With the holidays fast approaching, many of us are feeling our stress levels ramp up as we hit the malls, plan meals and figure out how to celebrate in more than one place at once. The holiday season has become a hotly contested, revenue-generating race to the finish, leaving most of us feeling exhausted and more than ready for a little holiday vacation and an excuse to munch on ham and pie.

And yet, this is the time of year when it seems the whole world, regardless of race or religion, takes a deep breath and a step back. Or at least it used to be. In fact, back in 1914, as war raged in what would be known as ‘the war to end all wars’, Christmas found British and German troops who were facing off at the front spontaneously declare an unofficial ceasefire. In those short, golden moments, soldiers exchanged holiday greetings and what food they had, chatted with each other and sang Christmas carols, before going back to the job at hand: fighting a war.

If soldiers at the front can find meaning in the holidays, you can too. Here are some suggestions to help make your holiday season more personal and meaningful to you and the people you care about. 


give back

Whether you’re a single in a new city, or the matriarch of a large, extended family, the real meaning of the holidays lies in helping and spending time with others. Find a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen that needs volunteers and offer your time and energy to making the holidays a little brighter for others. Or offer to deliver gift boxes to families in need. You may find new, like-minded friends and teach the young (and not-so-young) people in your life the true meaning of the holidays.  

You can help others at work, too. Instead of a ‘Secret Santa’ draw, why not suggest pooling all your resources and donating to toy drive. Better still, find a day where your team can get together and volunteer at a food bank together. Not only will you all benefit from working together for a good cause, you’ll regain some of your personal perspective on what the holidays mean to you.

make your own holiday gifts

Perhaps your holiday budget is limited or you’re struggling to find the perfect gift for the person who already has everything. Think about making some or all of your gifts this year. Talented with a needle and thread? Can you wield a spatula like a pro? Think outside the box and offer an experiential gift. Concert, event or theatre tickets perhaps? A day of high-end window shopping including a delicious lunch? Child, dog or cat sitting? An offer to clean out their basement or garage? If there’s a senior in your life, offer to spend time sorting through boxes of old photos – and embrace the recollections and stories that come with it. Better still, find a way to record those recollections and bring a well-lived history back to life.

manage your expectations

Don’t buy into the Christmas special hoopla popularized by Hallmark and Lifetime. For most us, the holidays can be overwhelming if we let them. If you haven’t been struck by the holiday spirit, that’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with you. Take the holidays – and gifts – if, and as they come. That way, you’ll be able to really enjoy what does come along, the people you get to spend time with and if you’ve been good, the gifts people give you. Remember, gifts don’t just come wrapped in red and green paper; there isn’t a box big enough to hold kindness, empathy, compassion, peace of mind and laughter.

start your own traditions

There are many versions of what a family is; customize your traditions to yours. If you’re trying to figure out how to spend the holiday with both sets of in-laws (who live in different cities), think about hosting the day at your house and, if health and circumstances allow, invite your family to visit you. Or celebrate at home and FaceTime your relatives so they’re part of the festivities. Today’s technologies go a long way to bring families together for important occasions. Think about what will bring you and your family the greatest sense of holiday spirit, and then get creative about making it happen. This is especially important in families of divorce or blended families. Holiday time isn’t about differences or long-held resentments; instead, the opposite is true.

be grateful

It’s hard, if not impossible, to feel grateful and angry at the same time. In fact, experts say the two emotions are mutually exclusive. They define gratitude as a conscious state of appreciation, the ability to maintain a positive state of mind even in the face of difficulties and disappointments. Sounds lovely, but what if you can’t be with your significant other or family during the holidays, or if you’ve just lost your job? Psychologists suggest you focus on what you have, not what’s missing. It seems everyone, regardless of circumstance, income or social status, can develop gratitude muscles.

You may not find the real meaning of the holiday season where or the way you expect to. But by being open to new experiences, to new ways of defining and celebrating what this time of year means to you, you may be surprised to uncover its real value.

want more career tips and resources? sign up for our newsletter.