Holidays are often times of both great joy and challenge.  What we are most often seeking is “harmony,” a balance between our wishes, needs, expectations and those of the people in our lives we celebrate with.  It can also be a complicated time, however, often filled with complicated issues and emotions.

In the best of times, things go smoothly and everyone feels that their emotional stockings were appropriately filled with the requested things from their list. Santa’s elves are all signing their carols from the same sheet of music, Santa laughs “Ho, ho, ho” and all is right with the world!

And then there are those times where the elves seem to be committed to pointy eared discord.  Scrooge, the Abominable Snowman, or a group of disgruntled elves are reeking holiday havoc.   We feel like we’re on the “island of misfit toys” and holiday anarchy reigns supreme!

What to do?  Well, as good fences make good neighbors, good boundaries and setting appropriate limits can also help make for less stressful holidays.  Here are some tips to help keep Santa’s sleigh flying straight!

(1)  Limits are my friends!

One of the greatest sources of holiday stress can be in believing that the holidays are about meeting everyone’s needs.  This can be even more stressful when other people are telling you that that’s your job!

Not so cries Hermie the elf, instead our job is to be “independent!”  Santa flies all over the world and delivers everyone’s gifts in a single night, but let’s remember that’s in his job description!

Start with figuring out what you would like your holiday to look like.  That’s not being selfish, rather it’s about giving you a frame of reference, a holiday magnetic North if you will.

By knowing what you want, it helps you make more informed choices about what feels okay, and what doesn’t.  You have an arbiter if you will; who helps you decide what is consistent with your wishes, where you have room for compromise, and maybe where you don’t.

The clearer you are on what you are trying to say “Yes” too, the easier it is to know and feel comfortable in saying “No” when that is the right answer.

(2)  The lessons of the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future are alive and well!

In Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  The Ghost shows him how all the decisions he made, or failed to make, led him to the predicament he now faced, being lonely and alone.

The wonderful part of the story is that Scrooge discovers that he can change the arc of his life by the decisions he makes in the present moment.  The past does not dictate the future, a lesson Scrooge learns from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

We can learn the same lesson if we want to.  Holidays can be challenging because sometimes we see what hasn’t happened, who we haven’t connected with, how we weren’t the best people we could be, how in past holidays we weren’t happy with how things went.

Like Scrooge, try to learn from the past but live in the present to better change your future.  It’s never too late to be the person you want to be, or have the holiday you hoped for.

Think about what you want the joy of the holiday to mean to you, feel it, believe in yourself, and you’ll be amazed how the world around you changes as you do.

If you don’t want the holidays to look a certain way, don’t accept that it has to.  Say “Yes” when it aligns with your holiday expectations and say “No’ to those things or those people who are inconsistent with your aspirations.

And remember that “No!” is a complete sentence!

(3)  Focus on why and not what?

One of the biggest holiday traps is to get confused about activity as opposed to accomplishment.  We often get reflexive; we do what we do without a lot of thought or any consultation of our feelings.  We often ask “what” we are or should be doing; not a bad question in and of itself but it comes second to a more important question.

Why am I doing this?  In other words, is “what” I’m doing or thinking of doing in alignment with my holiday purpose.  If we do things that are tied to “why” we are celebrating the holiday in the first place, it’s amazing how clear we can get on “what” needs to happen.

Decisions about what you do, who you do it with, and how it is done often seem simpler if you keep your “why” for celebrating firmly in sight.

(4)  “Should” never belongs in the same sentence with the words “feel, want, or need!”

Santa focuses on giving us what we want while “bad elves,” on the other hand, see the holiday as exclusively about their wants and needs.

Be clear on a simple holiday truth, guilt is not a present for good girls and boys so if it’s offered, return it along with that funky sweater Uncle Waldo seems to give you every year.

You are allowed to want what you want, feel what you feel, and need what you need at all times, but especially in the holiday season.  Any time a situation, person, or memory makes you feel that you should feel, want, or need something you don’t choose for yourself, it’s time for you to check in with your holiday purpose.

Should is always about pressure and, sometimes, manipulation or coercion.  Simply put, how you feel is how you feel, and what you need or want is what you decide for yourself.  If others can’t or won’t except that, well, that’s about them and not you.

In the end, “should” is better replaced with “I’d like too” or “I’d love too!”  Remember, it’s called the season of joy for a reason; give yourself permission to be joyous!

So, I wish you peace, joy, and happiness now and in the coming year.

Oh, and tell Uncle Waldo I dig the sweater!

Photo Credit:  mary-thompson via Flickr