Whether you’re experiencing life changes or you want to create better holiday memories, aligning with your personal values can lead to new, positive traditions.
Holidays often come with an onslaught of stress, worry, and business.
It’s a time when our normal self-care schedule and daily routines get put into upheaval, all in the name of traditions.
Sometimes when life circumstances change, chasing traditions that no longer fit result in an entire month of chaos, rather than joy.
Maybe you’ve moved to a new location or added new family members. Maybe you’ve lost someone whom you shared traditions with, or you just want a slower, more meaningful holiday.
Read on to hear how you can center what matters most to you in creating new holiday rituals, even if it may look a little different than years past.
A few weeks before the holiday season starts, consider taking some time to remember past holidays.
Memories of foods, activities, and special locations can evoke strong emotions— perhaps it was having a house full of relatives, all chatting happily. Or, maybe it was the quiet Christmas morning in your pajamas.
What about those memories made you feel joy? What emotions are connected to the experiences that stick in your mind?
Once you’ve identified the feelings attached to those holiday moments, try to look beyond that specific memory and distill it into an identifying word or theme.
By finding a theme or word behind your favorite holiday memories, some clarity around what your soul loves and craves during the holiday season may be found.
A few common memories and potential corresponding words that you might consider:
- A house full of relatives or neighborhood parties = Community
- A large pile of gifts with your name on them = Abundance
- The smell of a ham in the oven as you walk into your grandma’s house = Love
- Baking treats with your parent every year that you hand out to friends = Generosity
- Hanging ornaments on the tree with your family = Quality time
- A beautifully decorated church or temple = Spirituality
By pulling values out of your previous experiences, you’re on your way to creating new traditions and making new memories.
For some, holidays are complicated. Holiday memories may not bring joy, and instead are stressful or triggering.
There’s no pressure to re-live negative experiences, nor is there shame in not finding joy in the holidays you’ve experienced.
If your goal is to move forward by creating new traditions and memories, consider writing down three things you would like to create or do this holiday season.
They can be simple, such as:
- Riding through your neighborhood to look at light decorations
- Hand-writing holiday cards
- Making cookies from scratch with your partner
Or maybe are more general such as:
- Connecting with your community
- Practicing gratitude
- Slowing down
And, if you’re spending holidays with others, it can be helpful to do this exercise with everyone — whether it’s your chosen family, a spouse, or your kids.
Allowing each person to reflect on what’s important to them in the holiday season gives families the space to connect and support each other in building new traditions.
Once you’ve discovered your holiday theme, word, or important activities — you’ve found your holiday values! This will aid you as you create new traditions and decide what to prioritize.
Get creative! Consider putting those activities on your calendar first and then schedule everything else around them, even if it’s something small.
For example, if you’ve decided you want to slow down, try carving out fifteen minutes in the morning for one week in December to drink coffee by yourself to ease into your day.
Sit in silence and simply be; before everyone else wakes up, before you log-in to your computer to check your email, before you’ve turned on the TV.
Return to your list of words, ideas, and activities and let it be your guide through the holiday season.
When invitations or activity offers come in, check to see if it supports your values and the connected new traditions and respond accordingly — which may mean saying no to things that you attended in previous years.
Many of us have attended events purely out of obligation during the holidays. Sometimes, you may enjoy the activity itself, but the stress of a busy schedule places a damper on your mental health.
You might feel a twinge of disappointment, or even some guilt, when saying no to things you previously attended.
This is a normal part of the process — do your best to make space for these feelings, and remember why you decided to make these shifts in the first place.
Speak openly with others about your plans well before the holidays start. Being upfront with others can help set expectations and allow others to understand your priorities.
It can be daunting to tell loved ones and community members that you won’t be doing what they’ve come to expect of you. This could be making that special food, attending that annual event, or even purchasing a gift.
Ultimately, these changes are to make your holiday season feel better for you — don’t let others’ expectations overshadow your desire for self-care.
Standout: Try this as a framework: “I know we have always done (fill in the blank) and even though I have really enjoyed that, this year I am focusing on my mental health by being more realistic about what I can and cannot do during the holidays. I won’t be able to (fill in the blank). I know that might be hard for you to understand, but I appreciate your support.”
Consider following these helpful tips to assist you in staying committed to your new holiday values:
Schedule Your Self Care, Put it on the Calendar.
There are normal parts of life that take a needed pause during the holiday season, such as your regular working schedule or school drop-off.
But if there is something that you normally do during the year that’s beneficial but goes out the window during the holidays because you’re overbooked, then consider adding this to your list of priorities.
This could be going to the gym, getting your nails done, or general quiet time alone.
Always schedule time for yourself to ensure your cup stays full.
Consider having only 1-2 scheduled activities per week, allowing time at home to recover and rest in between events.
Fill your personal space with things that remind you of your priorities.
Redecorate to Reflect Your Internal Shift
Maybe change up your holiday decor in small ways to reflect your values. Some holiday decor ideas that might shift your holiday traditions:
Replacing the Gifts Under the Tree with Visual Reminders
Consider centering items that can help keep you and your family grounded, such as candles. You can put them in prominent places such as your mantel or kitchen table to create a reminder of the importance of slowing down to take a moment and reflect.
Other items can include:
- Favorite holiday books
- Wreaths, plants, or flowers
- Photos of loved ones or ancestors
A bonus idea: have family members and friends write a hopeful thought or something they are grateful for on ribbons which you can then hang on a holiday bough or wrap around a wreath, and then use that as a decor.
The ultimate reminder: be gentle with yourself. Change can be hard, and sometimes the necessity comes unexpectedly.
Through the process of figuring out what matters most to you, don’t forget to allow yourself to feel your feelings. If negative thoughts or tough feelings arise, don’t push them away in the name of the holidays.
If it’s accessible to you, you can always reach out to a mental health professional for individualized support or group therapy. Other ways of processing through emotions or memories can include journaling, making art, or joining support groups for folks with similar experiences.
Remember that if shifting your holiday experience is new, it may take a little bit of time to figure out, and that’s okay.
Ready for a calm and stress-free holiday? Check out Healthline’s Season of Self-Care, your go-to destination for the latest must-have health and wellness gifts for your loved ones – and you!