“Watch out for the pieces of broken glass,” my husband says to me as I discover some of my favorite Christmas snow globes shattered on the floor. The holidays can emotionally feel that way sometimes.

Navigating feelings and people that have the potential to cause pain rather than joy in the season is daunting. I find the standards set by Christmas channels and perfectionist cooking shows is too high. The Christmas picture may not look so perfect trying to put broken pieces of relationships back together or tiptoeing through sharp shards of conditioned words and other’s expectations just to make a way through the holidays. Perhaps family expectations and our own standards set by what other people think come at too high of a cost.


My Christmas snow globes brought me so much beauty and joy each year. They are gone much like friends and family members I have loved and who have passed; now making celebrating without them a holiday forever changed. This time of year may be a time for grieving those who are not with us anymore. Negative feelings and anxiety may intensify being around unhealthy family members that create an imbalance in the Norman Rockwell picture.

I am reminded this year, I can create places of joy and love for myself by having the perspective of no or low expectations. Saying “yes” to experiences that fill my spirit, being OK with my emotions and creating new traditions are strategies that enable me to keep the meaning of the season alive.

Social pressures can be unbearable. Television images that portray perfect families, beautifully decked-out homes and materialistic dreams may not be helpful. When I am surrounded by music and tinseled merchandise in every store and restaurant that is not easy to escape, I can remember to ask myself questions and make some choices about what kind of experience I want to create for myself this year. How do I stay aware of boundaries I need to set for myself in order to prevent burn out and resentment?

I have heard myself lately encouraging others by saying, “Love and happiness from external sources seldom satisfies ... look within.”

As the holidays approach, I find myself reflecting on the fact that for so many people the season is not a positive one. I could have chosen to write a feel-good piece sugar-coated with holiday cheer, but a little dose of reality isn’t necessarily a bad endeavor. So instead of asking what I look most forward to during the holidays, I’m choosing to ask, what is my least favorite anticipation of the season? My answer is expectations.

I’ve challenged myself to act on self-reflection to create ways to fill my spirit. When I realize I have the power to choose, I’ve noticed a decrease in anxiety connected to social expectations and a relieved joy to make the season truly peaceful. I’ve learned to ask myself, what do I want? What do I need? What will keep me balanced and conserve my energy? What aspects drain me? What fills me? And because like many other families, our family has lost loved ones close to the holidays, these times of celebration will feel different, but not necessarily joyless.

Learning I have choices to create the joy and love around me and to hold what has meaning is healthy for me. This might mean saying “no” to certain family expectations. This boundary opens the door to say “yes” to new traditions and remembrances. Fresh possibilities keeps me free from others’ expectations of me. Permission-giving allows me to feel the emotions and come out the other side. I find validation in surrounding myself with people who get it.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts to give myself and others is a relief from stress by placing an emphasis and putting my energy into those aspects of the season that are truly important for health, hope and serenity. Your personal answers and strategies may be different from mine depending on your personal life experience. I can only speak for myself.

So how will my holidays be different this year? I am spending less and making more gifts. I think the younger generation has merit in their world view to give experiences as gifts rather than a material item that isn’t necessarily needed or wanted. I have said “no” to certain expected family gatherings in order to make new and loving memories with my own children and grandchildren. Looking honestly at what activities fill my bucket and which ones empty my bucket has determined where I will put my energies this year. Changing the expectations to a more delegated model for example, everyone bringing food rather than one person doing all the cooking, feels more unifying and a way to share ourselves in communion with one another.

This season, I realize peace on Earth may actually start by having peace within myself. Choosing self-gentleness and self-kindness is one of the greatest gifts of all. I have discovered that changing tradition does not “shatter the snow globe.” It may shake it up a bit, and when I do, guess what happens? A beautiful world to behold emerges.

Kat Helms writes from Taneytown.