Prioritizing self-care is difficult in the best of times, when life is relatively calm. But when we’re entering our second holiday season during a pandemic? It seems like an impossible task. And yet, self-care during the holidays is vitally important.
For many of us, the weeks from late November through the final week of December fly by in a blur of food and family gatherings, gift wrapping and holiday cheer, Christmas parties, additional commitments, and exhausting travel. We arrive in the new year—which is already weighty with its own expectation and anticipation—burnt out and wishing for a long winter’s nap. Instead of rest, we forge ahead, setting goals that we will soon guiltily abandon.
What if it could all be different?
What if, this holiday season, you arranged your priorities so that, instead of ending the year depleted, you end it feeling satisfied, centered, and well-rested? Instead of bowing to cultural pressure to make Christmas bigger and better, what if you instead chose to observe the most meaningful traditions, then released yourself from everything else?
I’m not suggesting you change something that’s working for you. But if you’re approaching the holiday season with trepidation, it’s time to revisit what you think you “have” to do. Only then can you choose what really matters. Which of the following ideas for self-care might help you to engage in self-care during the holidays?
Celebrate Advent in Your Own Home
In addition to self-care during the holidays, we shouldn’t neglect our soul care.
Advent is a season of waiting and preparation in the Christian Church calendar. It encompasses the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day. (This year, it begins on Sunday, November 28.) Many churches observe Advent by lighting candles, reading Bible passages about the birth of Jesus, and singing Advent hymns.
You can observe Advent, whether your church does or not. If you’ve never observed Advent on your own or as a family, I recommend starting small. You can purchase an Advent devotional; some churches also provide one.
- I purchased this simple yet beautiful devotional, Shadow and Light by Tsh Oxenreider, last year; I plan to use it again this year.
- I’ve heard good things about Come, Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp.
- If you’re looking for a way to observe Advent with children, Illustrated Ministry offers excellent resources for churches and families.
- If you want to expand your Advent observance, consider purchasing an Advent wreath and candles from Amazon or Etsy.
Opt out of the Commercialism of Christmas
If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of gifts you’re expected to buy—and the amount of money it will cost—not to mention the ongoing talk of “supply chain issues” in the media, perhaps this is a year to consider opting out of some of the commercialism of Christmas.
Perhaps that means that, this year, you’ll stick to a strict three-gift limit for your children. Perhaps, instead of scrolling Black Friday sales to find that “perfect” something for everyone on your list, the adults in the family will agree to donate to charity in lieu of gift giving. Maybe you’ll forgo Santa gifts for your small children. Or perhaps you’ll delegate to your husband all the gift purchasing and wrapping for his extended family. You could also consider giving an experience gift—a planned trip, or a pass to the local zoo or museum.
Prioritize Your Holiday Celebrations
Maybe it’s not gifts you need to simplify, but activities. Can you opt out of the work holiday party or designing costumes for the church Christmas pageant? Maybe, instead of raising your hand to plan the classroom holiday party, you can just send it some store-bought cupcakes.
What part of the holiday season brings you the most joy? What do you look forward to each year? On the flip side, are there traditions, obligations, or expectations that you dread? Make a list (write it down!) of the things you love. Then, make a list of the things you wish you didn’t have to do.
If you live with others, ask your spouse, kids, or roommate what their favorite holiday traditions are. I typically ask my kids what their one favorite holiday tradition is. Once we have that list, it becomes apparent that the most important things are often the simplest. Year after year, my kids enjoy decorating the tree, listening to Christmas music, driving around to look at lights, and eating donuts on Christmas Eve.
The list of holiday activities that you’re dreading might be harder to navigate. Perhaps the thought of driving eight hours on Christmas Eve to spend the holidays with your in-laws makes you want to weep. But perhaps for your spouse, it feels nonnegotiable.
One key to deciding what you can eliminate from your holiday celebrations is starting to have those conversations early enough that you have plenty of time to discuss, make your decisions, and find compromises that work. If you need help negotiating those conversations or setting boundaries, a trained therapist could be immensely helpful.
Last year, I sat down in September to survey our family’s calendar for October, November, and December. To my dismay, I saw that almost every weekend already had plans! I started to feel Holiday Dread creeping in before we’d even gotten through one month of school.
However, I also noticed that each month had one weekendwithout plans. I decided to call those “Blackout Weekends” and I marked them on my calendar (and my husband’s) as weekends with no plans. It didn’t mean we wouldn’t do anything—it just meant we wouldn’t commit to anything in advance. Those weekends were marked and set aside as restful family weekends. Knowing that there was one a month saved my sanity for the rest of the holiday season.
Could you implement a Blackout Weekend sometime in the month of December? If your December is already busy, consider making the first or second weekend of January a Blackout Weekend to recover.
Another option would be to create a Blackout Day for yourself. Maybe your family calendar is already filled, but could you take a day off work sometime in the next few weeks to just rest?
If you have school-age children, take a day off before their holiday break begins. Or, if you homeschool or have small children, arrange childcare to allow yourself a day to focus on self-care during the holidays.
Make Space for What Matters Most
If you feel Holiday Dread creeping into your heart before you’ve even hung the stockings, perhaps this is the year to consider how you might simplify and, in doing so, create space for self-care during the holidays.
My favorite part of the Christmas season is sitting on my couch in the early hours of the morning, before my family is awake, and staring at the lights on the Christmas tree. I don’t do much of anything else, but I feel an abundance of peace and joy in those quiet moments. If my holiday season includes mornings like that—plus a little free space in my calendar—I’ll better enjoy all the celebration to come.
What are your not-to-be-missed holiday traditions? What could you do without? Share in the comments how you plan to build self-care into your holiday season.