I love the holidays. I didn’t grow up celebrating any holidays. I didn’t have my first Christmas tree until 2008. I think part of why I get so excited about the holidays is because it’s all still kind of new to me.
This year has been a little different. 2016 has just been a really bad year. We’ve lost two grandparents and three pets. There have been a few other things with family and work. I haven't been as enthusiastic about the holidays this year. Fortunately, my sister is really excited about the holidays this year. She started planning early, and her enthusiasm has rubbed off on me.
Honestly, I’m looking forward to the new year like I never have before. New Year normally isn’t a holiday I get really excited about, but this year I can’t wait.
It made me think about how the holidays can be hard for so many different reasons. It also made me think about ways to add joy to the holidays. Here are 25 ways to add a little more joy to your holidays:
1. Start early. Unless you’re one of those people who thrive on the last minute rush, you’ll probably feel a lot better, and be less stressed, getting started early.
2. Have realistic expectations. You’re human, and there are only 24 hours in every day. You probably won’t be able to do everything. Pick and choose what’s important to you, and what will bring you the most joy.
3. Listen to “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”. I dare you to listen to it and not smile. I love this song, and it makes me happy every time I hear it.
4. Consider changing your traditions. The first year without a loved one can be really hard. This year was our first Mother’s Day without GrandMommy, which was hard. We used to always go to a Greek luncheon, and then usually shopping. Nick’s mom would come, and we’d all go eat a gigantic lunch and then browse stores, usually thrift stores. This year no one wanted the emotional baggage that came with that, so we changed things up. We all went out to breakfast at IHOP, then spent the day at the zoo, and then had barbeque for dinner. It didn’t change the fact that it was the first Mother’s Day without GrandMommy, but doing something different did make the day a little easier.
5. Acknowledge grief. If you’re dreading getting the Christmas ornaments out because you know you’re going to find the special one a loved one you’ve lost gave you, and you can’t deal with it right now, ask a trusted friend to unpack your ornaments for you and put it away safely until you’re ready to see it. Chances are there is someone who said something along the lines of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”. Take them up on it. There’s no harm in admitting that something is just too hard right now, and that you need help.
6. Do something nice for a stranger. It doesn’t have to be anything major. Let someone go ahead of you in line. Pay for the person behind you at the drive-thru.
7. Donate something to your local animal shelter. They always need things like food, toys, blankets, cat litter, and cleaning supplies. If you’ve lost a furry family member, make the donation in their honor.
8. Watch an old fashioned, feel-good Christmas movie. For me, it’s Miracle on 34th Street. Pick the one that makes you happy and watch it.
9. Don’t try to make your house look like something out of a magazine. Unless that’s what really makes you happy, then by all means go for it. Decide which part of decorating matters to you, and just go with that. For us, it’s the Christmas tree, and a wreath on both doors. That’s it. Maybe the giant inflatable Santa in the yard makes you happy, and the tree is more trouble than it’s worth. You know yourself, your home, and your limitations. Decorate for you and those you love, not to present an image or meet some ideal.
10. Read a great book that’s somehow related to the season. For me, it’s Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher. It has some sad parts, but it’s mostly a happy story about an unlikely group of people who find themselves together at Christmas. It’s a celebration of friendship and finding happiness in unlikely places.
11. Ask for help. If you’re always the person who organizes everything, or cooks an elaborate holiday meal, and it’s too much this year, ask for help. Someone else may be dying to cook the big dinner, but doesn’t want to step on your toes. Or maybe everyone would be happier with something simpler. You won’t know unless you ask.
12. Take someone shopping with you. The first year Nick and I were married his grandfather, GrandDaddy, had shoulder surgery in the fall and wasn’t able to drive for a while, so he couldn’t go Christmas shopping for GrandMommy on his own. I hadn’t lived here long, and didn’t know my way around very well, so he and I planned a shopping trip together. I drove, he navigated, we shopped for Nick and GrandMommy, and then went and had dinner. It was great! So much more fun than shopping alone.
