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Owning the Holidays

Updated: May 4, 2023

Festive Season. Acrylic on canvas. Artjamming, Hong Kong. Dec 2017.

The holidays can be an incredibly stressful time of year. We tend to think of stress as being due to external circumstances like dealing with family members or social gatherings. We worry about expectations that others have about us, and become anxious about being judged for failing to meet their expectations. But actually holiday stress is mostly internally generated by our own expectations, and our own judgment of ourselves when we perceive that we are falling short. Because we usually judge ourselves far more harshly than others do.


I used to admire my neighbour who would bake dozens of different cookies from scratch every year, and my friend who always started hand embroidering Christmas gifts in October, ahead of the holiday rush. And while there was a part of me that wanted to be that organized, there was also another part that was rolling her eyes - secretly relieved to not be doing either. Instead I would set myself a dozen other expectations, from decorating to hosting to attending holiday functions.

Holiday stress is internally generated by our own expectations

We each grow up with different holiday traditions. Some are handed down across generations as a way to celebrate holiday memories together. But traditions are just another kind of expectation that we set up for ourselves, that can cause us to feel disappointment when unmet.

For so many years, I had been used to putting pressure on myself to live up to some “perfect” standard. And while it was good to have high standards, I have learned to also ask at what price perfection? It used to be unthinkable for me to not send handwritten Christmas cards. And so I would have to buy the cards, write the cards, and send the cards, all the while judging myself for feeling stressed or hurried, and for NOT enjoying the process of connecting with loved ones.

Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

Over the years, I have come to accept that electronic card services are very helpful for formatting photos and organizing mailing lists. We dispensed with holiday mailings altogether for a couple of years, and have now come back to a practice of sending Chinese New Year’s cards instead. Holiday mailings have become more enjoyable with the relaxed timeline, and has become a way to respond to cards we enjoyed receiving that season.

Take the time to be present with your loved ones, savoring the sweetness of moments together

As a recovering perfectionist I have learned to accept that “perfection” is never actually the goal, but that I was seeking rather to embrace the part of me that strives to create a result that will somehow impress others and thereby garner external validation. Embracing that part of me requires cultivating compassion and humility, a practice that I believe will be the work of a lifetime.

Joy and Peace

The global pandemic in 2020 forced many of us to adapt our thinking and to develop new strategies for how to live, work and interact safely. But as travel has become possible again, we seem to be losing track of the perspective that we get to choose how we want to engage, whether in families or in larger communities.

I would encourage you to consider what has been replenishing or sapping your energy so far this holiday season. What are you doing because “we always do this,” or “we should do it”? What are you personally looking forward to? How can you take ownership of the holiday season and make them awesome as defined by you?

May we each find ways to the joy and peace that touch our hearts this season

Of course there are compromises to be made in any family, but can you look for opportunities to strike a balance? No one else can be responsible for creating these holiday memories for yourself, and there really is no rule that says the holidays have to be all about everyone else. So you may as well have some fun!

Photo by Jasmin Schuler on Unsplash

My wish for each of us is that we will take the time to be present with our loved ones, savoring the sweetness of moments together. I aspire to give myself permission to be me, setting my boundaries for what I want for myself in terms of “me” time.

I also commit to creating safety by loving those around me despite however awkward or anxious they may be, allowing them to be just as they are, and accepting that we are all doing our best. May we each find ways to the joy and peace that touch our hearts this season.

Brainwork journal prompts -

  • Projecting ahead to my future self in January 2023, what would make the 2022 holiday season satisfying and memorable for me?

  • Who are the 1 or 2 people that I would really like to connect with - what does that connection look like?

  • What kind of giving or receiving would actually fill my cup?

(Hint: It doesn’t take long to hug and/or have a laugh)


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