Christmas season is one of the best opportunities to celebrate throughout the year. Yet, we often take it for granted or treat it as yet another task on our to-do list. I wrote this article to give you ideas on how to make the best out of this year’s Christmas celebration.
According to the findings in positive psychology, the fact that good things happen to us doesn’t automatically mean that we feel happier.
It is how we approach our personal achievements, compliments we receive or an opportunity for a lazy Saturday morning that matters. For our long-term wellbeing, it matters at least as much as our ways of coping with failure and difficult emotions.
“With coping, our thoughts and behaviours dampen or cut short bad feelings from negative events. With savouring, on the other hand, thoughts and behaviours generate, intensify, or prolong positive feelings in response to positive events.” — Fred Bryant
The ability to savour and celebrate is what breeds the most empowering feelings — and enables us to pass them on to others. It is possibly the only known “skill” which can virtually make more of happiness. The upcoming Christmas is one of the best and most socially convenient opportunities to celebrate throughout the year.
I want to encourage you to give Christmas another chance (if you haven’t done so yet), or to simply look for new ways to enhance this celebration. Christmas doesn’t have to be just another to-do list, consisting of shopping, cleaning, cooking and social obligations. Instead, you can choose to recognize it as a blissful occasion to celebrate life and your personal accomplishments of the passing year.
This is the time to acknowledge yourself for all the efforts you have made and all you have achieved. You can also acknowledge your loved ones for doing their best in both supporting you and pursuing their own lives. You can simply appreciate a moment of pause, a good meal, cosiness of your house. You can cut out everyday distractions.
Possible reasons and ways of celebrating are endless — only you know what they are for you.
How is celebrating different from partying?
While the consumption-based culture seems to still be shaping much of our daily life, many of us are searching to experience something beyond the material realm. Some call it “spiritual experiences”, others “deep connection with others” or “getting in touch with yourself”. But it seems that, at the core, it is about attaining some kind of a feeling we are all after.
Celebration is exactly about that: intentionally making more of the feelings which we crave in our lives. It is a chance for us to pick something we are grateful for, feel the gratitude and spread it by sharing with others.
We often think we do this by going out for a round of drinks or throwing a big party to mark an occasion such as birthday or promotion. And while a party certainly can be a celebration — it doesn’t have to be. In my opinion, there is a remarkable difference between the two.
Celebration is a significantly long and conscious pause, which allows you to distance yourself from the events of everyday life — while appreciating them at the same time. Its purpose is rest and re-charging your batteries. It is also the time when you pay attention and feel grateful, both for what happened in the past and for what is unfolding in the present moment. A celebration is often connected to sharing a joyful experience with people close to your heart, whom you wish the best. It is also a chance to savour simple, sensual pleasures — such as food, drink, space, company of others, candlelight, music…
The focus of a celebration is usually an inward one, and it prioritizes the feeling, the spirit and one’s personal approach to life’s events. Celebration is supposed to transform ordinary circumstances into something special.
Party, on the other hand, is often about entertainment and stimulating yourself with various “extras”: unusual space, loud music, substances such as alcohol or drugs, excessive amounts of food. Its purpose is more directed towards “forgetting yourself” in a busy experience of dancing, noise, meaningless conversations and/or intoxication. Although we often party in the company of others, it is more akin to just sticking together as parts of the same herd, rather than strengthening bonds between its members. When we party in that way, with an overwhelming amount of stimulants, we are likely to remain in our unconscious behavioural patterns — rather than consciously appreciating what is currently going on.
The focus of a party is often on the outward circumstances and creating an unusual setup, which is supposed to make us feel extraordinary.
This is not to say that celebration is good and partying — bad; perhaps sometimes getting distracted by a number of stimulants is exactly what one requires. However, it seems to me that holding a meaningful celebration has greater potential to infuse love, gratitude and peace of mind into our experience — the qualities so many of us are looking for.
The benefits of celebrating
“Celebration signals to your subconscious — and your inner critic — that you are thankful for the progress you are making toward your dream.” — Alice Chan
In its essence, a celebration is a ritual of pure enjoyment, in which we allow ourselves to savour the good sides of life. To perform this ritual, we often use a positive life event or accomplishment as a pretext — but the core of celebration lies in the very activities we do when we celebrate. In other words, a celebration is majorly about getting to enjoy the present moment.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the event you chose to celebrate. It can be a promotion at work, but it can also be going through a difficult day with your head up high. It can be your kid’s first spoken word or the fact that you are having a quiet evening with your whole family at home.
