Reclaiming the Holidays


Reclaiming the Holidays

Author: Jenn Nolen

I’ll never forget the holiday I had a minor meltdown. 

I’d worked hard on hosting a family event and found myself irrationally upset when faced with a few disappointments and unwilling participants. While I was able to calm down and enjoy that particular evening, I realized that the bitterness had been building up for years. The frustration and exhaustion was a wake-up call to me that I had gotten off track with the holiday season and needed to find a solution.

As I started digging into the topic, I realized I was far from alone. Holiday stress is an increasingly common subject of articles, sermons, talk shows, and podcasts. Even the vernacular surrounding the holidays has shifted through the years. We’ve begun discussing ways to “survive,” “manage,” and “navigate” the holidays as well as highlighting the dangers of seasonal depression. While many are unhappy with the holiday season, most feel powerless to change it. While I don’t have all of the answers, I have learned a few things over the years that may help you, too.


Most of us would agree that different personalities have different values, perspectives, and needs so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this would apply to holiday celebrations. Spend some time reflecting over the holiday season and see if you can pinpoint potential stressors. What do you need to do more or less of? It’s okay to change things up if they don’t work for you and only cause more stress. 

Do you need to make more time for self-care? Do you need to outsource a burdensome chore? More time with loved ones or less? Does your budget need to be reigned in? Carefully selecting how you spend your resources of time, money, and energy help you fully appreciate the choices you make and enable you to be more engaged.

If you have a spouse and/or children, it’s necessary to include them and ask for their input. You might be surprised at what is important to them and the ideas they have for celebrating the season. It never ceases to amaze me how often the simple things carry meaning and make memories for my boys and I’m always impressed with their ideas for blessing others.


While it’s important to take care of ourselves and respect boundaries, we have to be careful to find balance in the holiday season. If there are events or activities you feel you simply can’t get out of, try and shift your perspective. Some things may not be the thrill of your family’s holiday season, but bring a lot of joy to someone else. As long as it’s not crossing a boundary, consider reframing your attitude to one of servanthood. Knowing you have the power to say no but are choosing to participate out of love, can make something enjoyable.


Once you have a general idea of what you want to do, sit down and put it on paper. After looking over the schedule, our family makes and prints out a list detailing the events, movies, activities, and charitable giving we want to prioritize. This list is displayed on our fridge and keeps us grounded and focused throughout the holidays.

The simple habit of putting our intentions on paper helps us manage our holidays realistically. Once we’ve put together a plan, it’s less likely we’ll get overcommitted or sidetracked by the extraneous.


Now that you’ve decided what you need and have come up with a plan, it’s time to communicate that info to others. While it’s true that “no” is a full sentence, it certainly never hurts to communicate with kindness and empathy. Being vulnerable and sharing your heart will soften the blow, so to speak. For example, if you’re on a strict budget, explaining the situation and your goals can help others see that your desire to forgo or downsize a gift exchange isn’t a personal snub against them, it’s simply a reflection of the season of life you’re in right now.

It can be hard to speak up, but there’s a good chance that if you’re feeling overwhelmed someone else in the family is, too. Offer solutions and alternatives and be willing to make reasonable compromises. Be sure to communicate changes as far out as possible. No one appreciates last-minute decisions and some changes may need to be made in baby steps. If it’s too late to change something this year, at least get the ball rolling by bringing it up in conversation so that everyone will be on the same page next time.


The holidays mean different things to different people, but I think many can agree that the busyness, stretched finances, consumerism, and overall stress isn’t serving any of us well and doesn’t reflect the heart of Christmas. I’ve found that if I truly wish to embrace a season of peace, joy, and togetherness, I have to be proactive in letting go of what holds me back and take concrete steps to move forward.

Confrontation is seldom easy or enjoyable and even good change can be uncomfortable initially.  Taking charge of your holiday season can seem like an overwhelming amount of work upfront, but pays dividends in the long run. Remember that it doesn’t all have to happen at once, but take it from me and don’t keep putting it off until you find yourself in the midst of a breakdown. The sooner you begin, the sooner your family, body, mind, and finances will thank you for it. Here’s to your best, brightest, and healthiest Christmas season yet!