beautiful-christmas-table-setting-6308If you are anything like me, your holidays do not look like a Norman Rockwell painting. There is the stress of overspending. There is the stress of navigating family relationships. There is the stress of just having to do too much.

Even my favorite holiday years, when my daughter was small and still believed in Santa, were marred by family conflict. The problem is that the holidays are supposed to be made special by our relationships with other people. But often the problem with the holidays, ironically, is other people!

In recent years, I’ve learned to take a different approach to Thanksgiving and Christmas. The key to thriving (not just surviving) during the holidays is to make them highly personal and meaningful. That doesn’t happen automatically. It takes some thought and planning.

Below are some ways that you can create a meaningful holiday season. Consider taking the following approaches, and watch this year be your best holiday season yet.

Give Thoughtfully: I am all for charitable giving during the holidays (and throughout the year, for that matter.). But charitable giving isn’t “thoughtful” giving. It is just buying toys and giving cash to people we don’t know.

Thoughtful giving means making a real connection with another human being. It means giving your friend who just got divorced an inspiring book about starting over, with an encouraging inscription inside the front cover. It means giving your child that iPad they’ve been eyeing all year but would never dream of asking for because they think it costs too much money. It means giving your spouse a book of poetry which says all the things that you wish you could say to him or her.

Thoughtful giving is about trying to give another person something that he or she truly would love. And in doing so, you say a couple of things to that person. You tell them, “Even if you don’t realize it, I am paying attention to you. You are on my mind. And seeing your face light up with happiness gives me great joy.”

When we give thoughtfully, in fact, it does give us great joy. Because thoughtful gift giving is more than just shopping. It is a way to express to another person that they matter to us. And that feels good.

Reflect on the History of the Holidays: I am not a fan of the bumper stickers which say “Put Christ Back in Christmas.” It seems obnoxious to me to tell other people how to celebrate their holidays. And frankly, it seems like Christian bragging – “Look at me! I know how to celebrate Christmas the right way!”

All that being said, I personally enjoy reading the Christmas story in the Gospels during the month of December. It is a fascinating story, particularly if you also study the historical context of Jesus’ birth. I similarly enjoy reading about the history of the Pilgrims at Thanksgiving.

When we think about the history of our holidays, it makes them come alive. They aren’t just the crass, sappy occasions that are presented on television and in the movies. These holidays originate from dramatic, fascinating periods in our world’s history. When you pause and consider that, it makes this holiday season something far grander and more interesting.

Let Go of What You Think the Holidays Should Be: Lots of people get depressed during the holidays. That is largely because it isn’t what they thought it would be. Here’s a news flash. No one’s holidays are perfect.

When I was a kid, my parents barely could muster up the enthusiasm to celebrate Christmas. Worse yet, they advised me as a small child that there was no Santa Claus. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps they thought childlike joy and wonder was a bad thing.

So, when I had my own child, I made every effort to make Christmas special. There was Santa! There was mystery and excitement. And thanks to my efforts, my daughter could barely contain herself when she was small on Christmas morning. And I was blessed to be able to experience a little bit of that wonder through her.

When the inspirational speaker, Tony Robbins, was 11-years-old, on Thanksgiving his family had no food. That day, a stranger dropped off bags of groceries outside his front door – enough to make a large Thanksgiving meal. Think of how challenging that experience must have been for a young boy. Significantly, it was that experience that made him decide that he wanted to dedicate his life to helping others.

My point is this: No one’s life is perfect. The problem is that the holidays shine a spot light on whatever imperfections there are in our lives. If we are alone, we feel lonelier. If we have troubled family relationships, the holidays only cause those relationships to be more difficult. If someone in our family has died, we miss them all the more during the holidays. With all that imperfection, it is very hard to create a Norman Rockwell Christmas.

But realize that no one’s holidays are perfect. No one’s family is perfect. So, forget about having a Hallmark-worthy holiday celebration. Stop being disappointed with what is lacking. Instead, work to make the holidays meaningful for you.

For me, the best part of the holidays is going to church. I love the hymns. I love the scripture readings. They are the same every year, and yet I never tire of them.

I also love the Charlie Brown specials (Thanksgiving and Christmas). And I love the festive food. And when I am able to buy just the right gift for someone else, that makes me so happy.

This holiday season, do those things that make the experience meaningful for you. Be intentional in how you spend the next month. If you do, you will find that you will thrive (not just survive) during the holidays.

Photo Courtesy of Pexels.

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