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Holidays at 100 Percent

Family standing in front of Christmas tree

Christmas 1998, with grandparents, dad and older sister

Parties, baking, shopping, decorating, concerts, traditions, expectations; it’s a busy time of year and it all adds up. Now add your significant other and their families into it. Here’s my simple suggestion: pick one or two things that are really important to you and do them. Make those the priority and let the “extra” be a bonus.

I grew up in a family where at Thanksgiving we all gathered, most of my dad’s five siblings and my 11 cousins. We went to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s and had a big meal and celebrated my birthday. Grandma made me a special cake that not many ate, but it was really special to have.

At Christmas time, we would at some point in December make cut out cookies. It was a big production that my mom, our closest family friend, myself and occasionally my older sister would participate. It was a lot of work and sometimes done over two nights, but it brought our family a lot of memories, and of course, delicious treats. Christmas Eve we went to church, had my grandparents over for dinner and exchanged family gifts. We woke up Christmas morning and celebrated the magic of Santa. Some mornings I was the first up and sorting the gifts, and sometimes we had to wake up my sister! We ate quiche and grape juice in memory of Grandpa Jones. Then off to Grandma and Grandpa Breier’s for another big family celebration.

It was wonderful. Full of love, memories, family and traditions. Then college came and much of this was put on hold. Post-college some of it came back for me. No more birthday cake from Grandma, but still trying to come together when we could. We still went to Christmas Eve church and dinner with extended family, and even Santa.

Then another change: I got married! So now, we have to navigate his traditions and family with mine. It’s not easy. Some years, we miss my big extended family gathering in my hometown. Sometimes we miss Thanksgiving dinner with one of our sides. However, with missing my family during the holidays (and I think we all can relate to how hard that is), I told my husband that first Christmas together that if I was going to be apart from my family, we were at least going to do one thing of mine: Go to church Christmas Eve. I didn’t care which one we chose, as long as he came, too. And a bonus would be a candlelight service. It didn’t matter if his family came, as long as I got to enjoy one hour or so of something special and close to me. And so we have. We also celebrate at my in-laws on Christmas Day with presents from family. We don’t have quiche, but we do have grape juice!

And now we have two young children. So now we need to bring in our memories and traditions, and decide what kind of impression we want to leave on our children. Do we want them to remember the holidays as a time of stress? Do we want to keep some of our traditions? Do we want to create some of our own? Do we even care about traditions anymore and want to do something different each year? I decided to make cookies with our children. Maybe not as many, or cutouts, but something so we can be together. We also have our own tradition of selecting our Christmas tree together. The feelings of magic, surprise and excitement about thoughtful gifts from a secret person is something I hope our children can experience, as well. It may not be on Christmas Day, but around that time, surrounded by people who love them.

I was chatting with a friend a couple years ago about how happy vs stressed we are around the holidays. She is in her mid-60’s with grandchildren and a large family that comes to her house. But for many, many years, she missed out on the one special thing that was important to her because she felt obligated to others.

How happy can we be when we are not acting out of love, especially during the holidays? The year we chatted, she decided to do her special thing, and despite doing it by herself, she felt so much better during the rest of the holiday season.

Don’t give up on your “grape juice.” Hold onto those one or two things are most important to you. Do them with love and for yourself and mental health. We care for others so much, so it’s easy to put our own needs second, especially during the holidays. Be you, take care of you, and let the little stuff go. Besides, I am sure someone else will have plenty of cookies to share with you.

Heidi Hanson
Danbury, WI