CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While this can be a joyous time of year, it does come with a certain amount of stress. How many times have you heard "Are you ready for the holidays?" And how have you answered?
Ready is relative, isn't it? In most cases it refers to the "to do" list of presents, cards, decorations, baking, putting up the tree, the holiday programs at school and church, travel plans, entertaining, etc. I doubt many folks are inquiring about our emotional status or spiritual state of mind.
If we're not careful, we get caught up in all the external expectations. And the pressure to get it all done. Which can lead to feelings of coming up short.
But who's doing the measuring? It's likely it's that internal critic we all have. This time of year I visualize mine wearing a green eyeshade and calculating how naughty or nice I am by how many things I'm crossing off my list!
But how much does all that matter? How much power are we giving away by allowing that inner critic -- or those around us -- to define us?
Norman Rockwell doesn't have the corner on the market when it comes to traditions. And, as I'm fond of saying, "'Leave It to Beaver' left." I don't know about you, but I can certainly get through the season without a single dose of figgy pudding (although my best-friend-since-kindergarten, Patty Johnston, and I really like to sing about it). Some of my friends decided to have crab cakes on Thanksgiving instead of turkey -- and thoroughly enjoyed them. Who knew?
It can actually be empowering to think of something new we'd like to include in the holiday season. Maybe it's dropping off a scarf and pair of gloves at one of the shelters that do such great work. Maybe it's something private you don't share with others. Lighting a candle for those who have departed -- and reflecting on what they've meant to you.
It could be something as simple as curling up with your cat, dog or yourself -- sipping a cup of hot tea and reading a story aloud. Or popping in a video or DVD of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." (There's nothing like watching the Griswolds to make you feel much more accomplished!) The point is the freedom you derive from setting your own course.
Rituals like these can keep us calm in the midst of the storm. If you have tension in your extended family (and who doesn't?), you're likely anticipating how things will go this year. How many times do we set ourselves up for disappointment -- thinking those gatherings will be different? While Hallmark movies are great, they don't always mirror reality.
Let's face it, the only thing you can change about those tense dynamics is the way you choose to react. It helps to think ahead and to prepare some coping mechanisms. I'll pull out two of my all-time favorite tools from the book "The Four Agreements." The author, Don Miguel Ruiz, cautions that we could save ourselves a lot of heartache by following two simple principles: