breathing room for the holidays: your unique circumstances inform your unique capacity

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetOK, it’s time to start talking about how we’re going to go into the holidays with space instead of giving in to the inevitable squeeze, losing our breath, and winding up feeling strung out and bitter because the holidays happened at our own expense (not that I have any experience with this whatsoever).

Throughout the next two months, I’m going to be writing about how we can find some breathing room for the holidays. I’ll post, here and there, about how I’ve learned the hard way, how I’ve figured a very few things out, and what my mindset needs to be in order to emerge from the holidays FILLED instead of FLATTENED. (Again, not that I have any experience with this whatsoever).

NOW is the time to be thinking about your holiday commitments, rhythms, hopes, and dreams. Once it’s all in full swing, it’s kind of late to push the pause button. So NOW is the time to decide how you want to approach these next two months.

And here is the question we all need to consider:


Each year, I have a specific set of circumstances that is unique to my household. In 2006, Steve had been gone 10 months that year and had just returned right as we were headed into the holidays. In 2008, I had twins on December 23. In 2011 and 2012, we were in the Middle East for Christmas. In 2013, Steve had hip surgery in mid November and had to be completely non-weight bearing for 6 weeks.

Every single year, your household looks a tiny bit different. Maybe this year finances are tighter than usual. Maybe there’s a sick relative who needs extra care. Maybe this year someone lost their job. Or special family members can’t make the trip to your house like they normally do. Maybe this is your first Christmas in a new place or your last Christmas in a familiar place. Maybe your body hasn’t been cooperating like it has in years past and you don’t have the energy you normally do. Maybe this is your first Christmas without someone you deeply loved. Maybe your marriage is on the rocks. Or one of your kids is struggling.

Your household has some specific and unique circumstances this year. I would encourage you to take about 10 minutes and think through what your household is bringing into the holidays this year. Don’t assume that it’s business as usual. Don’t just push through this new normal. Consider this: If your circumstances are unique this year, then perhaps the ways you celebrate the holidays might need to be unique.

Certainly we want to honor our traditions, especially those that we agree mean so much to us. However, I think it would serve us to consider how our unique lives might need to inform our unique celebrations.

What do you need to let go of? What do you need to hold on to? (These two questions are almost always the path to breathing room, I’ve found.)

Last year, when Steve was on crutches and the couch for most of our holidays, it was clear that I would need to let go of a few things and/or ask for help if there were things that were important to me that I could not do on my own. I let go of Christmas lights on the outside of our house. But, I was not going to let go of having a live tree (mainly because we had spent the previous 2 years in the Middle East where live Christmas trees were not available).

Dear friends of ours were willing to go out and get a tree for us and put it up in our house. This felt like extravagant generosity . . . so much so that I felt like a burden. I didn’t want to need that kind of help. But, there I was. In need of that kind of help. So I received. And we had a gorgeous tree that the kids and I decorated while Steve supervised from the couch.

One of my very favorite things is a fire in our fireplace, and so I learned to split wood, and I hauled wood up from the woodpile so that I could make fires in our fireplace while Steve was out of commission. It was empowering, and it was a priority to me. But it meant that other things had to be sacrificed. We chose to stay close to home last year, for the most part, and not do as much out in the community as I might have preferred. We enjoyed that hard-won tree and the fires in the fireplace, and we didn’t go to every party and every event San Diego had to offer.

The two Christmases we were in the Middle East looked very different for us, obviously. No community events to attend. No Nutcracker. No Hallelujah Chorus. No parades, concerts, or streets full of lights. So, we were forced to let just about everything go. And, instead, we hosted a huge Christmas gathering at our house and asked everyone to bring a favorite holiday dish to share and we celebrated with a host of military friends and not much else. And it was more than enough. It was plenty.

So, you get the idea. Take a bit of time to consider what your unique capacity is this holiday season based on the unique circumstances of your family. And then begin to approach your plans, your commitments, and your expectations based on your reality.

What can you realistically ask of yourself? What can you realistically ask of your spouse? What can you realistically ask of your kids? What can you realistically ask of your extended family? What can you realistically ask of your friends?

Let’s commit to breathing room this year!!!

Please share your unique circumstances this holiday season and how that reality is affecting your unique capacity this year . . .


3 Responses to “breathing room for the holidays: your unique circumstances inform your unique capacity”

  1. Carolyn

    Thank you, thank you for this post. This is a very different year for our family. My son enlisted into the army this year and will spend Christmas in South Korea. This is the first time that we all have not been together. I have a daughter in college and a high school freshman. I had not thought about sitting down to re-evaluate how we do Christmas and what we need to do differently this year. Thank you.


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