December 18, 2021

As we approach the holiday season, you may find yourself feeling busy and overwhelmed.  Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you may have year end deadlines, T4 reconciliations, family responsibilities, and other pressures at this time of year.

As I write this, I’m on vacation for 13 blessed days after working four months after a cyber-attack at work and hitting the ground running each day.  A few weeks ago, my husband sent me a cute video to watch while I was at work; it was about 5 minutes long.  When I got home he asked me if I’d watched it; I signed and said, “No, I don’t even have time to watch a 5 minute video most days at work right now”.  And then I felt bad.  And sad.  And exhausted.

I’ve always coached people to take regular breaks and take care to themselves and then I read in an article last week that the advice we give others is often the advice we need to listen to ourselves.  Huh (ding, ding, ding).

So, here I sit with my cup of tea and nothing on my to-do list today.  I haven’t felt like this in a long time and I almost want to weep with joy.

And in this moment, I am so glad that a number of years ago I decided to break many of the traditions I had held or established at this time of year.  I listened to one of Jann Arden’s podcasts a week or so ago and that was the discussion point: why do we carry on these traditions or things that we’ve just always done that stress us out, make us busier than we want to be, and essentially ruin the enjoyment of the holiday season?

I used to bake 12-14 different things and make trays to take to work and everywhere I went.  I used to send over 100 Christmas cards with a personal note in each one.  I used to decorate my whole house and had boxes and boxes of decorations.  I used to buy small gifts for any person who had touched my life.  I tried to visit as many people as I could over the holidays to jam in a years worth of neglected visits in one shot.  And in January, I was exhausted and had to ramp up the fitness classes I taught in order to meet the January demand for New Years’ Resolutions.

So, about 15 years ago, I started to question why I was doing all this stuff and how could I enjoy the holidays more.  I decided to only bake 2-3 things and stopped taking trays to work and other places I went.  No one complained or even said a word.  About 10 years ago, when the price of stamps went up, I decided to cut back and only sent Christmas cards to close friends and family.  No one complained or said anything.  Eventually, I stopped sending cards altogether.  I’ll now send an email to touch base with a family member.  And I hand deliver a card to the important people in my life.  Still no one has complained.

I only put up a small tree, a wreath on my door, and 2-3 beloved decorations in my house now.  It’s so much better.  I don’t dread decorating and the time it takes, and the same with the take down.  I also have much more storage space as I went from 3-4 Rubbermaid containers of decorations to one.

I had discussions with family on gift giving.  We started with a secret Santa concept and eventually we have completely stopped.  We are all adults and buy what we want anyway (we still buy for kids for now).  We have created new traditions of trying new foods, cocktails, games or activities together.  Research shows that we value experiences far more than material items.  Dr. Laurie Santos, who teaches the science of happiness, will also tell you that experiences bring us much greater happiness than exchanging socks, underwear and gift cards.

As for visiting people, well, COVID has put an end to most of that for now.  But a few years ago I decided that when I went home for Christmas that I had already driven 7 hours to get there; if people wanted to see me then they could drop by.  A few have done this and some people I don’t ever see anymore.  It is what it is and I guess that speaks to the nature of our relationship.

I actually made it a New Years’ goal two years ago to reach out to family more often each month. I try to text or email at least one family member every month to have more regular contact.  As a result, I feel closer to certain family members than I did seeing them once a year.

I can tell you personally that questioning and getting rid of traditions that I just always did without thought as to why or questioning whether it’s still valid has freed my time, allowed me to find much greater enjoyment, more rest, and better memories of my holiday than I could have ever expected 20 years ago.  What I did was started taking cafe of myself also known as self-care.  I did what I had to, needed to, wanted to so that I could enjoy the holiday season  That freed me up to allow for spending quality time with the people I really care about.  That allowed me to enhance my experiences over the holidays.  In turn, this enhanced the experiences of others in my life.

I’ve talked to a number of people who still hang on to traditions their family has done for years that completely stress them out, tax their finances, and don’t bring them enjoyment.  They feel like people would be disappointed if they didn’t carry on with these traditions.

But I’ve also talked to a number of people who have started to question their traditions and have scaled back or completely stopped.  Just yesterday someone told me that their family decided to stop buying gift for the adults and they were almost jumping for joy at the freedom (stress, decision-making and financial) that they have recovered for this holiday season.  I talked to someone a few weeks ago who had always had a real tree.  Their kids were adults now and they felt that a real tree was a lot of work, was getting expensive and caused a mess.  But they were afraid that their spouse would be upset if they stopped getting a real tree and bought a fake one.  They finally got the courage to bring this up with their spouse and the spouse actually replied, “Oh thank you, I’ve wanted to stop getting a real tree for years but thought YOU would be disappointed!.

Another story comes from someone who made some suggestions to make Christmas Eve and Day less stressful and busy for their family, and when they made that suggestion they were the family Grinch.  But the next year, when everyone saw how much less stressful their holiday preparation was, suddenly that person became the family holiday hero!

So, if you feel stress, pressure and financial worry at this time of year to keep up with your traditions, consider having some conversations with family and friends.  It’s 2021; do we still need to be doing what we did in 2001?  It’s a very different world.  I would venture a guess that most of us fall into the Christmas trap even thought we don’t do anything Christian the rest of the year.

Science shows that we can find much more happiness in our experiences.  Ask the people in your life what experiences they’d like to start trying as opposed to buying gifts just for the sake of always having done it.

I say Tradition Schmadition! Make your own rules so your can thrive and live a much more fulfilling life! And to kind of quote Clark W. Griswold, may we all be the jolliest bunch of a$$holes this side of the nuthouse this holiday season!

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