10 Ways to Make (and Keep) the Holidays Happy

A little Christmas Cheer in the kitchen

The Holidays (and by that I mean Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years) really are “the most wonderful time of the year”.  But more often than not they are a festival of stress, anxiety, debt, busyness and self-inflicted drama.

I understand why the Holidays can be lonely times, or sad when someone close has passed away or there has been some kind of family division.  There’s no quick fix for family drama or shortcuts to work through grief.  But the rest of that stuff is firmly in your control regardless of your circumstances.

Would you love to experience the holidays as a time of kindness, gratitude, reflecting on your spiritual blessings, expressing love and appreciation to the people you are blessed to have in your life, and of course the enjoying the FOOD, the fun decor and the tunes?  The holidays used to bring on so dang much stress and sometimes even anger for me.  But I’ve set some boundaries and created habits and traditions that help me genuinely enjoy this time of year.  And you can too!

Here are ten tips for adding peace, joy and fun to your Holidays while keeping the Grinches, Scrooges and Abominable Snow Bumbles at bay….

One – Crank the tunes early and often

I love love love Christmas music of all kinds and have a huge collection of CDs.  Last year I discovered the wonderland that is Pandora Christmas themed stations!  I have the best Christmas dance parties in my kitchen salsa-ing to all the stations that start with “Navidad”.  I’m not a fan of Country music, but the Classic Country Christmas channel is a HOOT!  Chill Holiday, Christmas Choral Classics, Christmas Traditional, Classical Christmas, Holiday Instrumentals, Jazz Holidays and Peaceful Holidays are all great.  Major bonus points if you sing along!

And as much as I love the fun secular Christmas music (is that an oxymoron?) I do have several playlists of Christian, or “traditional Choral” Christmas music to keep in mind that this is a joyous, miraculous, wonderful time because God came as baby in a manger and gave Himself to us!

Two – Bake Something “Traditional”

Foods – smells and tastes – are very powerful memory triggers.  When my mum died, one of the things I chose to keep were her handwritten recipe cards for our family’s traditional Christmas cookies.  I actually don’t do a super lot of baking for Christmas anymore so the old recipes don’t get made every year.  But when I do spend a day making my Grammy’s cut out butter cookies, the smell just says CHRISTMAS and makes my heart happy!  And that first delicious nibble reminds me of sneaking into the cookie tin and looking for (a) a Christmas tree shaped one (duh, they were the biggest!) and (b) an extra thick one!  I’m sure you have one old recipe you haven’t made in years that would bring back happy memories.  And lucky you if you have an older person in your life who would love to make it with you or show you how to make your family’s special treat that you never learned to make.

Three – Do Something Kind for a Stranger

One of the highlights of the Holidays for me is putting together my Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  Every year I do boxes for 10-14 year old boys.  A few years ago a friend who volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse told me that the older boys are underserved.  They often get handed a box intended for a little boy (or even girl) because most people like to buy for the littles and there just aren’t enough boxes for the older kids.  I encourage you to not only participate in this amazing outreach, but do a box for the older kids!  If that’s not your cuppa, there are lots of opportunities to give to others this time of year, and doing something kind is a major joy booster and perspective changer.

Four – Start a New Tradition

Holiday traditions are wonderful until they’re not.  Things change – the kids grow up, you move, your financial circumstances change, you aren’t so mobile anymore.  It’s hard when a beloved Christmas tradition ends.  But hey, that just means there’s now space in your life for something new!  A couple years ago the man and I started a new Thanksgiving tradition that we could not enjoy more.  Instead of participating in the scary drama of Black Friday, we take a relaxing drive up north of Winston Salem where we stop at a Christmas shop and pick out our new Old World Christmas ornaments for the year.  Then we head to Pilot Mtn State Park for a picnic lunch and a couple hours of hiking, after which we plunk ourselves on the edge of the mtn and share a big slab of Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie.  On the way home we hit a local BBQ joint or brew pub.  Best. day. ever. and it starts the whole Christmas season off on a wonderfully relaxed, connected-to-each-other vibe.  There is nothing on sale anywhere that I want more than savoring this view while sharing a slab of pie with my sweet man!

Five – Say “No” to Something You Don’t Really Want to Do

Wake up your inner toddler and just say NO!  Hate traveling over the holidays?  Don’t!  Dread your spouse’s holiday office bash more than a root canal?  Pass it up.  Tired of participating in a budget busting “I have to spend $100 each on 20 relatives” gift grab?  Float the idea of scaling it back – I’ll bet you aren’t alone!  It’ll be weird at first, but that weird feeling is a little something called peace.  Now, I’m not talking about digging your heels into your comfort zone and never doing anything “hard” or sucking it up when you genuinely have to (see that office holiday bash).  I’m talking about something that is casting a pall of dread over your life and your enjoyment of the holidays that really could be eliminated by having one big boy or girl conversation and letting it go.

Bonus tip:  Have you been invited to something you don’t want to attend but you don’t have a good “excuse”?  News flash – the fact you don’t want to attend is all the “excuse” you need.  Simply rsvp el pronto with a sweet “Thank you so much for including us on the invite list!  (hey, it IS nice to be invited!) Unfortunately we won’t be able to attend.  Thanks again for thinking of us and I hope your (blank) is a great success!”

