Setting intentions for a meaningful holiday season

What is it we really want out of the holidays, and what needs to change to get us there? 

I love the spirit of the holidays, and I especially love to give and receive gifts. I spend a lot of time thinking about what to give someone and try to zero in on the perfect gift for my loved ones each holiday.

The moment when someone opens a gift I’ve given them and they receive it with excitement and enthusiasm is the ultimate expression of love, in my opinion. 

Yet, almost without fail, I succumb to disappointment at the holidays, overwhelmed by the frantic nature of the clutter in my house, a sea of dirty dishes, and experiencing mismatched expectations and reality. 

As we gently ease into the holiday season this year, I’m setting better intentions for this year’s holiday season. What is it that I really want out of these days, out of this season, and what needs to change to get us there?

Answering this question means drilling down past the actions, the traditions and activities to the values they encompass. When I think about the holidays, they’re inextricably linked with the way I felt during the holidays of my childhood: hopeful, connected and valued.

This holiday, I want to seek opportunities for my family and myself to experience these values, and it may mean certain traditions get sidelined in the process.

There are a myriad of things that made me feel hopeful during the holiday seasons of my childhood. There’s the inherent hope that comes with my faith, that the spirit of God will inhabit our hearts and that the kingdom will be here on earth.

There’s an anticipation of beloved traditions that we only embrace once a year. There’s an eagerness that a longed-for gift might be under the tree. There’s an expectation that comes with the incoming new year of new life and new opportunities. 

Hope lives in the tension of waiting, it arises out of a longing; we hope for what we do not yet have. If I want to spark hope in my heart, in the hearts of my family members this year, then I must foster opportunities for us to wait.

That speaks to me particularly this year, as I often strive to make every day of November and December magical with too many holiday activities. This year, instead, I’ll embrace opportunities to linger in the discomfort of waiting. 

Reflecting upon what made me feel connected as a child, I remember time spent around the dining room table playing board games at holidays, meals shared, and my grandparents showering love and attention upon me. I forget sometimes how connection doesn’t automatically happen just because people are gathered. 

To feel more connected as an adult, I need to seek out opportunities to show love and attention upon others, find activities around which to engage, and be present for those interactions even if they don’t come easily.

I need to worry less about checking all of the traditions off the list and instead spend my energy on showing up for the people around me and letting them show up for me too.

Giving gifts is all about showing people they’re valued. Taking the time to think about, shop for, spend money, wrap and give a gift, to me, is an opportunity to express love generously and meaningfully.

Gift giving isn’t about buying something expensive or giving something because it’s expected, it’s about knowing the person well and giving them something tangible to represent that bond. 

However, gifts are not the only way to show or receive value. In particular during the holidays, I can tune out all the other ways someone might communicate value: through acts of service, through time spent together, through affection, and through kind words.

This year, my aim is to stay open to these other love languages, and speak them to the people in my life who primarily receive love in other ways than I do.

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.