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3 Ways to Make More Room for Joy During the Holidays

Cristina Spencer

A couple of weeks ago, I was putting our middle daughter to bed.  Like all children, she is a force of nature.  And in particular, she loves to play rough and tumble, to rumble with her friends like a pack of puppies.  She loves jokes and the trampoline and playing raucous rounds of video games with her dad.  She is a bundle of energy.  So when she said to me, as she lay her head to sleep, “Mom, I want to really absorb the holidays this year.  Not like rush, rush, rush, and then blam, it’s over.  I want to really, you know feel it this year,” it stayed with me.  Since then, I’ve been noodling on how we might accomplish her wish.  Here are some of the ideas our family will be experimenting with:

Observe the dark and plan for more downtime

Every year I feel the same perplexing feeling about the fact that we tend to be so busy, right when our days start to get blanketed by darkness.  For me, the longer nights feel like an invitation to do less, not more.  And yet, this time of the year is unavoidably hectic sometimes.  To balance that out, I took a close look at our daily, weekly and month-long family calendar.  There is a magical feeling about the darkening days of December and I want to experience that with my family.  So on daily basis in December we are going to try to eat simpler dinners twenty minutes earlier so that we can have time to linger in the changing season.  I want to try taking an evening walk.  I want to light more candles.   I want to read aloud to the kids in front of the fire.  I’m making room for that by easing up on our dinner routine.  When we looked at the week long view I realized we had more one off events like holiday concerts and parties on weeknights, but almost miraculously, the weekends were less intensely schedule than I would have thought.  So I went ahead and canceled some regularly scheduled lessons and commitments to create larger pockets of family time.  And then when I looked at the month I realized that since Thanksgiving came so late this year, we have a little less holiday prep time.  So we are reducing some of the decorating we usually do to make space for other seasonal activities we enjoy more.

Savor the goodness

In all of the hustle and bustle of this time of year our days are jam packed.  It’s easy to feel busy and not really enjoy all the good moments in these busy days bring us.  A few years ago I found a fun easy practice that enhances our ability to really experience the joy in our days.  It’s a simple visualization in which you recall a positive experience from your day.  Here’s how it goes.  Bring to mind a happy memory from your day.  Recall as much of the sensory and experiential aspects of the experience as you can.  How did you feel?  What were the smells, tastes, colors or other sensations.  Imagine transforming all the good energy of that one experience into the shape of an imaginary jewel, with a certain shape, color, etc.  Then imagine placing that jewel into the treasure chest of your heart, and as you do, allow the energy of that jewel to spread throughout your body.  My children, the middle one especially, really enjoy this visualization.  We’ll do it consistently at bedtime this month as a way to actively absorb the good energy of the memories we’re creating along the way.  This practice, which comes from the work of Rick Hanson, can be used any day, but I really enjoy it this time of year with my kids.  We’ll be doing it at bedtime.

Plan for renewal

Finally, when I was looking at my calendar, I was reminded that the holidays, especially for parents, are a special kind of theatrical production.  No matter how a family does the holiday, there is a certain, undeniable amount of work involved in creating the holiday magic and celebration.  When the party is over, I am going to be tired.  So this month, before I am depleted, before I’ve wrapped that last gift or sent that last holiday card, I am clearing a little extra space for myself in January.  I will get a massage.  I will create a gentle start to the year, by keeping the first week the kids are back in school lightly scheduled.  And I’m going to drink up the goodness of our Shine On New Year’s workshop which will give me the friendly connection and inspiration I will be craving in the New Year.