Avoid drama and get in the spirit with four tips for losing the negative attitude and low expectations, and designing your ideal holiday.

Can you imagine throwing a holiday dinner party and not preparing for it?

I mean, just imagine: It’s December 24. There’s a knock on the door. Your family arrives all dressed up for a party, and you are lying on the sofa watching a rerun of “Grey’s Anatomy” in your sweats. (Not even your good ones!) You offer (by pointing in the general direction of the kitchen) your guests a glass of red wine from a bottle you opened days earlier, which is starting to go south, and shout to them that they can help themselves to leftovers in the fridge.

Would you (if you weren’t in your early 20s) ever do that? Of course not! Well, guess what? Most of us arrive at holiday events so emotionally unprepared we might as well be unshowered and in our old sweats. I am referring to people not designing how they want their holiday to go and believing they have no control over what happens. Good newsit’s not true! And I’m going to give you four tips on how to prepare for the holidays with your family and make it is as great and connected as it can be, no matter what your situation.


1. Design your holiday.

Have a vision of your holiday. Sit down with a piece of paper or your iWhatever, and write out how you want your holiday to unfold. Write it in the present tense and be specific. Don’t slip negative digs into your dream, for example, “My mom doesn’t drive my sister to tears this year.” Instead, write, “My family is happy and connected, and we have the best Christmas ever.” Spell it out. It’s your holiday. And then see what promises and actions you can put into place so you can realize your (that’s the operative word) dream.

A few years ago, my family had to make a promise related to presents. You see, very Hanukkah, we do a “Secret Santa” exchange with family and friends where each person pulls a name out of a hat and then buys that person a gift. One year, we created a rule that the person who bought the lamest gift owed a second one. Needless to say, a fight ensued over the lameness of someone’s present. People took sides. Granted, the gift wasn’t awesome, but there was no need to turn Hanukkah into a Jerry Springer show. Once everyone made up, we implemented a new promise that the holidays are about giving and you must love what you get (no matter how lame the gift might be).

We haven’t had an issue since.

So don’t hesitate to establish rules, especially if there are things you are worried about. For example, if mixing wine and politics creates loud, heated debates in your family, then you gracefully, compassionately and lovingly have a conversation with the two main political instigators in your family prior to the holidays and ask them for a moratorium on politics this holiday season (particularly this one!).

2. Expect the expected, and don’t get annoyed when it happens.

Sometimes the holidays can feel like déjà vu. For example, it’s Hanukkah and your dad is telling the same story he tells every year, while your mother is on her third potato pancake, explaining how great she has been doing on her diet. Instead of going down the same rabbit hole you do every year, stop and consider how to make the same scene fun. Don’t get annoyed. Have a sense of humor. Laugh, even. This requires a lot of perspective and compassion, but when you lighten up about the negative tendencies of your family, you can lighten up about yours too. That gives you a way better chance of intervening in both. Grow up your emotional intelligence. The difference between “So what? They are cute, and I have my own version of those tendencies” and “How could they be this screwed up?” is where your personal choice lives.

Choose to see the good and let some things slide.

3. Beware of any pity parties you feel you are entitled to throw yourself this year.

Self-judgment is very popular over the holidays, especially as we compare our current lives with where we were last holiday season or if we believe we aren’t where we should be. If you’re disappointed in some area of your life, trust me, you’re not alone. Everyone is disappointed about something from this past year. Luckily, even though the end of the year seems final, it’s not. Time is a continuum, and today is just as good a day as any to start a better habit or to stop berating yourself (it does no good anyway).

In the meantime, when you’re with the family, here’s a trick: Stop focusing on yourself, and pay attention to what’s going on with the people around you. My husband sometimes has to remind me to shift my focus this way. He’ll say, “It’s not about you, Lauren.” Maybe someone you’re close to could remind you of that if you forget.

4. Take on the holiday spirit, and kill the Scrooge in you.

It’s easy to dazzle people during the holiday season, and I’m not talking about buying expensive gifts for everyone. I’m referring to doing something special that will make people happy. Figure out what festive thing you can do that will surprise people. For example, bake a holiday dish for your new neighbors you haven’t met yet. Or volunteer to help your husband do something that will totally surprise him like clean out the garage, or go to a horror movie he is dying to see but you would rather pass on. There are so many potential options to be festive and fun this holiday season. You still have time. Start today and end your year with a bang, not a “bah, humbug.”

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Photo credit: AlexMaster, Adobe Stock; Jovana Rikalo, Stocksy; Purestock, Thinkstock; Bonninstudio, Stocksy