Feature Archive

Time for New Holiday Traditions?

Home Fires Burning

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

The holidays loom large on the horizon -- time for overspending and those well-intentioned visits with -- let's admit it -- a less-than-functional family. If the holidays leave you feeling dissatisfied, could be you're ready for a change.

"A lot of people are on autopilot during the holidays," says Herb Rappaport, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is the author of Holiday Blues: Rediscovering the Art of Celebration. "They celebrate the same way they always have, year after year, and end up finding themselves depressed."

High expectations are part of the problem. "We expect the holidays to be a Norman Rockwell painting, but they rarely live up to that image," says Kenneth Goodrick, PhD, associate professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He is also author of the book Energy, Peace, Purpose.

We also lose sight of the celebration's true meaning, Goodrick tells WebMD. "People forget to focus on what's important in life. Relationships -- that's where we should be focusing. Families are supposed to be a team, your bedrock infrastructure of social support that helps you deal with the real world."

"Our society is both interesting and cumbersome," Rappaport says. "We have a tremendous amount of personal freedom, but with that comes a lot of responsibility. You have to invent both yourself and your traditions. And you can't do it lightly. You have to be mindful of how your actions affect others in your life."

To create holiday celebrations that bring you greater personal satisfaction, here are some suggestions:

1. Think deeply about the essence of the celebration. "Put some thought into what the holidays mean for you, and what you want them to be," says Rappaport. "This can be a great time to express your values."

2. Be imaginative in considering new traditions. "But recognize that for some people, especially children, traditions are very important," he tells WebMD. "Make sure you find a balance between tradition and your own ideas."

3. Simplify celebrations. Don't spend mass quantities of time and effort preparing a holiday meal or cleaning the house from top to bottom. Think about getting the meal catered by a local grocery store, or go to a restaurant instead, Goodrick suggests.

4. Remember the spiritual aspect of the holidays. If you have a religious faith, plan to do something that is symbolic of that tradition. "At the holiday dinner table, either say grace or ask everyone to relate a personal thought," says Rappaport. Another suggestion: read passages of inspirational poetry or prose. Lighting candles around the house helps create a peaceful ambiance.

5. Get yourself -- perhaps your entire family -- involved in a volunteer effort. "Feed the homeless, visit a nursing home. There are all kinds of wonderful things you can do that are good for the spirit," Goodrick tells WebMD. Another idea: Get your office involved in a charitable project. There is no better antidote for holiday blues than considering the plight of others, he says.

6. Become proactive in getting your family to accept new traditions. "Find an advocate in your family, someone who can help you make a change," Rappaport says. Sometimes you have to be bold and brave, he adds. "Begin the negotiation process long before the holidays come around."

7. Focus on relationships. Instead of turning on the TV after the big family dinner, take a walk or play a game. "Or talk about your hopes and plans for the future," says Goodrick. "It can be kind of like therapy." Another idea: develop projects -- like a family history book -- that allow everyone to share stories and pictures with each other.

8. Know your boundaries. Make time for the things that you enjoy. Find a physical activity that you like, and implement it into an exercise routine, to help you unwind and relieve stress. "You need time to yourself," Goodrick says.

9. Make an effort to reconcile problem relationships. "Most reconciliation happens because people just do things together," says Everett L. Worthington, PhD, chairman of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. "The other strategy is to talk about the issues, but that is not for everybody. If this is done without tact, it might cause a bigger breach."

10. Consider taking a break from the whole thing. "If the holidays have really become a downer, just check out this year," says Rappaport. "Go away and celebrate in another way. Taking a break gives us new perspective, a chance to stop, shift gears, put yourself in a new context."

"The holidays are time to take inventory of who you are and how you're living your life," Rappaport tells WebMD. "The celebration should express who you are. After all that's happened in recent months, the holidays mean a little bit more to everyone. We're all a bit more focused on the things that that really matter."

Originally published Dec. 10, 2001.

Updated July 23, 2002.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005 10:46:01 PM

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