When I was a kid, the holiday season was a truly magical time. Every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas felt like a trip to Disney World, with all of the glowing lights and decorations that made our whole neighborhood look like a winter wonderland.
My family traditions were small, but non-negotiable: We spent Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family, and Christmas Day with my dad’s relatives. We ate, opened presents, and enjoyed each other’s company.
When I started college, I learned that celebrating Christmas as an adult comes with a lot of obligations. Going home for Christmas break was a relief from schoolwork, but still a mad dash to see every person I was friends with in high school and family I rarely saw.
The holidays were no longer a magical time, but an obligation I began to dread. How was I going to fit seeing everyone into my schedule? How was I going to afford everything? Instead of being excited to go out to a nice dinner with friends, I felt anxious. Before long, I was having a complete Christmas meltdown.
It wasn’t until recently that Christmas began to feel joyful again. I’ve changed my mindset to be more focused on gratitude instead of feeling resentment over the number of obligations. Since that decision, every holiday season has gotten progressively better.
So, here are my 10 tips for a happy holiday from a young adult with newly rearranged priorities.
The holidays can be financially stressful if you’re not prepared. I now know to start saving money for this time of year in September so I can buy my loved ones presents and afford parties or dinners. I would much rather have the money for shared experiences with people I love than an overpriced meal out. I also learned that making something thoughtful — even if it’s cheaper — is always better than buying something expensive. One recent Christmas, I made my mom a handmade card with a poem and she cried. Love isn’t measured by the cost of a gift.
Embrace family traditions — then start your own!
For me, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are solely dedicated to my family, which I see as a blessing. I make plans to celebrate with friends on other days and use that time to create new traditions. One of my favorite new traditions is to host a cookie swap party. Everyone brings their favorite Christmas cookies and shares with each other. I use my mom’s recipes, so it’s the best of both worlds.
Focus more on what you’re giving than getting
I used to put such an emphasis on what my parents gave me for Christmas — like the boots I thought I just couldn’t live without. Now, I find so much joy in finding them meaningful gifts. One tradition my immediate family started in the last few years is gifting someone a book we’ve read and enjoyed. It’s a thoughtful present, and less wasteful because we gift books from our own collection.
Plan “me” time
Between work, family, and friend gatherings, the holidays can get a little crazy. I’ve learned that I will burn out if I don’t plan some downtime. I do my best to make it to everything, but sometimes it’s better for my well-being to decline an invite. When I do, I relax with a quiet night alone with a good book and recharge for the next day or social gathering.
Find ways to give back
The holidays are an especially good time to give back to those in need. I’ve found that donating and volunteering around Christmastime always reminds me how lucky I am, and that the holidays are a time to come together and bring joy into each other’s lives. I organize a food drive at my job by designing and hanging flyers, sending emails, decorating a bin, and bringing the collected items to our local food pantry. It makes me proud that I can put my graphic design and organizational skills to work for a meaningful cause.
Put down your phone
I’ve struggled in the past with fully disconnecting from work during the holidays, and it always ends up being my biggest regret, because our loved ones are much more important than work. When you’re at a holiday party or family event, unplug from work or anything else that might be distracting you.
Some of my favorite ways to practice gratitude are meditating, writing in a journal, or starting and ending every day by saying three things I’m grateful for. It keeps me grounded and reminds me how lucky I am. Having a positive mindset will help to keep you calm during the holidays.
Do things that make you happy
I love spending a day with a friend on the couch watching Hallmark movies during the holidays. While this might not be for everyone, it brings me so much joy and puts me in the spirit. Figure out what makes you happy — and do it!
I’m a firm believer in maintaining balance in all aspects of my life, and this is especially true during the holidays when there’s much more to balance. This applies to anything: food, physical activity, sleep, friends and family, you name it! Balance is the key to having a happy holiday season. Learning to balance family time, friend time, and me time has truly allowed me to enjoy the holidays.
Let go of your expectations
It’s hard not to stress about making your holiday season perfect. But, it’s important to remember that nothing is perfect. As you spend quality time with your loved ones, take time to enjoy each moment for what it is. Once you relax, you’ll enjoy the holidays more.
Originally published on December 14, 2021.