The holiday period is supposed to be filled with unending joy, relaxation, festive merry making, and visits with friends and family. Though let’s be honest, to some it becomes laden with a sense of chores – spending time with people you must endure, unmet expectations, and sugar rush grumpy children. So a popular topic of discussion with friends is how can we achieve a healthy festive season with the family, that everyone enjoys. How do we create time and space for them to be calm and connect, creating happy meaningful family moments without stress and pressure. This is what we all strive for, no?
We all have our own ways of working through this and in chats with friends, a common theme that came up was reframing Christmas from just a day to a season, and recognising the importance of our family traditions we follow year after year.
We still need to deal with sensory overload, with the lights, people with overfilled shopping bags taking a seat on the bus, extra chocolates and biscuits in the house, and having extra guests stay over. What I finds works best is to remember (in the words of the Parent Practice) to set the kids up for success, by explaining, in great detail, what the plan is and what they can, and cannot, expect.
Celebrating through our senses
We already have some traditions that are cultural, and we often take for granted. For example, it is this time of year that we fill our senses with specific aromas. The nordman firs are not as nearly aromatic as the spruce, but with their softer, dropless needle they are a more kids friendly tree to have in your lounge. Nevertheless when a good section of your lounge is filled with a medium to large sized tree that was once in a forest (well, okay, Christmas tree farm), there is still a distinct smell. Add to that the oranges studded with cloves, the extra baked goods coming from the kitchen, mum and dad’s mulled wine, and you’ve got a real forest of aromas that only come every December.
We also fill our homes with special plants: an evergreen tree, holly, ivy and mistletoe are the most well known ones. We light up our homes and community with fairy lights, and plan extra gatherings between friends and neighbours. We fill our kitchens with special foods: mince pies, stollen, cranberry sauce, whole nuts, and spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and anise enhancing our wines and teas. We construct houses and people out of gingerbread!
It is this time of year that our homes and communities brighten up at night with lights, our clothes with red and green colours and winter themed decorations, and music that is played (thankfully!) only in December.
I find that by emphasizing to my children the rituals and traditions, we have a festive month, not just a single day, and that the year’s most memorable moments come with the traditions we started years ago, and do year after year. They never bore.
Creating family traditions
Here is a sample of some family traditions that friends, regardless of faith, follow this time of year, bringing in a festive spirit to a time when the days are short and nights are long:
“We put up our tree on the 1st of December, every year, regardless of what day it is.”
“In December I love breaking out the spiced herbal teas, making stewed fruit with cinnamon, cracking open whole nuts, making homemade seasonal treats, such as cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries.”
“I am going to have my child play Santa, and give a gift anonymously to someone each year: a neighbour, the elder care home, something like that.”
“In our house, my husband goes to the park and brings back holly and ivy and decorates the hallway. We watch Christmas movies all month long, drink out of the Christmas mugs and do the Christmas puzzle that only come out in December. Lights and candles inside and out is a must. I love what a friend does: she wraps 25 books and her children open one a day for their advent calendar.”
“I’m Jewish, but we still put up a Christmas tree, and call it a Hanukkah bush.”
“In our house we tend to always talk about ‘Light in all of us’ when we all sit down for our Christmas dinner…it is not heavy or formal but very relaxed. My husband and I grew up in a polar opposite religions and this works really well for us. Also, we have a theme every year and last year it was ‘elements of the periodic table. We all dress up.”
“Food is always part of the tradition. A few years ago I started making Polish Makovietz as gifts to give to people and this involves a day spent raising sweet bread and cooking the beautiful loaves. And racing demon is a bit of a family tradition – good for burning off excess food even after the boxing day walk with their dog. We have managed up to 10 people playing at one time with 10 separate packs of cards.”
“As Coptic Christian we fast for 45 days prior to Christmas. Christmas Day is 7th of January in Egypt and is an official holiday across the country. Most Christians spend Christmas Eve at church. After Church, families gather for dinner with the traditional Fata plate as the main course. Kids open their gifts and play. Following morning, all wake up early and get dressed in new clothes. Younger members visit older family members carrying chocolate gifts. Lunch is another family gathering at the house of the family head. Evening time, older family members stay together chatting, while younger ones go for ice cream.”
“In Italy Christmas is celebrated on the 24th. We have a huge Christmas meal on the evening of the 24th and see in the 25th after which presents are opened at midnight! Food consists of mainly fish, many different types of fish from starts to pasta to main course. On New Year’s Eve we have another huge dinner and at midnight we have a bowl of lentils with pigs feet for prosperity. The more lentils you have, the more money you will get during the year.”
“I am Muslim and we celebrate the New Year. In the last two decades, back home in Egypt we started seeing more and more Christmas trees and Father Christmas on the streets, in hotels, at schools and even inside Muslim homes. I believe that it is merely an imitation of Western rituals as celebrations are mainly of the New Year and parties are held on the 31st of December or as close to that as possible.”
A peaceful and meaningful festive season
And how to deal with family that causes you the most stress of all? I like Wayne W. Dyer’s advice: “Shower them with understanding and forgiveness from your heart. Rather than being in a state of non-peace concerning any family members, say a prayer of gratitude for their presence in your life and all that they have come to teach you.” Sounds simpler said then done, but actually it comes quite easily when you think to yourself, “I am authentic and peaceful with this relative.”
When we bring in meaning to all the little things we do, all month and beyond in some cases, and emphasise that there is more to look forward to than just the one day or two where presents are exchanged, perhaps some of the pressure (on all of us, not just the parents) can be alleviated. Besides, we all know anyway what our kids want most…time with us. Hopefully then expectations won’t be quite so high, and a winter of celebrating tradition, family and love can be achieved.
Erin McGuigan is a Birth and Post Natal Doula and the Co-Creator of Treasure Birth antenatal classes. She is passionate about helping families set their children up for a lifetime of physical and emotional wellness, starting from pregnancy, on through to birth and then in the early years. Erin’s experience as a doula and antenatal facilitator has given her the opportunity to work with many mothers, fathers, babies and children. To read more about Erin click here
Indulge your senses and enjoy simple Christmas traditions with our range of healthy treats. Conjure up Christmas with cinammon infused herbal tea, orange and cardamon raw chocolate, and raw hot chocolate. And if you need some extra TLC, take a look at our popular natural health star box filled with nourishing self care products. All avilable in our natural health star shop
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