Want Your Kids to Have Happy Holidays Now and as Adults?

Why it is important to keep the holidays simple.

Posted Dec 11, 2018

 Wout Vanacker/Unsplash
Source: Wout Vanacker/Unsplash

It happened so quickly. We went from sunny fall days on the sideline of soccer to Christmas music and a rush to get gifts, decorate, and prepare for the holidays. My son just pronounced that Santa is coming in just two weeks! I plastered on a smile and exuded excitement on the outside and quivered with anxiety on the inside. How am I to get everything done by then (and keep up with work and our normal busy family life)?

Then I took a breath. It is so easy to get sucked into the vortex of holiday craziness and scramble to build some movie-based image of what Christmas should look like. It feels like it is our culture’s default response to the holidays. Right now, everyone is asking each other “Are you ready for Christmas? What else do you have to do?” This small conversation bite perpetuates anxiety and the feeling that much is to be done to make the holiday season special. That is B.S. And, I get sucked into it too. But, let’s notice it and say and do something different. 

The thing is, what matters most to me is that my children have memories bursting with warm feelings of connection, coziness, family, friends, and food. I hope they remember the smell of prime rib, the taste of sticky toffee pudding, the warmth of the fire, the sight of friends and family crowding around our kitchen island late into the night, the sound of music evolving over the evening, the connection of a long hug in soft pajamas, and the joy of giving and sharing with those whom we love, and more importantly – those we don’t know at all. I know these moments are what they will consciously or unconsciously refer back to when they raise their own families. If I model stress, high expectations, and chaos, this is what they will look to create. This is what they will remember about the holidays. 

Yes, hosting takes preparation but remember to pause and prioritize how you want your family to remember this special time. Be conscious. Ask yourself how you can simplify. There are labor intensive projects you will not want to forgo – for me it is often a dessert project with the kids or a slow-cooked meat that takes thinking ahead. Invite family conversation around what is important to everyone. You might be surprised to hear what your children say. Prime the kids to hope for a special gift or two and remind them that more isn’t always better. Focus on who they are most excited to give to, and what traditions they most look forward to. Praise when they share something beyond receiving. 

For me, I committed to not buying an abundance of overpriced junk just to “fill up space.” Christmas is what you make it. Our wise pediatrician once said to "keep it simple" and referenced this poem. She suggested to get the kids:

“Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.”   

Although I have not quite accomplished this level of minimalism, the poem rings in the back of my brain and it is a good reminder that quality is better than quantity. It reminds me to expand my perspective away from the gifts and come back to how I want to spend our time, what food I want to prepare, what vibe I want to create at dinner and on Christmas morning, and how to slow down and actually enjoy the holiday. For us, that means not overcommitting and setting clear boundaries with myself (i.e. lowering personal expectations of what Christmas should be) and others (i.e. not being able to attend every party or see everyone we care about that day).  It means resisting the argument over who is to stay up late and assemble all the many moving pieces, and let go of wanting everything perfectly set up and laid out on Christmas morning.

One of my best holiday memories since being a parent was when we loosened the reigns and followed the flow of the day. We stopped by a Christmas Eve tapas party on our way to mass. We so enjoyed time with friends and neighbors that we skipped church altogether! Some family members ended up swinging by, and we spent a few hours connecting with a much larger community. That is what I hope my kids remember. Adults and children hanging out together, in their less than clean Christmas clothes, playing, and enjoying each other. That is how to bring pleasure to parenting and to families, enjoying a holiday that can be riddled with stress and anxiety. Be open and see where the day takes you. Be conscious of the opportunities to connect and to enjoy. Practice and prioritize flexibility. Respond to others with love.  

So, as we slide into the holidays, ask yourself how do you want your children to remember this time? What do you want them to take forward in their lives? What feeling do you want them to associate with the holiday? For whose benefit is the stress and chaos? Is there another way to accomplish what you hope for? How can you simplify in a way that feels comfortable for you? How can you prioritize flexibility and openness? Most of all, just remember to actually have a loving and peaceful holiday.