7 Ideas to Simplify and Connect This Holiday Season

By Holly Keich

We’re entering into the months of shorter days, longer nights and full calendars. But, before the season takes hold we can pull back and take a look at how we’d like the season to unfold. Rather than grabbing on for dear life as the holidays trample over us with their long to-do lists all decorated with pretty bows and wrapping, take a breath and see what your soul desires of the coming months.  Here are 7 ideas to make it a more meaningful time for you and your family.

1. Set a Family Intention

Have a family meeting and determine what’s most important this holiday season.  What activities make your heart sing and your family join together?  What would put joy and meaning back into your holiday celebrations and allow you to focus on unconditional love and connection?  Is it time together or heading out to celebrate with others?  Are there certain traditions you love and fill you with gratitude?  Each person gets to share what they love most and the family gets to look at what they want to keep to celebrate the spirit of the holiday.

2.  Quiet the calendar

time-2189801_1280Downscale. Keep the focus on the family and the meaningful traditions that replenish you.  Think simplicity, which might mean having to say no. If it’s not on the family intention list, feel the freedom to say “we’re booked.” When setting up your calendar fill it in with special time for the ones you love most.  Make sure there’s down time schedule in – blank spaces on the calendar that don’t get run over with activities.  And if you get invited to one more thing, practice developing your “no” muscle as a personal gift to yourself.

3.  Question Consumerism

Even before each holiday passes, the next holiday is being marketed for us to buy, buy, buy. Living in a consumeristic world, it can be hard to block out the noise. But before making a purchase, head back to your family intentions list and see if it can coexist with your new values. Celebration doesn’t have to mean buying meaningless things that people don’t need.  Minimize where you can.  The process is more important than the outcome. Think low investment, high impact items.  A great idea is to give others a one less gift certificate which can make the holiday more about spending time together than the gifts that we give just for the sake of giving.

4.  Revisit your holiday traditions

Perhaps your passing down traditions that you’ve come to hate or feel overwhelmed bring to fruition. Now is your chance to see if they are still working for your family.  What do you want to keep, what can be tossed, what can you create that’s new? Your family intention should help you identify traditions that bring the most joy.

5.  Connect with the Outdoors

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In winter months, as the colder weather sets in, we tend towards the indoors, but it can be a crucial time to connect with nature. Moving outdoors allows us to feel freer, more open, restoring our mental energy and alleviating stress.  It’s also been shown to boost our immune system – a great benefit during cold and flu season which can turn the holidays from celebration to sedation. Greeting the outdoors can help us to feel grounded during the holidays, nudging us to be okay with a slower pace.

6.  Season of Giving

Giving to others is characteristic of the season. Whether that means generosity with your time or money,  compassion is woven into our very being and is especially noticeable during this time of year. You might hear stories of Walmart layaways being paid off at a local store or other grandiose gestures, but simple, small kindnesses offered with love can have a big impact too. Enjoy the secret pleasure of small Random Acts of Kindness during the holidays (and all year round). Join with the kids to help at a local toy or book drive or other non-profit organization or simply sharing cookies with your neighbors. And don’t forget that Random Acts of Kindness can include yourself which leads us to #7.

7.  Take Care of Yourself

Top of the To Do List :  Breathe!
Smile, laugh and relax.
Remember your life’s priorities during the holidays.
And whenever things feel out of kilter, stop, slow down and return to #1.
Revisit each idea again to see how you can simplify and connect this holiday season!


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Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill.  She is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Parent, Wife and adamant student in the school of life.

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‘Tis the Season to Be Grateful

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photo by Jessie Gallagher

by Jessica Nupponen

‘Tis the season to be grateful, fa la la la la la la la la!  It’s November! This is the month when we set aside a whole day to focus on giving thanks. And boy, do we need it! In the increasingly negative political-climate that we call “these days,” how do we ever manage to stay grateful?  It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about, but first – why bother?

