Christina is an author, journalist and writing coach who has been working on developing her backbone her whole adult life. She highly recommends the practice.

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