Holiday Rituals that Nurture Self, Family and Friends
"The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention" - Oscar Wilde
I remember the feeling in childhood of the holidays stretched out before me...so much time to expand into and so many wonderful experiences to look forward to with breathless excitement.
But as the years go by, many of us fall into stress and anxiety over the Christmas holidays, so much so that a Swedish study shows a 37% increase in heart attacks on Christmas Eve due to heightened emotions and overindulgence, and a 15% increase on Christmas day.
Polls reveal that the increased list of things to do, from shopping, decorating and wrapping presents, to parties, children's nativities and community events, the cost of presents and hosting family get togethers, and conflict within family dynamics are the primary causes of this heightened stress. Further, overindulgence is often seen as a festive obligation, with significant increases in alcohol and sugar consumption, as well as sheer volume of food.
In short, rather than the holidays being a time to expand into, they are more often time crunches. Rather than wonderful experiences to look forward to, many dread the coming holidays, and take weeks to recover.
So...how can we invite a sense of peaceful spaciousness to the holiday season, and nurture a true connection with our loved ones?
Following are a range of ideas drawn from my own commitment over the years to making the Christmas holidays a time for relaxed connection with loved ones (even the difficult ones:), while making time for self care!
The first step is to slow down...
Simply Your List of Things to Do!
Start by writing out a list of things you plan on doing over the holidays. This list should include your social engagements, your shopping for presents and food, your festive decorating plans...a full and complete list of all the 'extra' things you are planning to do to prepare for and celebrate the holidays.
Now ask yourself which items on the list are directly supportive of the FEELING of the holidays, rather than just the trappings of the holidays. Those are the one's that should stay on the short list...the rest can probably go.
Next ask yourself how many of these things on your list can be done in a companionable way, and which ones you would prefer to do on your own. Those that can be done in a companionable way are a great opportunity to spend quality time with someone that you care about.
Simplify the Feast!
This may seem counter to the feasting spirit...but a shift from thinking of Christmas as a 'consumer' towards remembering that it is, first and foremost, a HOLIDAY, will help to get your mind on a different tangent!
How often do we get holidays...not just a break from work, but a break from work as a community?
If we don't take the time now to actually relax, than a profound opportunity for you, your friends and family is lost.
- Create a Christmas menu that has a single main dish, an abundance of vegetables, and a single dessert. Since when does a festive meal have to be complicated? Your digestion will thank you, you won't waste food, and you will spend far less time shopping and in the kitchen.
- Too often I've seen a single person slogging away in the kitchen for most of the Christmas holidays, while others are relaxing...this isn't right whether it is you alone in the kitchen, or a loved one.
Rather than making meals on your own, make them with your family and/or friends. Kids can join in too. My daughter and I love making festive meals together and she has been an active participant in making Christmas meals since she was three years old. Give children a job that they can do, assist them if needed...and enjoy the process.
The experience of preparing a meal is greatly enhanced by preparing the meal slowly, giving time for everyone to bond over conversation. When it comes time to clean up, many hands make light work...so do it together!
If it's impractical to have a group of family and friends in the kitchen, consider having a potluck...just make sure to do this in an organised way so you don't end up with a table full of desserts!
Put Time Aside for Self Care
Holidays are rare and much needed times for recuperation and self care. If we fill every moment with activities, by the time we reach the end of the holidays...we will need a holiday from our holiday, and likely won't get it.
Self care is always on my 'list of things to do' over the holidays...and at times its really nice to organise to do this with friends or family.
Consider setting aside a group home spa day with your kids, your partner, or with family and friends. You can make your own herbal face steams, clay face masks and foot baths, then give each other a foot massage! This is a wonderful way to connect with others in a way that is truly satisfying and nourishing. If a foot massage makes your Great Aunt uncomfortable, try a hand massage instead.
On the other hand, perhaps you need time alone, in which case a private spa day could be just the thing. Soak in an essential oils and Epsom salts bath with a favourite book, create a cosy nook to draw, nap or contemplate life, or give yourself a hot oil hair treatment. Whatever feels nourishing and relaxing is just perfect.
Although this suggestion comes a little late for this year, consider going away for the holidays. A week at a retreat or on the beach can be the perfect antidote to the frenzy of consumerism that can overtake the holidays.
Make Space for Creativity
Spa days may not be your thing, but getting in touch with your creativity is universally uplifting.
Here are some ideas:
There are more blog posts on creating your own holiday decorations than there are days in a millennium, but that doesn't make it less of a wonderful thing to do whether on your own, or with family and friends. Creating nature tables, Christmas tree decorations, or treats for gifts are all lovely ways to get your creative juices flowing. One year I hand sewed Christmas stockings embellished with hand made felt flowers for every member of the family. It took several weeks...but I loved doing it.
That said...it doesn't have to be seasonal creativity. Consider creating space to draw, write a story for the children in your life, whittle a spoon, knit a sweater, write a song or poem, or learn how to make silk flowers. We are individuals, and the choice of what to create should come from within, not dictated by holiday norms.
Authentic Connection is the True Gift
Rather than giving gifts, share stories! Let your family or guests know in advance that each person should come prepared with a true story about a time in their life that had a significant impact on making them who they are today. A story they haven't shared before!
As the host, or the instigator of this idea, it is important to be the first to share a story so that everyone can get a feel for the authenticity and depth expected of them. This is a beautiful way to learn about your loved ones and share quality time together.
Support for Overextension
This last suggestion comes from my daughter, who loves her social life and loves her creative projects...and sometimes needs to find the energy for both!
When you have a lot going on, and you want to keep up, ditch coffee and take guarana. Guarana is a herb that hones your focus and gives you sustained energy, without a crash. Well known as a study herb, it is also great for when you have several 'must attend' parties in a row. Here's a link for a great source of Guarana in the UK The vegicaps and sticks work the best, but there are also options on this website for Guarana drinks, tincture, and honey.
Begin the New Year Refreshed and Inspired
Perhaps the most important part of the Christmas holidays is the opportunity to process the past year and renew one's sense of direction for the year to come. Follow this link for a simple but effective method to hone in on how closely aligned you are to what makes you happy and your life purpose.
Making the Holidays...a Holiday!
I hope that some of the suggestions above are inspiring for you and I'd love to hear how you make the holidays truly a holiday. You can send an email to me at this link I wish you a peaceful, nourishing and festive holiday, with deep connection to loved ones, and the space to touch base with what really makes you happy.