When I was a child, Christmas was a month-long celebration. The ceremonious lighting of the Advent wreath led up to midnight mass and the arrival of Santa, I mean, Jesus. We celebrated the birth of Christ, alongside presents, at least twenty varieties of homemade cookies, and a savory, turkey dinner.
Christmas felt magical back then and when I had my own children, I attempted to recreate the same feeling. We never attended church so our Christmas was less about Jesus and more about Santa.
After a month of craft fairs, the local Santa Claus parade, and perfecting our gingerbread houses, my children woke Christmas morning to a mountain of presents surrounding our tree. We traded the religious for the commercial.
While there was plenty I loved about the season, such as hot chocolate, snuggling through our favorite Christmas movies, or driving through town to see the light displays, I just couldn’t capture the magic I felt as a child.
To be honest, a part of me hated the hustle and bustle, and I found the expectation of gift giving hollow. Did my children really need more toys, when most years we loaded up several boxes for donation just so their room could bear the inevitable overflow?
When my marriage ended, things changed again. Our children were only four and seven so we shared the first few years, opting to buy presents together and celebrate over a shared breakfast. But as my children grew, my desire to keep up this new tradition faded.
How did I reclaim the holiday season?
I was raised in a Catholic household where Christmas really was about celebrating the birth of Christ. However, not only do I not attend church, I no longer consider myself Christian. I had to ask myself, if I was not celebrating the birth of Christ, what was I celebrating? Or why?
Ask yourself, what does the holiday season really mean to you? What is important to you this time of year?
2. Consider Your Traditions:
My mom loves to cook. I’m sure it’s her love language, and she makes some incredible meals. For me, cooking is more of a necessity. I put off Christmas dinners for years opting to attend dinner with family or friends instead.
Finally, when my youngest asked if we could cook a turkey at our house, I lovingly obliged. I still remember how she blessed our bird before it went in the oven. However, after all our time and energy, and a meal cooked to perfection, my children declared our dinner bland and boring.
The next year we barbecued steaks instead. Since then, we opt for something special and a bit more decadent than our day-to-day meals. The best part is we all love it.
Ask yourself, are the traditions you are holding onto meaningful?
3. Choose Your Company Wisely:
I recall one holiday season where we bustled around to so many houses and parties that all of us were exhausted by the end. The kids went back to school more worse for wear than when they came out, and I am not sure any of us really enjoyed the holidays. After that we took a step back.
From my personal experience, the hardest month of the year for me is February. For some reason it is the point where winter feels the longest. Instead of jamming all our visits into a two-week period in December, I intentionally spread out visits and book a February holiday instead.
As yourself, not only who do you need to spend time with but who do you want to spend time with?
4. Honor What Matters:
I had to admit to myself that the meaning of the holiday season had changed for me. My spiritual practice had evolved over time; I felt more inclined to honor the change in seasons. It seemed obvious that instead of celebrating Christmas Day, I celebrate Solstice instead.
Looking to changes in the natural world brought back the magic of the season for me. Solstice is a time for acknowledging not only the return of light but also the blessings of the dark, of inward focus.
I focused less on accumulation and gifts for my children and more on others. December and Christmas became more sustainable and more about community, stories, and magic. Opting out of what was expected of me meant I naturally slowed my pace. I had time to nourish myself, my children, and my dreams.
Ask yourself, what matters to you? What do you and your family need during the holiday season?
We are all unique with individual needs and preferences. Some enjoy the magic and glamour of the holiday season, with parties and people and food, while others may require more calm and quiet. Know that it is okay to sway from tradition. As the holidays ramp up this year, take some time to connect with yourself and decide your priorities from a place that honors you.