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The Holiday Survival Guide: How to Make a Memorable Experience in a Good Way

11/2/17 by Doug O'Neill

The holiday season can be a wonderful time of year. The annual trip back to your childhood home, sharing gifts and stories with your family, and eating lots of good food around the dinner table are all experiences that create memories to last a lifetime. But traveling across the country, seeing that uncle who only wants to talk about politics, and figuring out who is going to *cook * all of that delicious food can be incredibly stressful, too.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. At the end of the day, we all want our holiday gatherings to be meaningful and special for everyone involved. It’s what University of Delaware Professor Pat Tanner Nelson calls "family glue." According to Tanner Nelson, who’s a Family & Human Development Specialist, “family glue are those moments that connect the members of the family and help build healthy relationships. These times together makes the whole family stronger."

So, what is the recipe for a memorable, successful family holiday gathering that’s stress-free and creates long-lasting memories for everyone? Here are a few ideas.

1. Get everyone involved – including children

Including the kids will help them feel more invested in the activity at hand.
    Nathan Wolfe
Including the kids will help them feel more invested in the activity at hand. Nathan Wolfe

Tanner Nelson says that "being involved in the planning and executing of fun family activities helps create the ‘family glue.’" Get everyone’s input when planning annual holiday gatherings. Ask a new member of the clan (perhaps someone who has recently married into the family) to share one of their holiday traditions. Ditto for the kids. Inviting input from everyone increases the likelihood of a holiday gathering that resonates with everyone – and no family member feels left out.

2. Manage expectations

Many people expect the magic of their childhood holidays to repeat itself decades later. Such expectations aren’t realistic, says Florida-based family counselor Tom Eggebrecht. "It’s very difficult to replicate the past, so don’t expect things to be the way they were before. Things change," he says. “Accept that change with lower expectations of the way things will be and you will have a much happier holiday.” Keep a sense of humor and go with the flow.

3. Don’t over-program

Food can be the best part about gathering for the holidays, but don’t overdo it.
    Jez Timms
Food can be the best part about gathering for the holidays, but don’t overdo it. Jez Timms

Over-scheduling too many family dinners, cultural outings, and festive open houses can create stress and conflict. Just how many brunches can one family attend on Boxing Day? Putting in a 30-minute appearance at Aunt Betty’s annual wine-and-cheese and then quickly dashing off to the in-law’s tree-decorating party before heading to the kids’ school concert will leave everyone exhausted (and probably pretty grumpy, too). Make sure there is some unscheduled time for those two magic words: doing nothing.

4. The less baggage, the better

No, this doesn’t refer to emotional baggage but actual luggage. Battling busy airports and stuffed suitcases is stressful enough when traveling over the holidays. (And don’t forget about those baggage fees!) Who needs the added stress of carting a 30-lb gift set of language dictionaries? Consider an ExOfficio gift card instead and everyone will be happy.

5. Find some "me" time

It’s okay to take a break from the family.
    Stephen Di Donato
It’s okay to take a break from the family. Stephen Di Donato

Not everyone is a social butterfly. Some family members require time on their own, even if it’s 30 minutes of quiet in an empty room.

6. Get enough sleep

Invariably, someone draws the shortest straw and ends up on the futon beside the twinkling Christmas tree. It might be pretty when you first lay down, but not so much at 2 a.m. and everyone is getting up in a few hours. You don’t have to be a sleep expert to know that less sleep = grumpy human.

7. Spend some time outside

It never hurts to spend some time in nature.
    Tuce
It never hurts to spend some time in nature. Tuce

National Geographic recently documented the growing tradition of "forest bathing," inspired by the Japanese tradition of Shinrin-yoku, and the principle that spending time in nature reduces stress, blood pressure, and lowers your heart rates In short: it’s beneficial for families to get out of the house, go for a hike in the woods, enjoy an intergenerational hour or two in the local park or, like the Japanese, stand still in a forest of trees and relax.

8. Volunteer together

Bonding over community service—whether that’s a few hours in a food bank or visiting the elderly in a retirement home—is a stress-free, feel-good way to connect with one another. It can create lasting memories, especially if you find a cause that is near and dear to your family’s heart.

9. What has changed since last year?

Be especially aware if any family members need a little extra support this holiday season.
Be especially aware if any family members need a little extra support this holiday season. Seattle Parks

Be mindful of the major life events that have transpired in the lives of others since the last family gathering. The holidays can be difficult for anyone who’s lost a loved one, got laid off from their job, or endured a breakup. It’s possible that certain family members will require a little extra TLC this season.

The psychological benefits of gratitude have been well-documented, so take a moment at the end of the annual family gathering to say thanks to the hosts and express gratitude for being together – for the best gift of all, family.

Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.