Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas, every where I go. I hear music, smell cookies baking, see big groups of people gathered for celebrations, and best of all, lights all over the neighborhoods.
I love this time of year for so many reasons. The music, the parties, dressing up, sharing meals with friends, and focusing on sharing time with my closest friends. It wasn’t always one of my favorite holidays. I would be anxiously figuring out what gifts to get for everyone on my list, trying to create an impressive meal for whoever was coming over, and during my years as an Emergency Doctor, often I’d be working in the ER seeing drunk, unhappy people.
I could always count on someone in my family having a fight or getting upset about something. Rarely did I experience a Christmas where things were peaceful without drama and people got and gave gifts that they loved.
Somehow I decided that Christmas gifts should mean something special at a young age. It shouldn’t just be about buying expensive gifts for people that you didn’t care about. Every year, I spent a lot of energy thinking about what gifts I would give to my friends and family, in order to make sure they were happy. My way of doing that was to make something. One year I made quilts, another I knit sweaters. Every year, I had some hobby that I inflicted on my friends and family, thinking because I’d made it myself, it should be special. I remember the year that I made my mom a big orange red and yellow quilt for her bed. The look on her face told me that she didn’t love it, but she was pretending to. She had bought me a brown leather purse that I just hated, and pretended that I loved. The whole event had an emptiness that was painful to experience.
20 years ago, I decided that I didn’t want to have unhappy stressful Christmas times any more. I wanted to enjoy myself as much as possible and bring joy to those around me. I set about trying to figure out how to do that. I called my friends and family and asked them if it would be all right with them if I didn’t do presents this year. They all agreed it would be fine. That was the first year I felt somewhat relaxed during the holidays. I had no expectations, no worries about whether someone would like their gifts or not and I didn’t have to worry about acting like I enjoyed whatever things someone else gave me.
Since then, as the holidays approach, I’ve had a conversation with whoever was going to be participating about how we want to spend our time this year. Do we want to do gifts, where do we want to go, who do we want to be with. We never do gifts, which removes a lot of stress from the occasion. For years, we did a holiday party at my office every December, starting the season out in the mood. I hadn’t done that for a few years and decided to start doing them again this year. It really put me in the mood for the holidays.
I want to invite you to have a different holiday season this year. Even if you decide you want to do gifts and big feasts, think about changing the focus of the holiday to make it more about the love and friendship in your life. Find special ways to enjoy the people you love. Sit down with everyone who will be involved in the holidays and have a discussion. How do you all want to spend the days? Do you want to share the same meal you usually do? Whose house will it be at? If there’s a lot of travel involved, do you want to save the travel for another time of year, when its easier? Ask each other how you can create the most love, fun, joy, and pleasure during this special time of year.