Simple Ways to Restart (or Reset) Holiday Traditions

The time period between Halloween and New Year’s is always ripe with celebration, which also brings traditions, expectations, and statements like “but that’s how we’ve always done it.” This year, we’re heading into the first post-pandemic holiday season. While you might be excited to celebrate the holidays with friends and loved ones again, you might also feel a sense of dread creeping up. Holiday traditions, while often well-meaning, can also trigger things we don’t want to feel like anxiety, stress, and pressure.

Some families follow long-standing traditions because that is what they’re used to doing — the traditions have become a habit, something the whole family is expected to participate in without question and without change. This post-pandemic holiday season may actually be the perfect opportunity you need to help your family hit reset on those activities and break their tradition habit. 

As you talk about the whirlwind of plans you’ll make in the coming weeks, stop and think about things like what you actually want to do, who you actually want to spend time with, and how you want this time to be different than previous years. When you reflect on this, consider which holiday traditions you want to restart and which ones you want to reset.

Here are a few simple things you can do to restart the traditions you want to keep and reset the ones you want to break

Write a List

Start by writing down all of the things you usually do during the holiday season — include everything you can think of, like spending all of Thanksgiving Day with your family, shopping for you entire family (including your second cousins who you never see), attending every neighborhood holiday party, and baking for your kids’ holiday party at school. Once you have the whole list written down, separate the activities into two distinct categories:

  • Activities that fill me/make me happy/lift me up — these are the activities you’ll want to restart
  • Activities that drain me/stress me out— these are activities you’ll want to reset

Make Plans to Restart Some Traditions

Now that you have your list of activities that you want to restart, focus on those traditions first. Talk to your friends, neighbors, and family members about them and let them know how much you enjoy those traditions. Start making plans for them this year, either by yourself (like what you want to bake for your bestie’s traditional holiday gathering) or with them (like what theme you think would be fun for the white elephant gift exchange). The main purpose of this step is to really hone in on the things that fill you up this holiday season and intentionally direct your time, energy, and finances into these activities.

Get Creative to Reset Some Traditions

The next step is addressing the traditions that drain you or stress you out — these are the ones you want to reset. We recommend using a little creativity to mix up the old traditions or even start new traditions with your loved ones. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you love seeing your extended family for a holiday dinner but find the act of sitting down at a dinner table too stressful — recommend trying a buffet this year where everyone can eat when they want and come and go as they please.
  • If you love giving gifts to all your nieces and nephews but hate fighting the crowded stores — give each one a gift card to their favorite and then set a date to take each of them shopping. With this idea, you get to spend one-on-one time with them, too!
  • If you love being a holiday host but find all the prep and clean-up too unenjoyable, find ways to delegate certain tasks — hire someone to clean before the party, ask loved ones to bring their favorite dish, or even have a local restaurant cater your event. 

Compromise, Negotiate, or Just Say No

At the end of the day, it’s okay to set boundaries around certain holiday traditions that drain you emotionally, energetically, or financially. You may find that setting boundaries with family or friends helps you maintain your mental well-being over these next few weeks. Here are some examples of helpful ways to set boundaries during the holidays:

  • If attending the all-day family Thanksgiving celebration drains you, try going just for dinner.
  • If buying presents for your entire family will break your budget, let your family know that you’d prefer not to participate in the gift exchange this year.
  • If you’re expected to attend multiple holiday events with your friends, pick just one or two that are most important to you and decline the rest. You may find that you have a bit of FOMO in doing this, but saving yourself from the extra stress or anxiety will be well worth it.

Make Prioritizing Your Well-Being a Tradition

Your mental health is important all the time, but especially during the holiday season. This year, as you look at which traditions you want to restart and which ones you want to reset, consider how you can build traditions to use year after year that prioritize your own well-being. And if you find yourself feeling extra stressed, unmotivated, or anxious during the holiday season, it might be helpful to talk to someone about it, schedule an appointment with one of our therapists. We can help and we’re here for you.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.



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