The winter holidays are just around the corner and if you’re like most Americans you are looking anxiously at your calendar right about now. How will I ever manage the avalanche of parties, cocktail hours, get-togethers, and ceremonies I’m supposed to attend? You wonder… Shouldn’t I be cherishing these festivities? How long do I have to do my shopping—and how will I afford it? And should I really be feeling resentful about having to bake yet another batch of cookies, decorate the house, or spend time with relatives I rarely get to see?

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but many of us do feel an inexplicable dread of the holidays and the expectations around them.  It’s those “S” words—“supposed to” and “should”—that are the problem.  Those things that come from “duty” instead of your heart!

Any time you listen to what others say should be right for you, you ignore your own inner wisdom…and of course that leads to feelings of resistance.  The bottom line is, your heart wants an authentic life that you consciously create.

Being guided by your own insights and intuition is actually difficult for many people. That’s because beginning in early childhood we begin to allow outside forces—society, family members, the media, and even our own ideas about the sacredness of tradition—to shape our perception of reality. In other words, we allow those “should’s” and “supposed to-s” to be the sole arbiters of what is right, proper, and desirable, even if those things don’t fulfill us, cause us to grow, or make us happy.

This disconnect between what we desire and what we do happens all year long (and all life long!), but at the holidays we really notice it.  That’s because we really long for what the holidays stand for—love, friendship, joy, spiritual meaning—but we settle for representations of those things instead of what’s real. We just go through the motions and our spirits don’t get nourished. Instead, we need to learn to listen to and follow the guidance of our hearts.

If you’re ready to consciously create your own holidays instead of passively letting them happen to you, here are a few tips:

Get in touch with how you really feel about the holidays. Most of us approach the holidays from a place of obligation: We’re expected to buy and exchange gifts, so we do. We’re supposed to attend gatherings and events, so we do. And throughout all of these holiday events and traditions, we’re supposed to feel excited and joyful. However, because we are approaching at least some aspects of the holidays from a place of duty, we feel dread instead of positive anticipation.

People tend to be quite disconnected from their true feelings and desires in many aspects of their lives.  We are being controlled and manipulated by outside forces, so of course it makes sense that—on some level—we resent it. However, when you get in touch with your inner voice and desires, all of that can change. When you realize, for example, that hosting your annual holiday party primarily drains and frustrates you, you’re in a position to change your plans and cut those negative feelings out of your life.  Make it your goal to first gain clarity on how you really feel about the upcoming months so that you will be able to navigate them from a place of wisdom.

 

Be aware your family dynamics. Even if we live hundreds of miles apart, most of us are reunited with our families during the holidays. We’re supposed to (there’s that phrase again!) cherish this time and make positive memories with each other, but the truth is that many Americans aren’t exactly looking forward to their impending reunions. A lot of this dread boils down to the fact that when we go back “home” we fall into our old roles of relating to one another. We re-enact old—and often negative—scripts.

Ask yourself if going home feels like stepping through a black hole back to your eight-year-old self instead of remaining the adult you live with day to day. If the answer is yes, you are allowing something—perhaps your family’s expectations, opinions, or prejudices—to determine your self-worth. It’s important for all of us to remember that love isn’t conditional and that we are worthy just as we are.

 

Stop confusing “stuff” with love. Our society seems to be obsessed with the idea that more is better, and we behave as though possessions indicate status and worthiness. During the holidays, those beliefs manifest themselves in the giving of gifts. Doggedly, we shop, wrap, and exchange presents with one another…even though (if we’re honest with ourselves) we generally find little fulfillment in this tradition.
A lot of our holiday stress is tied to obligatory spending.  In fact, many Americans are already stretching their budgets way past the point of comfort. And beyond that, most people we spend money on would breathe a huge sigh of relief if we just stopped the gift-giving madness. When my son was a junior in high school he mentioned to me that the whole  “presents” part of the holidays was so stressful to him. He said he’d much prefer to just spend time with the people he loved. So that’s when we stopped exchanging gifts.  This one thing has had a huge impact on creating ease and grace and allowing more love to flow into our holidays and the time we spend together.

