Holiday times are notoriously and consistently difficult for families. For, so it seems, there are always those who wildly anticipate (and are surely to be disappointed at) events, and carry nostalgic memories of past celebrations that bring a false hope to the present. Those with the true spirit of the season come with open hearts to accept the ones they love for who they are. The true spirit folks have warm hearts, accept the failings of others without thinking it is an opportunity to correct an imperfect soul. This mix is the flavor for the pot that cooks up holidays that are stressful and probably contributes to being opulent as well. Gifts just might decrease the guilt for actions. Really? Presents might smooth over the hateful looks and fake smiles? Seriously?
I propose an annual (until you get it right) pre-holiday exercise that deals with issues up front and then agrees to leave them at the door. If you start early on working on how to do it better next year, it might just work. The key is discussing the issues and dealing with them. Whatever it is that makes the dread for the holidays a dread for you. Express it. Deal with it. Move on. Your sister always got more than you for Christmas and you always feel things are unfair when opening gifts? Your father, now deceased, loved the season and his specific traditions and you feel abandoning them somehow is disrespectful? Your mother does not tolerate small children and loud noises well, and it hurts you that she will not get down on the floor and play with your children when you so clearly remember her doing so for your older brother’s children?
How can we just put the issues on the table and discuss them. Rationally, only with facts, and agree how to have a celebration that is as good as it can be for everyone. And what about agreeing to totally discard the “bad” memories when they have been discussed and a plan of action agreed upon? Make it unfair to hold that grudge ongoing so its impact is lost instead of reinforced? After all, we cannot change the past. Whatever hurtful things happened, we have to move on. The only way to avoid continuing to feel the same way is to change the outcome.
We have to create a future that works for us and those around us. We have to make each moment meaningful and positive and work towards making each day the best it can be. None of us knows when life as we know it will end, so focusing on the now instead of the past and appreciating the now that you have before you is certain to be more positive and less stressful.
So, if you are having any of the strangling memories and issues on the holidays, I suggest some insights and possible solutions:
The unequal gifts issue. Make a gift exchange drawing so only one gift is given per person. Set a limit on spending. That way each gift is special, monetarily valued the same, and there cannot be unequal giving. And stick to it. The gifts we give for a special occasion should be more about the love and kindness behind the physical gift instead of the gift itself. You cannot take it with you, so why not give more of a gift that keeps on giving: your time to help in the kitchen, in the yard, with errands, and your presence mentally and joyfully as well as physically at family get-togethers.
The deceased parent issue. If the traditions are so very important to you, find a way to keep those traditions in-house, or simply internal. Appreciate and understand that everyone has different traditions and as marriages, children, divorces and death naturally occur in families, traditions change by necessity. Open up and find a way to keep something alive in your father’s tradition that satisfies you and adds to the celebration and traditions of others who are in your current family. Adhering to rigid traditions that exclude those present who love you now will only cause or increase a rift, and possibly decrease the opportunity of more family holidays with all together. And, if you feel you must celebrate alone or with a small portion of the group that is present, understand that it has to be discussed, planned and accommodated so that all feel included in some way, and you are not creating a hurtful or excluded experience for someone else.
Children need attention issue: hearing loss, less flexibility to get down and up from the floor may be the reasons your mother is not so willing to play. Find something that works for her, and that she will enjoy. And, if the noise level is just too high and the number of people overwhelming, find a quiet place with some good holiday music for her to retreat to when she needs to do so. And take photos of the warm interactions that do happen and post those so the memories are of the good times. Also, realize that there may be a discussion needed on ways for her to live independently, perhaps with help, so that her needs are being met all year, and the family is understanding the ravages of aging and how to deal with those.
In a nutshell, not only for the holidays, but for each and every interaction, enjoy the ones you are with. Take advantage of the times available to you with your family to know them better. Be kind to one another. Be courteous and respectful. Listen. Learn. Share. One of my favorite Facebook posts is “I did not know getting old would happen so quickly.” For you never know when the last time you see someone might really be the last time.
If your holidays were more stressful and cold this year instead of joyous and warm, think what you can do before next year to change the outcome. There may have to be some hard times in between as you make your feelings known, but if that conversation happens and all work towards a better time together, next year instead of that dreading feeling, you may be saying “Ho, ho, ho and a Merry Christmas to all.” And really mean it!