It is great fun to actively search for opportunities to celebrate. By doing it, you become more aware of all the positive sides of your life. And here comes the first big benefit of celebration — tuning your mind into the positive, the successful, the abundant.
The next benefit which makes celebrating worthwhile is gratitude.
“Gratitude has been conceptualized as an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill, and an attitude. It is all of these and more. Minimally, gratitude is an emotional response to a gift. It is the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act” — Emmons & Crumpler
Gratitude is a big topic these days. Numerous psychologists and coaches work out special strategies to increase the overall level of gratitude in people’s lives. Celebration can do just about the same.
According to some findings in positive psychology, having your own way to savour events of life is key to enhance your wellbeing. The reason behind it is the gratitude and appreciation which naturally occur during a celebration.
This is important because it isn’t enough to simply know how to “cope” with the difficult stuff in order to enjoy life.
As Fred Bryant has put it: Just because you are not down doesn’t mean you’re up. And just because good things happen doesn’t mean you necessarily enjoy or appreciate them.
The “good” things in life are not good objectively — they will only be good for us if we choose to see them as such. For this reason, it is crucial to allow ourselves an occasion to acknowledge the positive aspects of life. This is how gratitude is born.
“Sharing is the strongest predictor of the level of enjoyment someone feels. In fact, studies of people’s reactions to positive life events have found that people who share their positive feelings with friends have higher levels of overall happiness than people who do not share their feelings.” — Fred Bryant
A big part of enjoying a meaningful celebration lies in sharing. It can be sharing food, space, mood, thoughts, game or anything else. It is about giving, but also receiving from others. When people consciously find themselves in the same joyful experience, they are more likely to empathise and understand each other’s needs and feelings.
This is a way of strengthening bonds with our important ones.
Moreover, when we organise an event that pleases us as well as others, we learn how to multiply our own joy and pass it on. Imagine yourself achieving one of your biggest dreams. Imagine that you feel enormously happy, grateful, worthy, successful and generous — and you want to share these feelings with other people in your life.
You may decide to rearrange your flat to make it look special and spend the day preparing an evening meal. You do it not because you have to — but because you want to. Because you feel great and empowered, you want to provide other people with an opportunity to feel the same. That’s why you decide to organise a celebration in which you can all meet each other, relax, unwind and do something enjoyable together.
Through sharing a joyful experience, celebration becomes a gift to others and to yourself at the same time.
Last winter bloggers and lifestyle journalists all around the world got caught up by the Danish concept of hygge. While it is difficult to grasp its meaning in a short definition, here is what it feels like in the context of celebration.
“To hygge is to create an enclosing circle of warmth — by establishing an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere and a single point of focus to secure and celebrate a passing moment. The primal comfort of an open fire and good company on a dark night are the epitome of hygge.” — Louisa Thomsen Brits
Hygge appears when people choose to hold space for each other by consciously being in the same experience. It is the pleasant state in which you don’t have to be concerned about all of the past or future moments. What matters is happening in front of your eyes. A celebration infused with the spirit of hygge reminds you about this simple truth.
Rather than from glittery decorations or unusual food, hygge comes from the way in which we choose to be with each other and with ourselves. This state of being is closely related to the attitude of acceptance and… letting go.
Christmas holidays often come along with tensions arising when we see certain relatives, who might trigger difficult emotions in us. Part of the celebration is learning how to let go of those tensions — as well as of our habitual strive for perfection, having things our way or impressing others.
It doesn’t mean you should pretend that all those conflicts, thoughts and emotions don’t occur. Just the opposite — a true celebration is an occasion for allowing yourself to admit what is really going on. By permitting any experience that arises, it becomes easier to distance yourself from it and let it to.
When comes to potential tensions at the Christmas table, the attitude of “letting go” allows you to notice another important truth: the conflict is just the surface of things. But beneath this surface, we usually have more in common than not.
How to make Christmas celebration more meaningful
During a well-established festival, such as Christmas, there is plenty of things you can do to make the experience unforgettable for everyone involved. The good news is that it doesn’t require any special skills — only a willingness to do so.
If you want to turn this year’s Christmas into a meaningful celebration, here are some ideas to try out.
1. Decide what feeling you want to infuse.
In her article about celebration, dr Suzanne Degges-White talks about 10 traits described as keys to better-quality life by the Vedic tradition. Those traits are: Fearlessness, Truthfulness, Generosity, Forgiveness, Nonattachment, Patience, Compassion, Peacefulness, Joy and Surrender. Suzanne encourages to decide which of those qualities you want to have more of during your celebration.
