Thanksgiving is long past; Christmas and Hanukkah arrive in a couple of days. If you escaped political dissension during the former, consider yourself one of the lucky few! Hunkering down to the December holidays (and yet more time with loved ones) may mean additional emotional hurdles to navigate.
To those of you who have avoided any family blowups at our national eat-a-thon, kudos! I applaud the functionality (or merely the appetite) of your kin unit. But for many of us, Thanksgiving and post-election was (at best) an uncomfortable, awkward affair, with raw feelings exposed. Let’s leave those memories behind so we can look forward to the December holidays with fresh anticipation.
What can we consciously do to actually have a peaceful and loving holiday celebration?
- Of course, you could do as the French do, and forbid the three unmentionables – politics, religion, and your salary – from dinnertime discussion.
- Set down some family rules. No discussion of Donald Trump; no politics, whatsoever. If that seems extreme, just set ground rules for overall behavior: no shouting; no swearing; no insults. Leave the snarky behavior outside. Or, as I sometimes tell my patients and my family, “Ziploc it!” It will still be there but don’t bring those feelings into the room.
- Make an intention to infuse your family get together with activities and laughter. Bring out the board games, tell jokes, or make a family video. Laughter, more than any other tactic, works best. Jokes cut through tension and tend to steer conversation away from danger zones. Laughter is an irrepressible response, which immediately unites a group of people and feels good for both body and soul.
- Share family memories and experiences. Holiday celebrations are a time to appreciate your family relationships. While we are doing that, we can also expand our notion of family to include any friends who are around, who celebrate holidays with you. The holidays are special for their notion of inclusivity. Invite a friend who may have nowhere else to go. It may change the dynamic and add a new element to traditional gatherings.
- Remain in the present. Be mindful of the meaning of the holidays – that they truly embody the often overused “Hallmark Card” expressions. That said, peace, good cheer, generosity, and kindness are exemplary virtues for any family gathering. Kindness begins with your family.
- Forgive the people in your family who you perceive have wronged you. Take this time to actively reassess these negative feelings. You have a choice to focus on whether you see the best or the worst aspects of a person. Make it an internal game. Flip your negative thoughts to ones of positivity. We are all a combination and mixture of both negative and positive qualities. When you make a conscious choice to look at positive qualities, it brings out the better qualities in yourself.
By choosing to look through a lens of peace and joy this holiday season, you might actually surprise yourself and experience the best family celebration yet.