If you’re reading this column, chances are good that you’re a parent.  As parents, we want our children to appreciate what they have and Stop. Nagging. Us. For. That. Newest. Toy/Device/Fad.  We all dream of a beautiful time when our children bypass the rampant holiday consumerism and truly appreciate the holidays as a time to be with the ones we love. And that’s why we bother trying to add gratitude to our lives. We want it for our children and they won’t learn it unless they see us demonstrating it.

So how can we feel more gratitude?

One of the things I learned from living with a chronic illness is that gratitude is an absolute necessity in order to soldier on and enjoy life. So I pursued it fiercely and… gave up quickly. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I wanted the gratitude so, so much, but it just wasn’t coming to me naturally.

I muddled through until my then-toddler helped me realize that having an “attitude of gratitude” was not enough. Just like his little brain needed tactile ways to learn, I needed to do something to signify the gratitude. Since then I have discovered so many possibilities! Here are a few that might help you too!

1.    List at least one thing that makes you grateful every day at a certain time. For us, we do this as part of bedtime, but it can be any time that works for you. I know people who do this as part of a dinner time routine.  (Make sure to make it mundane sometimes. I mentioned once that I was grateful for running water and it sparked a wonderful conversation about how people live in different ways.)gratitude-tree

2.    Use Thanksgiving as an excuse to write them down. When November rolls around,
we get leaf-shaped cut-outs and write what makes us grateful that day on our respective leaf.  We then tape them to the wall or hang them from a plant in the house.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it sure does make an amazing visual of all the things that make you grateful!

3.    Get the whole family involved.  Everyone in the household can do this! We even ask our 5-year-old what he thinks makes the baby grateful. You could include the family pet! That way we’re also sneakily teaching empathy! (It’s like putting spinach in their brownies – they’ll never know! Mwahahaha!)

4.    Have older kids? Get them to use their devices to take a photo of something that makes them grateful every day. They could post it on social media if they’d like and spread the gratitude! Or they could make a digital  photo album out of it later. It also sparks creativity and mindfulness (a.k.a. spinach brownies)!

5.    Share the love!!!  If you’re feeling grateful for something, post it on social media or tell a friend.  I have a Gratitude Photojournal that I’ve kept going on social media for years and you’d be surprised how many people have told me that it makes them look around and appreciate the little things too.  This is not about the “humble brag,” friends. This is genuine, heartfelt gratitude. You know what the best part of my day was today? An iced mocha. A really, really good iced mocha that gave me the oomph to get through a big morning. And tonight that will be my post. Tomorrow it might be something much bigger and more important like my beautiful boys, a roof over my head, a husband who lovingly tucks in the boys when I work late, yadda yadda. But today was tough and that iced mocha got me through it, so it is the winner today.

6.  Take it to the next step.  Once gratitude starts to sneak into your daily routine, you’ll probably have a stronger feeling of hope edge in too. If you want all of this to equal happiness, here is your equation:  Gratitude + Kindness = Happiness. This is a fairly well-known equation, so put it to work. Use your gratitude and new-found hope to make the world a little brighter. It doesn’t take much: a friendly smile, a door held on a rainy day, a genuine compliment to a stranger or a friend, a kind word to someone who seems down, a listening ear, a warm hug.  I could go on, but you’ll find your way.

7.     Bonus!!!  When you start actively searching for things that make you grateful, you might just see your partner, your kids, your house, your job, your life in a whole new light.

It may sound trivial, but it’s true. Gratitude + Kindness = Happiness.  So let’s make a habit of practicing gratitude and cultivating gratitude, so that it becomes second nature.  I can guarantee it will make a difference to your family, to you, to your circle of friends, and maybe – just maybe – it will ripple out much further than you’ll ever know.


Jessica Nupponen is an events coordinator, choir director, sometimes-music director, and all times mom. Her hobby is running Sidewalk Chalk PA, an opportunity to make the world a little brighter through chalk. Jessica lives in the Harrisburg area with her husband, and their two “ridiculously adorable” boys.