Making Peace with the Holidays


The holiday season can be a particularly stressful and painful time for many people.

The Stressors

What are some of the challenging demands of this holiday season? The stressors include:

  • The problem with holiday rituals is that they can be cruel reminders of the profound changes, e.g. losses, that have occurred.
  • Black Friday is not everyone’s cup of tea. The heavy commercialism just grates on our nerves.
  • The unrealistic demands of family who may want us to shelve our own plans in order to meet their needs.
  • The holiday drama where some are perpetually dissatisfied with the charade we play each year ever hoping the family is what it can never be.
  • The food rituals continually challenge us. Our discipline goes out the window as we eat and drink more than usual and of then start looking more like the dumplings that we eat.
  • The excessive socializing stresses us out. One more office party or family gathering will put you over the edge especially if you are an introvert.

The Strategies

How do we make our uneasy peace with this delightful but at times conflicted season?

1. Lower your expectations.

You cannot recreate the past nor can you have a perfect holiday. Try letting the now be the now and good enough be good enough. Or “get real” that this family of yours is highly dysfunctional and will never be anything else. Without being the grumpy grinch admit to yourself, “One thing that probably will not happen the holiday season is….” Admitting and living the truth sets you free.

2. Give yourself permission to feel.

Last year your friend or family member was alive or the group was relatively intact. This year everything has changed. That is sad. Allow yourself those feelings. Don’t be a prisoner to the belief that this is supposed to be a “Happy time of the year.” You are not breaking some unwritten rule of the season by feeing sad. BUT. Make sure you surround yourself with people that will support your feelings.

3. Have the courage to say no.

If this year you become overwhelmed by social gatherings turn down some of your invitations. Only attend those that are highly nurturing to you. Say no to grandma’s offer of an extra piece of pie even if she looks for validation in how much of her food that you eat.

4. Reevaluate your traditions.

If your holiday traditions have lost their meaning to you invent new ones or try alternate activities like getting out of town into nature. Some of our best recent holiday seasons have been to travel to National parks and hike deep into the woods.

5. Accept your relatives for what they are: not what you want them to be.

Don’t expect family problems to go away because it is the holiday season. Family dynamics are no respecter of seasons. As soon as you hand touches the doorknob of your family home the folks behind the door see you in the role you have always been. If that is a problem stay at a hotel and limit the time you spend at the ‘celebration’.

6. Prepare for extra intensity.

No matter what you do holidays are times of intensity. So create quiet breaks in the activity, stay away from shopping centers (maybe shop on-line) and don’t go the  “Nutcracker” if you are tired of it.

7. Give instead of getting.

Volunteer at a local shelter or soup kitchen or buy gifts for poor children and then give then anonymously. That might be a good antidote for loneliness.

8. Revisit the true meaning of the holiday.

Dig deeper into the history of your cultural and religious traditions. It may surprise you that people see the world in vastly different ways in those times. Better still dig into the traditions of another culture. One December my wife and I attended a Hanukkah celebration.

9. Come to terms with the fact of change.

Learning to live wholeheartedly in the face of change is the ongoing quest of our lives. Or as Pema Chodron asks, “How can we make friends with unpredictability and uncertainty – and embrace them as vehicles to transform our lives?” Beginning to learn that lesson this holiday season will be the greatest gift we can give ourselves.


 What are you doing to alleviate the stress of this holiday season?

And if the holiday season is entirely delightful for you, why is it that way?


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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to Making Peace with the Holidays

  1. Jodie Johnson says:

    Your blog couldn’t have come at a better time. I have been experiencing my very first holiday blues. I have always been a very upbeat person and have been the creator of traditions and magic in my home around the holidays. This year it is all different With a recent divorce in the family I find myself lethargic and sad at a time when I am usually at my most gleeful. I am trying to have patience with myself and just let it all be whatever it will be this year. Your words are a good reminder that there is no perfect holiday, and as I read all the things you mentioned about family that is difficult to deal with, I see that I need to focus on what I have, not what I no longer have. And, that is a lot, wonderful children and grandchildren, a mother who at 87 is a gift, and my wonderful husband and loving friends.

    Thank you Cedric

  2. cedricj says:

    Jodie, Strangely enough I’ve had this blog “on ice” for a year but having encountered persons like yourself going through major losses I was prompted to post it this year. I am also reading Pema Chodron’s “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change” which deals with the fundamental ambiguity of being human and living with impermanence.

    Our thoughts and support are with you through this holiday season.

    Warmest regards,


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