Holidays: Down with stress, up with joy!

Relatives aren’t the only crowd coming for the holidays — also making an appearance will be all those expectations! Whatever we normally imagine and hope for with family becomes loaded at a whole new level when the holidays roll around, and the result is often stress, deep disappointment and occasionally broken or deeply strained relationships. Here are suggestions to avoid stresses and strains on relationships while keeping the joy factor high during the holidays:

REMEMBER THAT THE HEART IS A MOVING TARGET. Don’t assume you know what everyone is hoping for. Take time to discover from each family member what they want most want out of sharing the holiday together. In the case of Thanksgiving dinner, I always ask each family member, “What is the one dish without which it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving for you?” The goal is not to please everyone, but to understand everyone’s hopes, which may not be at all what you’re assuming (and working so hard for). Also, the process of discovery is a great way to build or rebuild closeness with your relatives.

THE GOAL IS TO MAKE MEMORIES, not force everyone to keep recreating old ones. Traditions are precious, but can become a bully if they become more important than the hearts assembling for this holiday. Don’t let one or more family members get trampled on so some tradition can be carried out just like So-and-So used to do it. Traditions that are still a joy for everyone together are wonderful, but when they cease to be so, it’s time to make new ones.

ASK YOURSELF, WHY AM I REALLY DOING THIS? I used to prepare for a holiday to satisfy my “inner domestic diva” while telling myself it was all really to bless my family — but eventually got the message that they wanted less diva,  more of me having fun with them. It has been wisely said about the Biblical Martha, “Don’t prepare a meal Jesus didn’t order.” Ditto on family holidays.

SPREAD THE WORK AROUND, AND LOSE “PERFECT.” Perfectionism is a joy killer for both the enforcer and the enforcee. If you’re the host, have some of backup canned goods or snacks on hand to fill in for extra guests or to make up for the burned pie. If you have to choose between preparations and spending time face-to-face with a loved one on the couch, go for the face every time.


Who's the Scrabble champ in your family?

LESS IS MORE: less work, less food, less money spent, less structure — all will add up to a more relaxed holiday for everyone. If everyone is broke this year, set a new low limit on gift exchange costs. Give relationship “Gift Certificates” for one-on-one times such as a dinner, movie or coffee date. Don’t pack every hour with activities, but allow plenty of time to just “hang out” together. The best memories often come out of these times. If you’re tempted to do more of anything, let it be more paper plates, popcorn, good old bologna and cheese, decks of cards, old photo albums, fresh-air walks.

TEND YOUR RELATIONSHIPS YEAR-ROUND. It has been said that it’s not what you eat between Thanksgiving and Christmas that ruins your figure; it’s what you eat between Christmas and Thanksgiving. The same is true for relationships. If you take care to maintain a spirit of grace and goodness with your relatives all year round you set the table for joy at the holidays and avoid the stress of wondering when that unfinished business might come up.
This holiday season, GO FOR THE TREASURE IN HEARTS.
May your holidays be blessed in every way under heaven!