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  • Writer's pictureLisa Popcak

Four Questions to Ask Yourself to Have a Happier Holiday Season

Well, it’s now getting dark earlier and without a doubt the holidays are right around the corner. No matter how you feel about the holidays, one thing is certain, for the next couple of months our responsibilities as moms multiply like crazy. Because of this we can get overwhelmed, burned out, and cranky, or at the very least too busy to experience the joy of the holidays.

On top of that, there are a trillion ways to celebrate the holidays. Some have been handed down to us by families of origin, others come at us at a million miles an hour from every source of media. They all look so pretty or meaningful and we can often want to do them all. On the flip side, we can get so overwhelmed that we can just want to throw up our hands and not do anything at all, and can often come up with a lot of reasons to justify that stance.

Let’s be honest, sometimes our attraction to all the holiday doings comes from a place of absolutely loving the holidays and wanting to savor every moment, and sometimes our view of the holidays is influenced by reactions to the holidays of our childhood (negative or positive).Whatever our influences, as mothers we are now at the forefront of how our families experience the holidays this year and how they remember holidays for a lifetime. (On some level you are aware of this already, so please don’t get mad at me for being the one to acknowledge it.)

Holidays truly are important times set aside, by their religious nature or by public decision, to take time to pause from the ordinary every day and come together to remember that we are meant for more than the mundane. We are meant for gratitude, joy, and relationship with God and others. Holidays are meant to feed our souls. 

But how do we moms do all that is needed to create a holiday celebration - all the preparation, providing for everyone’s needs and hopes, feeding everyone, the additional social and service expectations, etc. -and still stay sane and perhaps actually enjoy the holidays and have our own souls fed?

Full disclosure, this has been a huge learning curve for me, so any tips I share here have been hard won. Perhaps they’ll save you some of the growing pains I’ve experienced.

Here are some questions I’ve learned to keep in mind to determine if a certain activity should be part of our holiday experience. 

1- Do I enjoy this activity? Does it add to the joy of my holidays? 

Yes, we are actually allowed to enjoy the holidays too. Not just produce them for others. Now let’s be honest, we’re not going to enjoy every second of all the holiday preparation. It’s often hard, other centered work. But if we start with this question, we can at least pause and evaluate each task and see if it’s worth it to us because it gives us joy, or at least gives others enough joy to make it worth it. 

For example, I may not enjoy lugging boxes of holiday decorations up from the basement, unwrapping the each piece, and cleaning up the residual mess, but I love decorating with my family and remembering together how each ornament came into our lives, and I really cherish the joy we all share from being surrounded by it all throughout the season. So that makes the work worth to me. Intentionally recalling that allows me to overcome my dislike of difficult parts and put my focus on the part that gives me joy, thereby making the part I don’t like a bit easier to get through.

2- Am I capable of doing it physically, financially, emotionally, or time wise?  

I may find every form of decorating, cooking, crafting, or event attending attractive when it comes across my radar, but if it’s going to wear me out physically, or overextend my family financially, or leave me cranky or in a depleted puddle of tears then we’d all benefit more from me moderating those desires and choosing only those that I am actually capable of taking on well, or finding a different way to meet that desire.

For example, years ago a dear friend of mine found that wrapping Christmas presents was putting her right over the emotional edge. She had five children ages eight and under, including newborn twins. She had no time to secret herself away to wrap gifts, and really no arms, as they were always rightly filled with babies. But having wrapped gifts under the tree on Christmas morning was important to her. So she decided to pay her teenage nephew, who needed some extra shopping money, to wrap them all for her and everybody benefitted from her being humble enough to acknowledge that she couldn’t do it all.

3- Is the holiday activity age/ability appropriate, both in skill level and ability to capture the meaning?

As mothers or grandmothers we often get so excited about sharing the holidays with our family. But sometimes we can set ourselves and the kids up for frustration. It’s important to assess whether this is the right time or circumstance to take on what we have in mind with an eye toward kindness and sanity. 

For example, attending church at midnight on Christmas Eve is a beautiful and deeply moving family tradition. But your daughter-in-law might not find it to be so if you insist she attend during the years she has young children and babies to care for. So with an eye toward kindness and everyone’s sanity, choosing different church arrangements during those years might create happier holiday memories for years to come.

I learned the importance of asking myself this third questions through a few moments of trial and error over the years. For instance, years ago I was hoping to add more religious tradition to our season. One of the traditions that caught my attention was the Jesse Tree. It’s a lovely tradition that teaches salvation history as each piece is placed on the tree throughout Advent. I saw advertised what looked to be a lovely kit. The description said that even small children would enjoy making each piece and discovering its meaning while adding it to the tree. But when the kit arrived it turned out to be several large bolts of felt and a very large sheet of patterns requiring each piece of the intricate pattern to be cut out with tiny sharp scissors, then traced onto the felt, then cut out of the felt and assembled. This was NOT a project to do with small children! I was disappointed, and a bit conflicted. But rather than make us all miserable attempting to do it because I felt guilty for not doing it - because I had spent the money on it, or because other moms did it - I chucked the whole thing in the garbage and did other things that my kids and I could have fun doing together. And all these years later my kids have learned and embraced their faith even without that maddening kit, and the mom police have not come and arrested me for not doing that project.

4- Does the activity give you time together to enjoy each other?

Making choices that allow us time to really enjoy each other is how warm holiday memories are made. So in evaluating whether or not something should be part of your holiday celebrations ask yourself if it will separate your family through time apart, or stress induced grumpiness, or will it give you time together doing something enjoyable that creates connection.

Pausing to evaluate your holiday planning with these four questions in mind can help you create a warm and happy holiday season for not only your family, but for you as well.

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