The election is over and I’m going to tell myself that someone, somewhere planned US elections to be completed just before our attention was diverted by tidings of comfort and joy.  Like the song says, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute!”

Thanksgiving is almost here and Christmas will be blowing in right behind it.  I do love the holiday season  – from Thanksgiving week through New Year’s Day.  In my mind, it’s a picturesque rush of cold weather, good moods, hot chocolate, snow flurries, beautifully wrapped gifts and cozy Sunday nights under the lights of the Christmas tree.  Of course, in real life, it’s some of that – just squeezed in between normal daily schedules:  carpools, work, volunteer commitments, school sports, choir concerts, family get-togethers, frantic last minute shopping, etc. etc. etc.

This year things are a little different for us – we’ll have a very quiet Thanksgiving with just the five of us, plus my mother-in-law.  No crowds of cousins or tables overflowing with food.  It will be lower-key, but still ok…. we’ll keep our favorite traditions (the foods, the football, the movies) and let others go (the big family get together and Friday shopping).  It’s the time of year when traditions are so comforting:  they are an important part of holiday celebration.  Sometimes it’s the food you serve or the dishes you use at family dinner.  Or picking out a Christmas tree together.  Or pulling out favorite ornaments.  There is something that your family “always does” or “always did” that just makes it feel like the holidays.  For me, watching my mom make my great-grandmother’s cream candy recipe lets me know Christmas is close.

Unfortunately, there are some people whose stress or sadness increases this time of year.  For me personally, my grandfather died near Easter, and my grandmother died Thanksgiving week.  So for a while, some of our traditions were accompanied by sadness – it felt hard to go through the motions of a big festive family dinner when the grief was still new.  Others of us are under too much pressure to “have to” do this or that:  professionally wrap a million gifts.  Decorate and deliver 500 plates of cookies.  And then there are those who have changing faces around the table caused by losing loved ones or gaining them – through marriage or divorce or death (or uncles who bring different random girlfriends to dinner every year…wait – is that just us? those stories are family classics!).

As we get swept up in the next few hectic weeks, I’ll try to remember my list of holiday priorities:

Family:  Our first responsibility is to the people inside our own four walls, not the 17 million extended family members who want us to be here and there and everywhere at the stress and expense of our own immediate family.  (If you want to be in your own house on Christmas morning, do it!) What about this season is most important to you and your kids?  Make time to talk about it.  What makes them feel most “holiday”ish?  Maybe it’s the family recipe for Christmas cookies, or decorating the tree, or watching Christmas movies.  Maybe it’s the midnight service at church, or a special Christmas Eve tradition.   Whatever it is for each person, make a list and focus on those traditions.

Those less fortunate: There is someone in your life or community who is struggling – financially or emotionally.  Reach out – drop off a simply written Christmas card or a loaf of bread to a neighbor.  Reach out to someone who is grieving a loss or facing a change.  Drop a toy or a turkey at one of our local shelters (Lafayette House, Children’s Haven, Watered Gardens).  Write encouraging cards to people you don’t know and leave them at the front desk of a homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter or alternative school to be handed out.

Yourself:  Make sure to not over-commit.  Leave some time unscheduled, so you can just be at home and be with your people and let some holiday magic just happen.  My best days are the quiet ones, when carols are playing or a movie is on and I don’t have anywhere I promised I’d be. (And cut down your shopping lists – keep gifts simple and special – the fun is in the quality, not the quantity).

Connection: With our siblings, for a few years we scrapped gift-giving altogether and instead made time for the adults to go to dinner together.  It definitely connected us more – time to talk and eat and laugh and share.

We have lots of traditions that we follow when we’re celebrating with extended family.  But a few years ago we started a simpler tradition of our own:  every Christmas Eve we take our kids to Starbucks.  I know, it’s a little weird and very simple, but…we order our favorite hot drinks and sit somewhere comfy and just talk…about Christmas, about our plans for the break, about nothing and everything.  It’s a quiet spot in the day, and it’s all our very own.

Here’s to a blessed season for you and your families.  What traditions mean the most to you?

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