How to Have a Five-Star Christmas

Christa Melnyk Hines

Want to experience a joyful holiday season that doesn’t leave you and your family depleted, miserable, and broke? Here are some simple ways to shift your perspective and make the most of this time of the year. 

Aim for good, not perfect. 

Nothing burns holes into the fantasy holiday like real life. Maybe the tree is lopsided, the dog ate your seven-year-old’s gingerbread house, or you were so focused on creating the best holiday ever that you ended up too sick to enjoy it when the big day finally arrived.

“Decide to do things differently this year. Strive for the good, and be satisfied with the good. Too often the focus is on the result, and we tend to lose focus on the beautiful process of getting to the result,” says therapist Julia Flynn, LCPC, CRADC.

Zero in on your favorite activities. 

Decide ahead of time which activities won’t work this year. Instead of committing to five parties and multiple gift exchanges, choose one or two that you’re enthusiastic about attending.

“Be firm, decisive, and assertive, always coming from a place of love for everyone and keeping the focus on the origin of the holidays,” says Flynn, who specializes in helping women manage anxiety, depression, and holiday overwhelm. If you can’t make it to an event, “graciously decline and send a nice card or note,” Flynn recommends.  

Rediscover what matters most.  

Take time to reevaluate your priorities. How do you want the season to feel? What do you want your kids to remember?

“Sometimes we need to take a step back and ask ourselves why this time of year is important to us, because I think ‘the why’ gets lost,” says Maki Moussavi, a transformational coach, speaker, and author of The High Achievers Guide: Transform Your Success Mindset and Begin the Quest to Fulfillment. “Take a step back to assess, from an intangible, emotional perspective, why the holidays are important.”

Stop and rest. 

Self-care is essential all year long, but especially during a busy holiday season. If your stress level is skyrocketing, pare down your list to what reasonably makes sense for your health, time, and emotional well-being. 

And take the time to practice restorative techniques that relax and reenergize you. Simple ways to recharge include soaking in a warm bath, taking a walk outside, curling up with a good book, or getting a nap or a massage.

Don’t push your family too hard. 

Attempts to please others by saying yes to everyone else’s holiday gatherings without taking into account your own family’s needs and comfort levels can cause undue anxiety, frustration, and resentment.

“The holidays are about family time, appreciating one another, and caring for each other,” says Flynn. “If the focus is switched to the less important gift exchanges and gatherings, all planned at the same time, you can’t enjoy the experience, and the original meaning is lost.”

For those events that you’d like to attend, but can’t, let your extended family or friends know that you value them and would like to find another time to get together—maybe after the holidays when things slow down. 

“You have every right in the world to establish what you want your holiday traditions to be,” Moussavi says.

Refuse to get pulled into arguments or angry debates. 

Plan ahead for those individuals who love to bait you into an upsetting conversation. Think ahead and rehearse how you will respond if they pounce. “The only thing you can do is get better at making it clear what you will and won’t tolerate,” Moussavi says. “You have to shut it down. Your standing up for yourself is normal, empowered adult behavior.”

For conversations that are destined to end badly, arm yourself with kind responses, such as, “Let’s agree to disagree,” or physically exit the situation by saying, “I’m going to go get something to drink” or “I have to make a call.”

Don’t complicate things. 

“The holidays can be manageable and simple if we allow them to be,” Flynn says. “What makes the holidays so difficult is our own thinking about them. We make it difficult for ourselves.”

Experiment with small changes that can relieve your stress. Forgo Christmas cards this year, or try a simpler menu for the meal. For the relative who has everything, send flowers or make a donation in their name to an organization that is important to them.

Remember, it’s not a competition. 

As Theodore Roosevelt once quipped: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Some people enjoy casting their home in a professionally created holiday glow, while others prefer to hang a festive wreath on their door and call it good. Do what brings you pleasure and makes sense for your budget.

Rethink your approach to gift-giving. 

Rather than twisting yourself in knots seeking the perfect present for everyone on your list, take a more lighthearted approach to gift-giving. For example, give a T-shirt with a meaningful quote, a digital photo album commemorating a fun getaway, or an experience, such as tickets to the zoo or a concert. Volunteering your time is also a fulfilling way to give. 

“If you are intentional, you can make the holidays about the ideas of love, caring for one another, understanding, enjoying quality time together, and treating each other as the precious beings each of us are,” Flynn says. 

Freelance writer Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two sons and a menagerie of pets. Her intention this holiday is to slow down and focus more on the meaning of the season and less on lopsided Christmas trees.

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