Six – Take a Drive to See Some Lights

At least once a season I fill a few travel mugs with peppermint hot cocoa and the man and I hit the road for some Christmas cheer. For 2 servings of the yummiest cocoa ever: heat 2 cups whole milk to simmering; add Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips to taste (about 1/3 cup) a teeny-tiny pinch of salt (yes, to balance the sweet) & whisk till the chips melt.  Whisk in ONE drop of peppermint oil (2 if you have a cold and need to blast your sinuses out).  Jump in your car, put on some Christmas tunes and drive around your area.  After a few years we’ve learned which neighborhoods and specific homes always do a bang up job.  So fun and FREE!  Bonus points if you pack a few friends in the car to sing carols and ooh-and-ah together.  Repeat as needed.

Seven – Cut Yourself (and Everyone Else) Some Slack

Have a seat, because Auntie Elizabeth is gonna tell you some “truth in love”.  Your unreasonable expectations need to go on a Christmas vacation and never come back.  Seriously.  If you are trying to force your home and family into living out a Hallmark Christmas movie, you are in for some inevitable disappointment.  Your home & decorations don’t look like the ones in Martha Stewart Living or your favorite decor blogs?  Well, neither does anyone else’s, so get over it!  Make a list of 10 cookies you want to bake, then bake THREE.  Pick out 10 activities/parties you’d like to attend, and go to FIVE.  Just scale “it” back and really savor the few things you choose – and your free time.  You get the idea.

Eight – Break out the Christmas movies, shows & books

Christmas would not be Christmas for us without Charlie Brown, Frosty, Rudolph, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Tis the Season to be Smurfy, T’was the Night Before Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Claus (Snow Miser!), Elf & The Grinch (both hilarious!), Holiday Inn, Christmas Carol (the one with George C Scott – I cry EVERY time at the end), Polar Express (okay I’ll give you that the hobo is scary-creepy) and my numero uno, I’ve-watched-it-every-Christmas-Eve-of-my-life (!) favorite:  White Christmas (and every year I yell at the tv, “for *@#&^ sake Betty, just tell Bob why you’re mad at him!!!”).

This year I bought a bunch of children’s Christmas books (and even a Hannukah story!) to keep on the coffee table.  I’ve really enjoyed reading and savoring the illustrations to Charlie Brown, the Grinch, etc.

One Warning:  last year I overheard two ladies talking about how much they liked “Nestor the Christmas Donkey”.  I’d never seen it but I had it in one of my Christmas Special DVD collections.  Well, DO NOT WATCH THIS SHOW!  Unless of course you like being punched in the gut with soul crushing sadness by a Christmas show!  Gahhhh!

Nine – Go to a Local Christmas Parade, Pageant, Musical, etc.

It’s the sweet, simple things enjoyed with friends and loved ones that make the Holidays special.  Last year we were in Florida for part of Dec and got to see the Christmas Golf Cart Parade my sister’s neighborhood puts on.  People deck out their golf carts with Christmas decor and tour around the development.  Unfortunately many of them are also hucking hard candies at you, so you gotta be ready to duck. But we LOVED it!  I am so bummed we won’t be there for that this year! Our church does a service of Bible readings and carols where people in our church form a “once a year” orchestra.  Is it the Philharmonic? No.  Is it GREAT?  Yes!  Go to a Christmas play or concert, or a Church Cantata.  Everything now is so bloody “extra” we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the simple pleasure of our friends and neighbors sharing their gifts and talents with us.

Ten – Have Friends and Neighbors Over for an Impromptu Cocktail or Dessert “Potluck”

Do you want to have some peeps over but faint at the idea of orchestrating a full on dinner or cocktail party at this time of year?  Here’s a great way to do it easy-peasy that works all year.  We are blessed to currently live in a neighborhood where we enjoy getting together for a few drinks and a chat.  When the mood hits I send out an e-mail inviting everyone over either that day or the next (remember, this is supposed to be low-key and impromptu, so no planning ahead!).  I make an app or two and provide a batch of cocktails or some wine.  Everyone else brings more appetizers and the guys are always good for a cooler of beers.  In the summer we sit out on the porch and when it’s cooler we’ve sat around the fire table sipping hot cider spiked with Bourbon.  Your house is never going to look prettier than it does decked out for Christmas, so what a great time to invite a few folks over for a super low-key soiree.  Since most people do lots of baking (or at least a lot of buying!) for the holidays you could easily put together a quick appetizer and Christmas sweets potluck and enjoy a relaxed evening with people you want to fellowship with.

Eleven – Bonus Tip: Don’t Even Think About Going Into Debt for Christmas.

Do not do this!  The Bible is not kidding when it says “better a little with fear of the LORD than a great fortune with anxiety” Prov 15:6.  Make peace with and be thankful for what you and your family can afford (see #7 above) and give your loved ones the precious gift of honesty, peace of mind and a good life lesson in financial stewardship.  There are a million and one things to do and give for Christmas that cost nothing or very little.  Will your 12 yr old melt down when she doesn’t get the iPhone X?  Well she needs to have a seat and get woke.  Going into debt over Christmas is a bullet train to Miserytown, population: you.

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to help keep this season a time of “great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:11)  Please feel free to share in the comments ways you keep things joyful in your home!

5 thoughts on “10 Ways to Make (and Keep) the Holidays Happy

  1. Once again, a lovely list of inspirational thoughts to help all of us to get the most pleasure out of this Christmas season. You bring out the best in us, your friends and readers!! Thanks and Merry Christmas!

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