Making the Holidays Meaningful

Does getting together to celebrate create more conflict than warm fuzzies?
Brooke Cone
December, 8, 2014 -

Are the holidays worth it? With all we hear about the increase in depression and stress, would we, as people, be better off doing the bare minimum for the holidays or maybe skipping them all together? It’s so difficult to manage complexities in our families during the holidays, including different expectations, religions, values, personalities and lifestyles. Does getting together to celebrate create more conflict than warm fuzzies?

In spite of all the difficulties, the holidays can be a very meaningful time of the year for several reasons. Through the act of celebrating a meaningful occasion, families can

  • Teach values;
  • Develop traditions;
  • Model acceptance;
  • Reinforce identity; and
  • Have fun!

The dictionary definition of a holiday is “a special day of celebration: a day when most people do not have to work.” This definition seems at first ironic, as most American adults feel that the “holiday season” is a rat-race filled with unmet expectations, financial strain and increased obligations. Transitions in life such as marriage, moving, children, a reduction in income or loss of a loved one, cause us to think more intentionally about what we are celebrating and why. Putting aside strained family dynamics and sugar comas we often correlate with the holidays, this season can become a time to evaluate what values, people, events or successes you want to honor within your family. Non-traditional families (i.e., blended, foster and adoptive families), as well as those who have experienced change and loss during the year, know the challenges of traditions. But when done thoughtfully, these rituals can bring meaning and a sense of belonging, healing or purpose to an individual or family.

When creating/continuing traditions consider the following questions:  

Does this tradition convey some meaning or value and has that been clearly communicated? Traditions are opportunities to reinforce or teach ideas about an endless number of values (i.e., giving to others, culture and history, sacrifice, love, spiritual truths, perseverance).  Consider including your family members in developing the tradition so that everyone can contribute and be heard.

Are you willing to do this year after year? Traditions are by nature, something that must be repeated. Remember, simplicity makes traditions doable.

Is it fun? Traditions may be meaningful but they don’t need to be somber or boring. Engage your family with light-hearted fun and they will be the ones reminding you when it’s time to celebrate every year.

Are you using the five senses? Our brain gets all the information about our environment through our five senses. Try to make traditions that are sensory with attractive colors, good smells, and pleasant sounds and tastes. It is important to understand that traumatized people coming into your home may be overstimulated or may have a negative association with some sensory experiences (such as food, lights or song) that is otherwise pleasant to you. Offer people quiet places to retreat and capitalize on the senses that are working for them. Try to send messages of love, acceptance, care and empowerment through the senses, and allow people to have a choice and move towards your traditions rather than feeling forced or pressured.

Is it (am I) flexible? Be mindful that your tradition(s) may need to be modified or postponed. Loving the people around you is more important that being militant in your traditions. If you have to skip a year, that’s okay; just pick up again the following year. If there are new people in your home, ask how you can incorporate some of their tradition(s) into yours as well—be inclusive, flexible and open-minded.

Good parenting happens at the intersection of structure and flexibility, consistency and grace. If you employ this balance as you move through the holidays, no matter the challenges, you will bless those around you.