Your Holiday Commandments

by Christa Melnyk Hines

Want to experience a more joyful holiday season this year that does not leave you depleted, miserable and broke? Here are ways to shift your perspective and take command of this “hap-happiest” time of the year!

Thou shall quit worshipping perfection. Nothing burns holes into the fantasy holiday like real life. Maybe the tree is a lopsided, the dog ate your seven-year-old’s gingerbread house, or you were so focused on creating the best holiday ever that you ended up too sick to enjoy it when the big day finally arrived.

“Decide to do things differently this year. Strive for the good and be satisfied with the good. Too often the focus is on the result, and we tend to lose focus on the beautiful process of getting to the result,” says therapist Julia Flynn, LCPC, CRADC.

Thou shall not overcommit. Decide ahead of time which activities will not work this year. Instead of committing to five events and multiple gift exchanges, choose a few that you are enthusiastic about attending (do not forget practice CDC guidelines for safer gatherings this holiday season).

“Be firm, decisive and assertive, always coming from a place of love for everyone and keeping the focus on the origin of the holidays,” Flynn says, who specializes in helping women manage anxiety, depression and holiday overwhelm. “Graciously decline and send a nice card or note.”

Thou shall rediscover “the why.” Take time to reevaluate your priorities. How do you want the season to feel? What do you want your kids to remember most?

“Sometimes we need to take a step back and ask ourselves why this time of year is important to us because I think ‘the why’ gets lost. It just becomes an expectation of self and family—or whoever— to have it look a certain way,” says Maki Moussavi, a transformational coach, speaker and author of The High Achievers Guide: Transform your Success Mindset and Begin the Quest to Fulfillment. “Take a step back to assess, from an intangible, emotional perspective, why the holidays are important.”

Thou shall rest. Self-care is essential all year long, but especially during the extra busy holidays when your stress level is more likely to sky-rocket. Pare down your list to what reasonably makes sense for your health, time, and emotional wellbeing. And practice restorative techniques that relax and re-energize you. Simple ways to recharge include a warm bath, watching a favorite TV show, a walk outside, curling up with a juicy novel, a nap, or a massage.

Thou shall honor thy family. Attempts to please others by saying yes to everyone else’s holiday gatherings without considering you and your family’s desires can cause undue anxiety, frustration, and resentment.

“The holidays are about family time, appreciating one another and caring for each other. If the focus is switched to the less important gift exchanges and gatherings, all planned at the same time, you can’t enjoy the experience and the original meaning is lost,” Flynn says.

For those events that you would like to attend, but can’t, firmly communicate to your extended family or friends that you value time spent with them and would like to discuss alternative ideas for getting together. And do not feel guilty about standing by your decisions.

“You have every right in the world to establish what you want your holiday tradition to be. You are not obligated to participate in somebody else’s version of the season,” Moussavi says.

Thou shall invite thy partner’s participation. If you feel overwhelmed and stressed because you are trying to manage the bulk of holiday prep on top of working and taking care of your family, ask your spouse for help. Discuss what you would both like the season to look and feel like.

“Sometimes it’s not that men don’t want to be involved. It’s that they are never invited to be, and they don’t ask,” Moussavi says.

Maybe your husband can mail the packages for out of town family, purchase tickets to the holiday light show that your family wants to see or take charge of a few of the gifts.

Thou shall not allow others to steal thy happiness. Plan ahead for those individuals who love to bait you into an upsetting conversation at annual gatherings. Since you know how the person is likely to behave, rehearse how you will respond when they pounce.

“The only thing you can do is get better at making it clear what you will and won’t tolerate,” Moussavi says. “You have to shut it down. You standing up for yourself is normal, empowered adult behavior.”

Arm yourself with responses like: “I’m here to enjoy myself. I don’t want to talk about that right now.” Or “Let’s agree to disagree.”

Also, physically exit from the situation by saying: “I’m going to go refresh my drink.” Or “I have to make a call.”

Thou shall simplify. “The holiday can be manageable and simple if we allow it to be,” Flynn says. “What makes the holiday so difficult is our own thinking about it. We make it difficult for ourselves.” Experiment with small changes that can relieve your stress. Hire a caterer or place a to-go order for your holiday meal. Forgo Christmas cards this year. For the relative who has everything, send flowers, or make a donation in their name to an organization that is important to them.

Thou shall not compete with thy neighbors. As Theodore Roosevelt once quipped: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Some people enjoy casting their home in a professionally created holiday glow while others prefer to hang a festive wreath on their door and call it good. Do what brings you pleasure and makes sense for your budget.

Thou shall give from thy heart. Rather than twisting yourself in knots seeking the perfect present for everyone on your list, take a more light-hearted approach to gift-giving. For example, give a t-shirt with a meaningful quote, a digital photo album commemorating a fun getaway, or an experience like tickets to the zoo or a concert. Volunteering your time is also a fulfilling way to give.

“If you are intentional, you can make the holidays about the ideas of love, caring for one another, understanding, enjoying quality time together and treating each other as the precious beings each of us are,” Flynn says.

Simple Ways to Enjoy a More Meaningful Season:

Practice random acts of kindness

Sponsor a family in need

Volunteer for a charity

Start a new family tradition

Decorate cookies with your kids

Set up a hot chocolate bar, including toppings like candy canes, whipped cream, and sprinkles

Watch holiday movies together

Attend a seasonal play or concert

Freelance writer Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two sons and a menagerie of pets. Her intention this holiday is to slow down and focus more on the magic of the season and less on lopsided Christmas trees. Read more from Christa on

New Year, New Attitude

Back Talk: Tame the Holiday Circus

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