Negotiating where to go, which family to see, which traditions to include and what to leave out on the holidays can be tricky.  Whether you are married or in a relationship that requires deciding which family you see for which holiday, or having to travel and needing to decide where and when to arrive, we can all be left feeling pushed and pulled in many directions.  Feelings can get hurt, expectations aren’t always met and in the end, managing it all can almost spoil the entire season.

Years ago when I lived close to my family, we would end up traveling to multiple destinations all in one day.  Breakfast was across town, which led to lunch nearby, only to finish up with dinner back across town! We ended up overstuffed and exhausted!  In spite of spending time with so many lovely people and enjoying ourselves, my husband and I would fantasize about a holiday season full of sleeping in and hanging out in our PJ’s!

Fast forward to several moves later, and we have our wish.  We make our holidays what we want them to be. Of course there are still obligations and family but since we live far from our immediate family, we decide how and when we incorporate travel into our holiday season.  

It still isn’t all sunshine and roses, of course.  We haven’t perfected the stressless holiday but we have managed to bring choice back into our season.  We decide.

It takes a few essential ingredients to accomplish this feat:

  • Compromise
  • Flexibility
  • Placing value on the meaning

Compromise can seem like an easy thing to do but when it comes to negotiating the holiday plan, it can get difficult.  Have any of you ever argued over whose family you are going to visit for Hanukkah? Have you found yourself saying things like, “We’ve gone to your brother’s house 2 years in a row and it is my turn this year?”.  Allowing for everyone to express their preferences for the holiday season and making sure it is shared in a fair and equal way is essential to making sure that the holiday season doesn’t turn into hurt feelings and resentment.  Remember to compromise just a bit more than you want to so that you can be sure to allow for others to feel heard.

Recently we have begun to celebrate some of the holidays in a more non-traditional way.  Over the last few years we have been in Las Vegas for Christmas, restaurants on Thanksgiving and our sofa on New Year’s Eve (that one isn’t so new or non-traditional!).  Abandoning the traditional way we celebrated the holidays for many years has been a lesson in flexibility for sure, but also filled with unexpected joy.  Having a flexible mindsight has opened up options we never ever considered before and allowed us to allow for a different sort of holiday.  This may not be something you think you would enjoy, but remember to be flexible when it comes to all aspects of the planning. You just might surprise yourself!

I told the story a few weeks ago about my first attempt at hosting a holiday get together for my large family.  Unfortunately, I forgot to turn on the oven so the main course was not cooked and ready when everyone sat down to eat!  It was embarrassing and I saw the disappointment in many of my family’s eyes. This was many years ago so I can’t remember how the rest of the day went (forgetfulness can be helpful in this case), but I can remember my red face when I discovered the ice cold oven.  It was so important to me that I be able to host my large family for the holiday and it felt ruined by this mistake. I am older now, and much more capable of hosting large groups to my house for dinner but I have learned a much more valuable lesson then remembering to turn on the oven.  I remember why I’m hosting a dinner in the first place.  

Whatever your belief system, family set up, or living arrangement, the holiday season will have a special significance for you.  Remembering what that is and allowing for the rest of the details to fall away is always helpful. Have you ever dug your heels in about a specific dish that must be on the table, or a specific table arrangement that has to be included?  Have you had arguments with family about seating arrangements and brunch versus dinner? We all have had these conversations before and believe it or not, we can all become stubborn and rigid in what we want. Stepping away, taking a breath (or 10), and asking ourselves what is really important at this time can be so helpful when getting involved in these disagreements.  What is the thing you want to remember most after the holiday is over? Is it the perfect crispy potatoes or the conversation you had with your 95 year old grandmother? Is it essential that you have the perfect looking table that includes the centerpiece of your dreams or that you were able to invite a coworker over who had just moved to the city and otherwise would have been alone?  

What is the meaning of the holiday season for you and how can you incorporate that into everything you do?  My most cherished memories are of my mother’s look of joy when she got to hug her grandchildren, my eldest son’s serious face when he graduated to elf status on Christmas Eve, and the feeling of being around the people I love.

So let’s give this a try, enjoying yourself and the holiday all the while sharing love with gratitude and joy.  And remember try to include some flexibility, compromise and meaning into this special time.

Happy Holidays!

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