Merry and Bright, Not Harried and Hyped

Here’s some advice for a more memorable holiday season, from experts in reducing stress to parents who’ve been there, done that.


Stress Family, Not Fanfare


“How many people have gotten through Christmas and thought, ‘Thank God that’s over!’” asks Kim John Payne, founding director of the Center for Social Sustainability and creator of the Simplicity Parenting movement.


He’s talked to hundreds of parents whose fondest memories of their own childhood holidays don’t involve recollections of dozens of presents, or the best-decorated house on the block.  “It’s always been about connection. … You can’t buy traditions. You can’t buy memories,” says Payne.


To create a more connected season, the first thing Payne suggests you take the word “perfect” out of your vocabulary and insert ‘good enough,’ says Payne, a father of two in Northampton. By doing this, parents are not settling for less, he insists. They’re paving the way for a more meaningful holiday.


Remove activities and events that don’t bring joy or cause too much stress and creating traditions and rituals that are meaningful and satisfying. “They can be very simple,” Payne says. His family, for example, spends several days crafting ornaments together. Other ideas involve baking cookies with your kids and accepting the inevitable imperfections; singing carols; or creating homemade gifts together instead of buying presents.


The key is to focus your expectations, be realistic and determine in advance what’s important to you and your family.


• Keep your values and beliefs in mind. “If family traditions are valuable and bring you joy, then you do them,” says Wendie Trubow, M.D., a mother of four, co-founder of Visions HealthCare in Wellesley and a physician specializing in whole-life care and women’s health.  If they don’t, then maybe it’s time to come up with some new ones, even if that means having to negotiate with extended family over long-held customs.


• Give yourself permission to say ‘no’ to things that really don’t work for you. “Most requests are not life or death, and that’s what we forget,” Trubow says.


• Be realistic. Look at your calendar. If you decide that it’s pudding-making weekend, stick with that. “Then you don’t try and do 10 other things,” says Megan Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions (Running Press, 2012).


• View traditions primarily as ways to nurture family togetherness. “Family needs to be a refuge. Family needs to be a place you return to,” says Payne. “Celebrations and festivals do that. They’re a really big part of what strengthens the child.”


• Understand that traditions don’t have to be perfect. An activity involving everyone will often be less than perfect, Cox says. But so what if there’s flour all over the kitchen floor and your holiday cookies don’t look like culinary works of art. The memories of making them “are the ones that kids will remember the most,” she says.


Click here for holiday cookie recipes.



Michelle Xiarhos Curran is a freelance writer and mom of three in Newburyport.

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08 Nov 2013

By Michelle Xiarhos Curran