Are you one of those people that absolutely loves the holidays? Do you get giddy just thinking about pulling out all the festive decorations to deck your house? Have you already planned a complete list of each person’s favorite treats to prepare? Are you still looking for the perfect gift for that special someone in your life? Or are you feeling completely stressed out about making sure teacher gifts are ready, Christmas cards are mailed and finding an hour or two when you can get around to purchasing that matching set of new family pajamas? Have you thought about throwing in the towel to all the traditions of the past and starting fresh because the pressure to create an Instagram worthy celebration for your family is just so overwhelming? Well, you are not alone. It is true that this time of year brings both increased joy and stress for most people. However, before you go changing your normal routine, you should know that creating both merriment and memories impacts us all in emotionally healthy ways.
As we prepare for the upcoming holidays, it is important to understand the value in both creating new memories and holding onto familiar traditions. Maintaining family rituals is significant because engaging in meaningful traditions strengthens connection between its members. When we provide activities that are both continuous, predictable, and fun based upon our own sets of values, we establish rituals of connection that children, teens, and even young adults rely upon. Shared history helps individuals to organize and understand their world by promoting a stronger sense of identity, purpose, and belonging. In addition, creating new experiences together can produce strong emotional bonds as well. When families or groups of persons attempt a novel activity, visit an unfamiliar place, or pursue a new interest that is enjoyable, our brain triggers a release of dopamine, a feel good chemical associated with reward and pleasure. The pleasure pathways of our brains are activated with merry making as experienced in happy moments and in gift giving, because merriment is considered both an activity and an emotion.
Perhaps you are already considering which traditions you are hoping to revisit this holiday season. Maybe you have adult kids coming home from college, and you are saving a special activity to do with them upon their homecoming. Maybe you have little ones underfoot that have been enjoying the nightly adventures of “Elf on the Shelf” that you work so tirelessly each night to create before falling into bed. Whether or not you have traditions, you can always revisit past ones that you may have shelved or create new ones. Whatever the family rituals are that you have held, consider initiating conversations about the traditions your family members consider most special and the ones they are hoping will continue. Communication is essential to helping families navigate expectations during the holidays. Be sure to ask clarifying questions to expand your understanding of what made the tradition unique. Then reflect back to the speaker by summarizing what you heard them say while asking them for clarification or confirmation. In this way you are learning what family rituals have played a part in developing that person’s sense of identity, connection, and values. Lastly, engage each person by allowing them to assist in creating new memories or continuing family traditions through making merriment together.
When we understand what traditions are meaningful, we can incorporate them into our holiday plans along with new activities. Be aware that fear can sometimes keep people from engaging and can serve as a roadblock to experiencing pleasure. Think about it… sometimes the people having the most fun are those who are open to trying new things. So this holiday, make it a point to revisit your familiar traditions along with adding a new one. When multiple generations are connected through similar experiences or traditions, it develops stronger bonds which encourage resiliency and resolve, important skills needed throughout a person’s entire life. Embedding these positive events into our memories is helpful when we can process pleasurable activities by continuing to revisit them, time and time again through shared narratives. Your family or group’s narrative is being scripted through the merriment and memories you choose to make a priority this holiday season.
All of us at KS Services, LLC wish you and yours a very memorable and Merry Christmas!
Licensed Resident in Counseling