Mindful Holidays by Rachel Turiel

The good news is you are the boss of your holiday season.
— Rachel Turiel


It’s nearing December, which means we’re decking the halls with holiday confusion and ambivalence. I grew up in a Jewish household, and it’s possible that I still don’t really get Christmas. I mean, Christmas morning in our house has sometimes felt like a frenzied bender, leaving the kids spent and edgy by 8am. But, in this dark and cold season I think we’re all looking for a little magic and connection, for a cozy home full of inviting smells, for the comfort of gathered friends, and maybe just a little salvation in the form of rum-spiked egg nog after the kids are in bed.

Honestly, it’s not that hard for me to get in the holiday spirit. I love giving gifts, singing Christmas carols, taking a week off work, and getting the green light on copious egg nog. But there’s weird stuff to navigate: the obligatory green and red like we’re all rabid fans of the same sports team; the long lists for Santa that children are encouraged to create, as if we’re trying to build their muscles of wanting; the human-trampling over this year’s electronic superstar; the sugar we’re all trying to avoid blooming everywhere like a toxic algae.

But, the good news is you are the boss of your holiday season. You get to decide how much you want to buy in, opt out, revolutionize, or reform your own celebrations. Here are a few ideas for a more connected, meaningful season:

1. Create your own meaningful traditions. We attempt to create traditions that ring with meaning and joy, which will hopefully rise to the surface of our family memories. Some things we’ve enjoyed:

  • Singing (Hot chocolate, some xeroxed sheet music and a gang of good-natured singers is all that’s required).

  • Volunteering in a homeless shelter/soup kitchen/animal shelter, allowing your children to feel the joy that comes from making a difference in people’s lives.

  • Solstice celebrations. We typically take a hike, make a campfire, eat a treat, and do some literal tree-hugging.

  • Host a holiday party. It can have a theme like a cookie-exchange, singing carols, sanctioned Jewish gambling with dreidels, making flour-clay ornaments (Google a recipe; super easy), or just bringing the warmth of friends into your home.

Annapurna solstice.jpg

2. Work with the craving. Kids can get a little amped up this time of year. The storefronts, ads, and commercials have been telling them to anticipate getting STUFF since the day after Thanksgiving! Asking them to become Buddhas of Contentment and Satisfaction may be slightly unrealistic. How can we, as parents, work with the cravings that come from a holiday centered around presents?

  • Give information ahead of time. “We’re going into Toy Central to pick out one gift for your cousin. We won’t be buying anything else this time.”

  • Acknowledge and empathize with emotions. “Oh honey, you’re wanting that baby doll that drinks, burps and cries? It’s hard to be in stores full of things that look so fun to take home.” No need to shame kids for being founts of wanting. The more empathy and compassion they receive, the quicker they’ll be able to move on.

  • Focus on the giving and how it makes others’ feel. “How happy do you think Nana will be to receive this special book you made her? Would you like to make one for your teacher?” Kids are such naturally generous people, their focus can be easily shifted to excitement over giving to others.

3. Check in with your own expectations and needs.

  • Are there any traditions you uphold that you feel resentment towards? Can you gently ask yourself what need that tradition serves? (Do you dread spending money and time on sending holiday cards but do it because that’s what your mom did?) Understanding what the need is, is it worth continuing? Can it be tweaked, dropped completely or accepted for the need it satisfies?

  • Remember that for every party/event/outing you say no to, you’re saying yes to something else. Most kids can’t absorb all the sweets, presents, and social engagements offered this time of year. Quiet, recharging nights at home are essential as counterbalance, and to keep their internal flame kindled.

  • Now is a great time to create a life-serving habit. It’s said that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. Use the days leading up to Christmas as a time to begin a daily effort towards your own well being. Some ideas: a daily gratitude list, meditation, exercise, intention to stop complaining/yelling at your kids, a vow to share your appreciation of a different person daily, to catch negative thoughts.

May your season be peaceful and full of gratitude. And when it’s not, may you forgive yourself, pour the egg nog and start over. 

About Rachel Turiel

Rachel Turiel tends an urban homestead in Colorado. She is the managing editor of the magazine Edible Southwest Colorado, a contributing writer to NPR “Earth Notes,” and a 6-year columnist for the Durango Herald newspaper. She is a lover of everything DIY in the kitchen, much to her children’s chagrin, who would prefer more food from a wrapper. See more of her work on her blog, 6512 and growing, about raising food and a family at 6512 feet.