Day 1: Set your intentions
Hello and welcome to Day 1 of the 12 calm days of Christmas! I have a little three-part challenge for you today that I hope will help put you in the mood and on the path for a happier, calmer, more accepting time this season.
Shall we get started?
Many of us adore the idea of Christmas. It's that magical time of year when the focus is on love and generosity, a time to stop and appreciate the people in our lives and spend genuine time with them. In the northern hemisphere, this coincides with darkening days and lengthening nights: more time spent inside with loved ones, comfort food, and the warm glow of candlelight. In the southern hemisphere, Christmas coincides with the beginning of summer: school holidays stretch out before us, families start planning vacations, we subsist on watermelon and mangoes, and everyone just - walks - slower.
Ever year as I turn the calendar over to November, I start thinking about Christmas and what I want to do, what I want to create for my children, and how I want to spend time with the people I love. In my head, this ideal, imagined Christmas always has three key ingredients: good food, a festive environment, and fun times with the people I love. I picture a house that smells of pine and orange and cloves, and my family and dear friends all around me. Our bellies are full from wonderful food (that I have cooked from scratch, naturally) and now the adults sip mulled wine as we all sing silly seasonal songs. Basically, I am inside the movie You've Got Mail. Like this:
But as November rolls into December, the weather heats up and so do the stress levels. My slow and festive plans meet challenge after challenge: standing in line for an hour in a busy shopping mall with miserable toddlers, waiting to sit them on the knee of a sweaty Santa flanked by moving electronic reindeer with maniacal red eyes. Rushing to pick up clothes from the dry-cleaner to go to yet another corporate Christmas party full of people I barely know. Eating greasy take-out or Vegemite toast on the non Christmas-party days, because I'm too tired to cook. My house is a mess, and full of stuff: tinsel, snow globes, broken baubles, half-wrapped presents.
Deadlines, deadlines: clients desperate for work to be completed before the end of the year. Ferrying the children from one end-of-year concert to the next end-of-year party to another, and another. Tensely held-together manners as families grapple and manoeuvre for who will host what meal on Christmas day. Shopping: shopping for food, shopping for presents, shopping for wrapping paper, shopping for cards, shopping for decorations, shopping for clothes to wear to all those Christmas parties. Taxi here, Uber there (the babysitter is late again!). And such terrible, terrible traffic on the roads...
Does this sound like a version of your Christmas reality, too? To kick off the first day of Christmas, I thought it could be really helpful to refocus. Big breath in... big breath out... To set our intentions firmly on what we love about Christmas, and hopefully to shrug off some of the elements that cause us stress.
Are you ready for today's challenge? It comes in three parts:
Step 1: WRITE DOWN 12 THINGS THAT MAKE YOUR CHRISTMAS HAPPY
These should be things you either do or want to do, or things you remember. But they should all be attainable. So for example I dream of a white Christmas but the forecast is for 35 degrees today, so snow just won't be on my list. The list should contain all things - big or small - that you can theoretically obtain. Here's my list:
- Spend leisure time with my family
- Make a Christmas pudding
- Handmade gifts for the children's teachers
- Host loved ones for meals
- Only buy meaningful, ethical presents
- Send Christmas cards to friends & family
- Hand-make decorations with the children
- Bake and decorate sugar cookies with the children
- Involve the children in some kind of charity/giving
- A slow, relaxed Christmas morning
- Watch Christmas movies (especially "Love Actually" and "Elf")
- Read more books, over Christmas-New Year break
If you want to, use the worksheet at the end of this email to make your own list. You don't need 12 items exactly, you can list more or less, just list enough until you can start to articulate, to yourself, what you're wanting to achieve in order to have a happy Christmas. What are the things that make Christmas happy for you?
Step 2: SELECT THREE ACHIEVABLE THINGS FROM YOUR LIST
You can't do everything, and that's ok! Look over your list and pull out just three things that would help you enjoy Christmas this year. Maybe you'll get to the others on your list, maybe you won't. But if you do three things on your list, that will help you get into the spirit of Christmas this year, without feeling the pressure of doing all the festive things.
For example, I know that while I want to hand-make gifts for my children's teachers (it's on my list), trying to do so would be hugely stressful at this late stage. But buying boxes of chocolates for them would take me away from my intention of only buying meaningful, ethical gifts (also, I know the teachers get overwhelmed by all the sweet stuff - you wouldn't think that was possible but once 40 families each give you a box of Streets Assorted, you might change your tune)... so instead, I am going to write the teachers a heartfelt card to thank them for caring for my children.
Some of the things on my list that I definitely can do this year are: watch my favourite Christmas movies; host friends for dinner (we do this every year and get organised as early as September); take the children shopping for charity presents; be more mindful in the gifts I buy.
Step 3: COMPARE THIS LIST WITH YOUR REALITY
Now that you have listed the things that would make your Christmas happy, think about the things you are actually doing, and consider how you could change things up a little bit to bring your reality a little closer to your Christmas dream.
Before you make more Christmassy plans or take more Christmassy actions, think first: will this take me closer to, or further from, my happy Christmas?
Let's make some promises (to ourselves). List three things you normally do at Christmas that didn't make it onto your happy list. Now stop doing them this year!
So, for example, a photograph of my kids with Santa is not actually something that made it onto my list. It's cute but, it turns out, not something I need in order to make my Christmas happy. So why am I enduring the stress of the mall and the electronic reindeer and the sweaty man to make it happen? I can just take that one off my list.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT
Sometimes, there are things we need to do - or that others expect of us - that take away from our "happy Christmas" lists, but which we can't avoid. Obligation is a tough one, and a much bigger emotional quagmire than any of us wants to take on today. But to help you make peace with those obligations, if you really feel you can't say no, I'd suggest searching for ways you can reframe those obligations into actions that ultimately serve the bigger picture of your happy Christmas.
So, for example: I'd love to spend more time at home baking sugar cookies and making decorations, rather than attending concerts and parties. I'm quite an introverted person, and while I love people, I find big parties truly exhausting. For me, they are the opposite of peace and calm. But the people I love want me to be at those concerts and parties, so I choose to reframe them in line with my list. At the very top of my list I've written "spend more time with my family," so I'll do that at the concerts and parties. I might have chosen to spend that time a different way, but it's not all about me! (Shocker, I know). Reframing it helps me make my peace with it.
Now it's your turn! Use the worksheet linked below, to help you set your intentions for the next 12 days. It will help you articulate the things that make Christmas happy for you, and help you identify the things you can change to redirect your Christmas to be closer in line with that goal, while also accepting that there are some things you just can't do or change.
This is a much longer email than the others that will follow, because I wanted to set things up and help us all get our heads in the right place. Tomorrow's will be short, sweet, and very achievable. I promise!
In the meantime, I'd LOVE to hear from you. Let me know how you go setting your intentions, and how you might be able to refocus your Christmas to be more in line with the things you love. Just email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you tomorrow!