Setting an intention for how you would like to feel during holiday time will help you orchestrate your later activities so that they can work towards the intended state.
2. Make time just for the celebration.
This means: don’t try to “mix in” irrelevant activities into your celebration time. For example, you might be tempted to try to catch up on work, your fitness goals or spring-clean the house — because it is easier to find the time for it during Christmas. In my opinion, it is a trap — unless the fitness activities or cleaning genuinely feel celebratory to you.
Make your holiday time sacred. Christmas is one of those rare occasions throughout the year when it is socially acceptable to do nothing “productive”. Use this opportunity wisely and check whether you can still do things just for the sake of doing them, and not as a means to achieve some kind of a goal.
3. Manage your social media time.
But take it easy — there’s no need to radically unplug from all your social channels. Besides, it is rather natural that you will want to be in touch with friends and family during holidays, send them greetings and arranging hang-outs. Instead of giving it up completely, manage the time you spend on social media.
The easiest way to do it is deciding on three times a day when you will be checking your updates — and replying to them straight away. It can be first thing in the morning, after lunch and then just before or after your evening meal. This will enable you to be present wherever you physically are, and at the same time stay in touch with whoever you want to.
4. Make the preparations a part of the celebration.
If you are organising a gathering, do it in the most enjoyable way possible. It is already a part of the whole experience of your holidays — why not make it fun for yourself?
Define how a Christmas celebration should look like to you — and act accordingly. You hate cooking? Ask your guests to bring something to eat with them, buy simple snacks, and focus on decorating the place or picking amazing music instead. You can also ask someone to help you with the preparations to make it more enjoyable.
Ultimately, remind yourself that it is not about perfection — most of the time, your guests will enjoy anything you provide. The most important is for you to take pleasure in organising the celebration — only then will you be able to create a genuinely uplifting, holiday spirit.
5. Initiate a conversation about what you are grateful for.
It is certainly fun to allow conversation at the dinner table to flow freely in various directions. But a controlled format of a Christmas meeting, such as a circle exchange, has its benefits, too.
During one of the holiday meals, try a little experiment with your friends or family. Propose a circle exchange, in which anyone who feels like speaking will get a chance to talk about the things they appreciated in 2018. It is important that once someone starts speaking, they can continue for as long as they like without interruptions from others.
With this exercise, everyone gets a chance to experience how it feels to talk about the good stuff — and to be heard at the same time.
6. Slow down.
The purpose of a celebration is to be able to savour each moment — so rushing anything defies this purpose. It is often easy to forget it when we get caught up in the stream of pre-holiday preparations and we want to have everything done on time.
The way to untangle from this web of doings is to remind yourself again about the concept of letting go. After all, what is the worst that can happen if you prepare a two-, instead of a three-course meal? Or if bookshelves don’t get dusted before the arrival of the guests?
If you let go of the perfectionism and hurrying, it will be easier to appreciate all the Christmas activities — including cleaning. Give yourself time and space to do everything at your own pace, and you are already celebrating!
7. Find an existing ritual and celebrate it.
“At its core, a ritual is simply a way to set aside some time to bring a family together. And I can’t think of anything more valuable in today’s environment.” — Barbara Fiese
A holiday ritual doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it might be such a simple and obvious activity that you don’t even notice it anymore. And this is exactly what makes it a ritual. Your only job is to identify it and appreciate it as a part of the celebration.
In my case, it is making dumplings with my grandma and aunt on Christmas Eve. Each year we establish what we call a “dumpling manufacture” in the kitchen, where my grandma prepares the dough, my aunt stuffs the dumplings and I close them. It became such a habitual thing to do over the years, that I wasn’t even aware of the special role it had in our celebration. But once I recognized it as a well-established ritual that we perform each Christmas, I became much more appreciative and eager to savour it.
In the end, the whole celebration is one big ritual. Experiencing its power doesn’t have to come from performing any magical or religious activities. Its potential often stems from simply doing what you always do —provided that you tend to it with an attitude of conscious appreciation.
When you start treating something as a ritual — it becomes one.
The same is true for the spirit of celebration. It is not necessarily about doing something “special” which, in turn, is going to make you feel special. Of course, making it a little extraordinary is nice and adds to the celebration. But the essence of the festival spirit comes from your attitude.
When you learn how to create the spirit of celebration inside of yourself, even a little candle or a bottle of cheap wine can turn into a feast.