Let’s see, a kitchen plumbing issue, a basement still under construction, unfinished work and oh yes, 35 people coming to my home on Thanksgiving. Not complaining, just stating the facts. I am reminded of this wonderful maxim: Thanksgiving and Christmas are not about the gifts, the perfectly decorated home, the perfect menu or making sure everyone is happy. No, they are about embracing the meaning behind them and enjoying the people with whom we spend them.
This is my favorite time of the year, probably because most people are more upbeat, friendlier and it typically brings out the best in us – a spirit of giving, a desire to do something special for the people in our lives. But taken too far, our desire to give can result in unintended consequences. We may want to give but what we can afford are often very different, and our so-called “lists” can be hard to keep up with when they extend to include our kids’ school teachers, dance instructors, coaches, co-workers, distant relatives and so on.
If we aren’t careful, our participation in this culture of always feeling like we have to do more can adversely affect those around us, as well as ourselves. Maybe it would be better to refocus our efforts on including more meaningful gestures of giving, and not just getting so caught up in the gift-giving rat race? Here are some tips you can use that won’t cost any money but in the long run are worth far more.
The gift of time
We all know how it goes. Holiday shopping. Holiday parties. School performances. Gift exchanges. Christmas cards. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, we spend a lot of time running around from thing to another in an effort to make sure we fulfill all of our responsibilities, and to make sure everyone feels appreciated. It can be exhausting. And what’s the result of this? We spend far less time just enjoying the moment and more on working through our checklist. Ironically, some of the most special moments available to us get lost in the shuffle of giving everyone the perfect holiday.
Did you realize that for an average lifespan, we spend a 1/3 of our time asleep? Time is short and one day our life will come to an end. The question is how you want to spend it. The most important and valuable thing you can give to the people you love is YOU. When we are at the end of our lives, it will not be the gifts that we will miss, it will be the special people in our lives. Consider taking some time and enjoy reading a book with your kids or spouse, drink hot chocolate together, play a game. Let your kids help with the baking or wrapping, even if it takes longer. And keep in mind that sometimes, giving the gift of time doesn’t just mean sparing some of your own time. It means giving time back to others, by dialing down the intensity of holiday expectations. If you love to plan elaborate holiday traditions, that’s terrific, but make sure others know that is what you love to do and you enjoy doing it, so they don’t think you expect others to do the same. And do your best to plan less and enjoy more. Remove any stressful cycle of holiday one-upmanship. It is not worth it.
The gift of mindfulness
This might also be called the gift of attention. Let’s be honest, most of us half-listen when someone is speaking to us. How powerful would it be to be able to say, for the next 30 days, when someone is speaking to me, I am going to give them my full attention. I believe you will be amazed with the outcome. When you’re at church, let go of your to-do list and really be present for the service. If you have a loved one in the hospital or nursing home, take some time to sit with them and hear their life story. Stop and really listen to the holiday music. Take a second to admire the good things you notice about the people around you and let them know what you notice. Hold the door for someone. Hold a hand. Hold on to the spirit of the season.
The gift of spontaneity
Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure with our incredibly high standards. We map the holidays out, trying to make sure everything is just right. But if you ask around, you’ll find that some of people’s best memories from this time of year are more of the spontaneous events. Maybe it started to snow and everyone ran outside to see. Or one night after dinner, the family decided to pile into the car and go look at holiday lights. Precious holiday memories don’t have to be crafted. Spontaneous experiences are messy, unplanned, and uniquely wonderful. For my Thanksgiving party, I am going to have everyone do the Mannequin Challenge (Google it if you don’t know what I am talking about). I am not letting anyone know in advance so it will at least look completely spontaneous.
If you are still reading my blog at this point, thank you, I know how busy things are right now. Take some deep breaths, quiet your mind and just relax. Give yourself permission to slow down, and get back in touch with the peace and the joy of this holiday season. Let go of some of your to-dos (I promise it is okay), and refocus your efforts on reminding yourself that Thanksgiving and Christmas are not about the gifts, the perfectly decorated home, the perfect menu or making sure everyone is happy. No, they are about embracing the meaning behind them and enjoying the people with whom we spend it.