Unfortunately, many of us have been taught by our consumer-oriented culture to think of Christmas as a time to give and get presents. Presents are the easy way out. But what do people really want and need at this time of the year?
Most people: Your friends, family members, and especially children need a relaxed and loving time with each other. Ironically, this is exactly what many people miss out on during this time.
Ask any child whether he would rather have exhausted, irritable parents and grandparents or ones who are responsive, happy, well rested and available to spend quality time with them, and you will see what I mean.
Many of us need to simplify our lives during the holiday season. This may mean not baking six types of Christmas cookies this year, or not attending all three Christmas concerts.
Ask yourself does this activity add something of value to your enjoyment of the season or is it just using up time, energy and money with no positive return?
Other questions to ask are: What do I really get out of this activity? Does it teach me something? Does this activity resonate with my values or is it just a distraction?
A significant way to simplify the holidays is to cut back on spending and gift buying. Children and others need realistic expectations about gifts. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles need to have an idea of what is enough - and firmly let the children on their list know that ahead of time.
If a child is voicing a desire for something you cannot afford or you do not approve of, let him/her know not to expect it and why. Many families set price limits on gifts, or give gifts only to smaller children.
For extended families, sometimes a gift for the whole family is more manageable than gifts for every cousin, aunt and uncle. If you don't have a gift giving budget and strategy already, now is a good time to put one together.
Try to focus on the pleasure of giving by talking with family members about ways you can give to others. Maybe preparing a plate of cookies for the man who begs in front of Hofer would be a fun activity. Or cleaning out the closet and bringing toys to refugees might be meaningful for your family.
It is important to have an evenly paced holiday season. Try to avoid a big build up to opening presents. If there is too much emphasis on presents, it can lead to serious over stimulation followed by a sense of let down and depression.
If Christmas is nothing more than a frantic build up to present-opening, people end up asking: Is that all there is?
For expats especially, it is important to establish strong family holiday traditions. Even if we spend Christmas in a different country every few years, our holiday traditions can provide us with a sense of continuity and togetherness.
Think about activities that inspire joy, express important values, bring people together and deepen your faith and spirituality. These are most likely meaningful traditions that you will want to keep from year to year.
Maybe writing a holiday newsletter together, making an “I am thankful” advent calendar, buying or making a new Christmas tree ornament each year, sponsoring a family in need, are Christmas traditions you might find enjoyable.
Counteract the commercialization of Christmas by planning a celebration that each of your family members and friends can participate in. Have a Christmas that is interactive and expresses what is important to you with those in your circle.
You will have more fun, be more relaxed, save money and will spare yourself and others close to you the emptiness of overconsumption.
Helen Rudinsky is a Marriage and Family Therapist serving couples, individuals and children in Vienna's expat community.