Some Holiday Thoughts

Like a lot of Americans and people around the world, I’m spending today with my family. Our youngest will inevitably wake everyone in the house up at the crack of dawn (or, honestly, probably before that), running from room to room shouting “It’s Christmas!” We’ll drink some coffee and hot chocolate. We’ll open a few presents. I’ll get to work on the big meal I have planned for the day. I’m pretty sure we’re having at least one friend over, too.

Here are a few thoughts on this day.

Don’t lose meaning.

It’s easy to get lost in the presents and the traditions of the holiday season sometimes, and it can hurt when the bills roll in. It can feel like the season is all about money and about commercialization. I actually think the well-known Charlie Brown Christmas Special captures that sentiment really well.

The thing is, the holidays mean something a little bit different for everyone.

For some, it’s a time of religious observance. Someone very close to me is a pastor, and she’s pretty much constantly conducting services or worrying about them this time of the year.

For others, it’s about the people they’re spending time with. It’s all about gatherings with family and friends.

It might simply be a time to stop and catch a breath, reflect on the year past and the year ahead and to enjoy a few things that you haven’t had time for lately.

For others, it’s about making a wonderful meal for your children and loved ones, preparing some food that they’ll love and enjoying the time around the table with them.

For others, it’s a time of remembrance, of times shared in the past with loved ones who are no longer with us.

For others still, it might just be a day off from work.

There are lots of meanings that this season can take on. Whatever this season means for you, don’t let it get lost in the expenses, bills, expectations and the rushing.

There is no perfect gift if you’re too stressed to share some time with the person you’re giving it to.

There is no perfect meal if you’re exhausted from the work.

There is no perfect moment if you’ve spent an unsustainable amount of money.

Step back and take a breath. Let things be a little imperfect. Don’t buy into the idea that spending money and buying gifts will create the perfect moment.

Rather, let the actual meaning of the holidays, whatever that might be for you, come front and center. Whether it’s your faith or your family or simply a moment to breathe, that’s the meaning that matters, and that can’t be bought with presents or a rich meal or the perfect bottle of wine.

This year, think really carefully about what the holidays mean to you as they’re passing, and then plan to spend next year honoring that. Cut back on the presents and the other things in the season that fill you with worry and stress and lean into what it means to you.

What if you’re spending Christmas alone?

There are a lot of people in the world who don’t have a family to turn to and find that their friends are involved with their own holiday celebrations. I have a few friends myself that are spread across the world who find themselves in this boat, and it can be lonely. Social isolation and social anxiety disorder are real things, and they can be incredibly challenging this time of the year.

If you find yourself in this boat, take a moment to step back and appreciate what you do have in life. It may feel like social connection is everything this time of the year, but there is much more to life than that. You have health, a place to live, food on the table and abundant entertainment. Make a gratitude list, a simple list of things in your life that you’re grateful for — in fact, it’s something that I’ll be doing today even though I’m surrounded by family. If you have any friends who are also alone, call them up and do something together, even if it’s just watching a movie on Netflix and eating frozen pizza.

If it’s all a struggle, resolve to get your mental health in better shape this coming year, whatever the cause. If you are unhappy with things, it’s time to make a change.

On the other hand, if you know someone who is celebrating the holidays alone, simply call them up and ask them to join you this year. It’s never too late to do that, even if you’re about to put a meal on the table. Think of people you know who might be alone and give them a call.

Savor the moment.

If I can give one piece of advice for the holidays — and for so much else in life — it’s this: savor the moment.

My children are growing up. In just a few years, our oldest child will move out, and his siblings will follow shortly behind him. They’re still excited by Christmas at home, but it won’t last forever. Then, it will be me and Sarah and some new traditions and some old memories.

For now, I’m going to do my best to savor this moment, this year while my children are still young enough to be excited children on a holiday morning.

These moments in life can’t be bought. It will be a wonderful morning regardless of what we put under the tree. Rather, they’re beautiful on their own.

Savor these moments. Keep them close. Don’t get worried if it’s not perfect, because those imperfections make it real. If you want, put up a camera in the corner and just turn it on to record an hour or so of the activity, but stay in the moment.

Have a wonderful holiday season, however you celebrate it.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.