Holidays, Mental Health & Wellness, Milspouse, Uncategorized

Simplifying Your Holidays (Learning to Let Go)

Mass and mold making Christmas cookies

by Carole Van Holbeck, MSAN Mental Health Contributor

Okay. I’ll admit it. People who know me will read the title of this blog and raise a quizzical eyebrow. Really, Carole? You have to know a little of my background and then you’ll understand. My mother Shirley was nicknamed “The Christmas Queen.” She was over-the-top during the holidays and her mantra was, “More is good!” She lived in Florida and had a particular fondness for all things Disney. The decoration I remember best was a full-sized ladder that leaned into our Christmas tree with an animated Mickey and Minnie Mouse moving like they were decorating the tree.

My tastes run a little differently from Mom’s. I am fond of Santa Claus. My collection started innocently enough when Mom gave me three old-fashioned looking ones she found on after-Christmas clearance in 1991. It is now 2015 and my collection has morphed into a life of its own with over 50 Santas. The collection has spilled past the fireplace mantle and throughout our home. I love them, but I am starting to feel overwhelmed by the collection I’ve so lovingly created.

How many of you feel overwhelmed at the holidays, too? Go to Pinterest and type the words Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa into the search engine. Thousands of adorable (and time-consuming) ideas pop up on how you can make your holiday rival anything in Martha Stewart’s home. So why do we put this kind of pressure on ourselves to make the holidays perfect? Why do we perpetuate activities that leave us exhausted and overwhelmed?

One of the answers is that people have difficulty letting go of activities and traditions. These often come with a set of expectations, and we can feel stress and even guilt if they are not adhered to. So let’s give ourselves permission to challenge the traditions we celebrate and keep only the ones that fit best into our situations.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do we do that? Is it because the tradition is special to us or is it just something that your family has always done.
  • Is everyone happy to participate?
  • How will the holiday be affected if we stop doing this?
  • What is important to our family?

A good thing to remember is that it is okay to change your traditions or even do away with them. When my sons were little we baked Christmas cookies every Christmas Eve for Santa. The children reveled in making special treats for the jolly old elf and it was joyous for me to see their excitement. And of course somewhere around 13 (yes, 13) they finally gave up on Santa. In reality, they gave the idea up much earlier but I insisted that when you stop believing in Santa he stops coming, and the boys just couldn’t risk it. They baked the cookies reluctantly at my insistence. A couple of years ago I just went ahead and made them myself, and very few of them were eaten. There were signs everywhere that this tradition probably needed to end, but I just couldn’t let it go. Letting it go meant a lot more than just not baking cookies.

Life changes. We move. Children grow up. Family members leave us. We make new friends. All these things affect the way we celebrate life. It is okay to let go of traditions we cling to deeply if they do not fit us anymore. I believe starting new traditions can be liberating and make our families healthier.

What old traditions will you let go, and what new ones will you start?

Resources for You:

How to Let Go of Old Traditions during the Holidays

Traditions: When Is It Time to Change?

Holiday Deployments: Letting Go of Perfect

Reduce Holiday Stress by Rethinking Traditions


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