Decide to say no to at least one holiday obligation this year. Unless you’re Martha Stewart, there’s a least one (and probably many) holiday obligations you’d rather skip. Whether it’s an expensive gift exchange, attending (or hosting) a family get-together, or feeling the need to decorate the whole house, if you’re reluctant to participate in an activity, there’s a solid reason: it’s not enhancing your happiness, sparking positive growth, or fostering good relationships. Start out by cutting the one activity you enjoy the least from your holiday schedule this year. You can never respond to life’s opportunities with a genuine yes until you are fully able to say no.  Only then will you be in the driver’s seat. And that sort of conscious creation happens through making one change at a time. Be prepared for your counter-cultural decisions to cause flak, but hold on to hope as well. Personally, I stopped joining my family for the Christmas holidays for several years because my heart would ache when I was there. There were those that didn’t approve, but I knew this was the healthiest decision for me. I was recently prompted to write a letter to my family that encouraged healing and understanding—and that letter created an outpouring of love and alignment between us all.

 

Tell people early. As you start to consciously plan your holiday season, be careful not to make your decisions in a vacuum. Remember that your choices and actions impact others, so be sure to keep them informed of what you will and won’t be participating in. Yes, your first priority is to live with authenticity, but it’s also important to show consideration and respect for other individuals by not inconveniencing them needlessly. And guess what? You might be surprised to find that others feel the same way.  Others just may heave a giant sigh of relief.  Remember, the people in your life who truly care about you will support your decisions whether they agree with them or not.”

 

Do it with love. Realize that when you change holiday plans that have “been this way” for years or even decades, you’ll run into questions, confusion, and resistance. Many people will instinctively take the alterations to your schedule personally. Therefore, it’s important to make it clear that you are committed to following heart and meaning in your own life, not to reject or inconvenience the people in it. It’s very, very important to make all of your holiday changes with love. Make it explicitly clear that you are not rejecting them or their place in your life. In fact, you might go so far as to suggest connecting with them in a deeper, more meaningful way. That was my intention when I wrote the letter to my family after missing several Christmases with them. I made it clear that because I loved them, I wanted to clear away the pain I’d been feeling and that I wanted our whole family to experience healing.

 

Create new, more meaningful rituals and traditions. I recalled a holiday event I attended as a child. I received a kaleidoscope from Santa’s bag, while my siblings and cousins were given that year’s “it” toy. I  was enthralled with the colors and patterns in my kaleidoscope. But after repeated comments that I must be sad not to have received the same gift as the others I was persuaded to trade my kaleidoscope for the “it” toy.  That moment is when I first disconnected from magic and the magic of the holidays—and I started conforming to what others valued instead.

We’ve all experienced a moment like this, when we traded in childlike wonder, curiosity, and magic for what others told us were “cool.”  Something dies in us when we allow others to tell us how to think and feel, but it’s not too late to resurrect that feeling that our world is truly wondrous.
Ask yourself where you find, or once found, magic in the holiday season.  Perhaps it’s in a candlelight service, baking with your children, or walking through snow-dusted woods. Or maybe trying something entirely new—like spending Christmas Day at the local animal shelter playing with the homeless cats and dogs— speaks to your heart.  Build new rituals and traditions around whatever you find meaningful and magical, and you’ll experience renewed joy and nourishment with the people you love.  Remember your heart knows the way – just listen and follow.

Ultimately, with all of the chaos and uncertainty that fills our current world, it’s more important than ever to connect with the people we love and the values that drive us in meaningful, growth-inspiring ways.  Instead of allowing yourself to be forced into a pre-existing holiday template, create your own brand-new paradigm based on your own wisdom and truth and heart. You won’t regret it.