13. Trade jobs with someone. Maybe you hate shopping, but love wrapping presents. See if you can get a friend to pick up gifts for you if you will wrap theirs for them. Think about what parts of the holidays you do enjoy/are good at, and see what you can come up with to trade with someone.
14. Take care of yourself. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rush of trying to get everything done and trying to make everything perfect. Remember to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Say no when you need to.
15. Consider not sending Christmas cards. I’m sort of obsessed with Julia Child, and when I read her biography a few years ago it talked about how she didn’t send Christmas cards. She sent Valentine’s cards instead, basically because she couldn’t get everything together in time to send out cards at Christmas, so Valentine’s cards became her thing. I love that she knew her limitations (yes, even Julia Child had limitations!) and worked with them. We stopped sending Christmas cards a few years ago, and I haven’t missed it. Now our thing is taking baked goods to people.
16. Take some Christmas treats/goodies to a nursing home/hospice house/children’s home. Call ahead to find out what the rules are as far as what you can bring and when you can bring it. Places like that are usually thrilled when someone offers to do something for them. And it feels good to do something for someone else.
17. Don’t obsess over something that’s not going to matter later on. This one can be really hard for me. I have a tendency to fixate on random things sometimes, and moderation and I aren’t always friends. Christmas of 2009 my obsession was dipped pretzels. That sounds relatively harmless, I know, but not when taken to the extreme that I managed to. I only did the mini pretzels (I got the idea that they were cuter), and I dipped them all by hand in pretty much anything you could melt (chocolate chips, vanilla candy, butterscotch chips, peanut butter cups, etc). Then I moved on to coating the dipped pretzels with sprinkles, mini candies, crushed candy, etc. And of course packing them up in cute little bags. I was truly obsessed. Every day on the way home from work I would stop and buy bags and bags of pretzels, things to melt and dip them in, and things to coat them with. There were trays of pretzels with various coatings stacked all over the kitchen. Nick was working mostly nights during the pretzel obsession, and I would stay up until 1:00 in the morning dipping and coating pretzels. I gave everyone pretzels that year. I think people liked them at first, then got tired of them. It sounds so silly now, but at the time I was truly obsessed with the pretzel dipping and coating. Think about what you’re doing. If it sounds like it’s going to become a cautionary pretzel tale in a few years, consider taking a step back.
18. Take some sort of Christmas treat to your local 911 Center. The folks at the 911 Center are probably the most underappreciated people in the emergency services, probably because most people don’t see them. Consider taking them something like cookies or candy, and letting them know you appreciate them.
19. Watch a funny Christmas movie. For me, it’s Fred Claus. Vince Vaughn is hilarious, but there are still some sweet, feel-good scenes.
20. Make a donation in honor of a loved one. Not having someone at the holidays, and not being able to give them a gift can be incredibly painful. Consider making a donation in their honor, possibly to a cause they supported, or to an organization dedicated to curing a disease they suffered from.
21. Drop off some books and/or magazines in a hospital waiting room.
22. Donate blood. Typically donations go down around the holidays and during the bad weather, but the need is always there. You’re potentially giving someone else the gift of life (or a loved one’s life) for the holidays. Talk about a great gift!
23. Include someone else in your holiday celebrations. Maybe you have an elderly neighbor who doesn’t seem to have much company, or a friend who isn’t able to go home for the holidays this year. Invite them to join you for some holiday festivities.
24. Take a small Christmas gift to your neighbors. It doesn’t have to be anything big; maybe some cookies or flowers.
25. Give a small Christmas gift or treat to someone who doesn’t expect anything from you. Maybe it’s the nice cashier at the grocery store or the librarian who always recommends great books; someone who has no reason to expect something from you. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything big, but it will probably make their day.
So what about you? Do you get excited about the holidays? What do you do to get in the holiday spirit and make it a joyful time of year?