Presence Before Presents

It’s a festive time of year and in the hustle and bustle of it all, it’s easy to get distracted and forget to put presence before presents. Traditions vary and obligations abound, but the seasonal change of the year beckons us to reflect and remember what it truly most precious to each of us in our lives; to not let the stuff get ahead of the spirit of the holidays. But how to I find and keep meaning in the holidays? Below are 20 Ways to Make this Holiday More Meaningful for you and your loved ones.

Holiday stress already got you stressed out?

Feel lost in the commercialism and marketing deluge that typically overtakes this time of year?

Wanting to make presence more of a priority than the presents?

Below are 20 Ways to Make this Holiday More Meaningful for you.

1. Start With Spirituality, the rest follows.

Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist – whatever your faith tradition; give it the place of reverence it deserves and build the rest of what you have to do on top of it. The season is not about commerce, unless you allow it to be. Cultivate the meaning you seek.

2. Things lose their value quickly – People do not.

Don’t let the hectic shoppers, demands on your schedule and overall commercialism steal you away from what is important. Make people a priority. Give them your time, your attention. It matters more than that great new gift idea you have for them.

3. Remember to Give.

Smile at people, look at them – don’t turn away. Hand a couple bucks to the guy on the corner and have a handful of change for the red bucket and bell ringing volunteer out in the parking lot – and thank THEM for being out there asking for help others.

4. Take It In.

Stop, breathe and take the time to really notice…..take a deep breath when you are tree shopping – smell the pine trees, see the dancing flames in the fireplace, hear the popcorn, feel the warmth of the coffee cup you are holding, close your hands around it and smell the cinnamon. Breathe deeply and slowly every so often and pay attention to your senses.

5. Say “Hi” and “Thank You”.

Whenever you can and especially to the dry cleaners, the grocery clerk, the bank teller, the maintenance guy, the cleaning lady, the receptionist – take the time to give that small moment of “I appreciate you” to people who far too often go unnoticed for all they do.

6. Handwritten cards.

For some it’s a joy to do and for others a pain, but do it – at least a few of them. When you take the time to write it yourself the person you send it to gets the message “you are worth something more to me, worth my time and effort”.

7. Invest in your Relationships.

This is where presence before presents really hits home. Start your closest circle; family, spouse, best friends, close colleagues – make a point to earnestly get to know them a little better as people, to get closer. Ask about them and their lives – and pay attention. And grow it from there.

8. Slow is Better than Go.

Embrace the quiet moments – they are better than the craziness and panic of the commercial season. Allow yourself time for earnest reflection. It’s not wasted time.

9. Purpose Above Perfection.

Tree Decorations are about the time putting them up and the reflection on what is important in life – it is not about how crooked the tree is, or the faded ornaments or whether there are too many lights at the bottom. Every tree is perfect as it becomes. Period.

10. Play More Music.

Me, I prefer holiday music and I have some old favorites I work in – but festive, bright, heartwarming, inspiring music – whatever that is to you. Sing it, dance to it – but fill more space with music. Start by turning it on in place of routinely turning on the TV, tablet or skimming through your phone.

11. Traditions Evolve.

But they are not carved in stone. Revel in the traditions of the past, as long as they are meaningful AND be open to letting a few move over for new traditions to be born. I love some of our special traditions during the holidays – but the best moments have often come from welcoming something new into our celebration together. Remember presence before presents…as well as traditions. Don’t get hung up on the “We always”, focus more on just the “we”.

12. Find the Beauty.

Some holidays will be harder than others. We may have lost people we loved, be faced with medical concerns, moved far away and be unable to travel home or be trying to balance more than in past years. There is always beauty in the world – even in darker days. Seek it and share it. There are few more important paths in this time of year. (If this is hard for you, I may be able to help.)

13. Pay It Forward.

Do something that helps someone else and expect nothing back. Several years ago I tried the pay-it-forward drive-through experiment. I paid $5 for the coffee for the person behind me in the drive thru and told the barista to them I said “Have a great day and just do it for someone else sometime”. The next time I saw the barista, she said the line made it nine cars with people paying for the person behind them. It may have been easy, but each person could have just kept it for themselves, but instead they thought about the person behind them and passed it on. Little seeds of caring.

14. Remember People of Service.

Your postal worker, the UPS driver, the cashier, the lady at the cleaners, the local firehouse, the constable service – whomever. Make time to go and thank them – shake a hand, bring a bag of cookies or some hot chocolate. Look them in the eye and let them know what they do is appreciated and noticed.

15. Snow Becomes Slush.

So what. That’s life. All worldly things are impermanent. Enjoy them while they are here and when they are gone remember them, but also get up and celebrate the next new snow. Nostalgia is fine, fond memories a treasure – but life is about change, growth and movement. No holiday will be like the previous and it shouldn’t. Each one has the potential to be special in its own right – make it so.

16. Smile & Forgive …infectiously.

You don’t know the other person’s story, period. Don’t jump to assumptions or let your bias swamp you. When you get cut off in traffic – try to let it go. When they pull into the parking spot you were waiting for – try to let it go. These are small, silly things in the grander scheme or your life and theirs. Advance a little grace to someone else – your heart will love you for it.

17. Cultivate Wonder.

Presents before presents…and let there be awe. Especially with the young and the elderly. Pause and notice the sparkle of lights, the bright colored wrapping paper, the flicker of candles, the giant store decorations – talk the wonder, share the awe. When you inspire this in others something wonderful happens for all of you.

18. Respect the Red Suit.

If you don’t believe in Santa, keep it to yourself. Don’t ruin it for the people around you – especially kids. Keep the spirit and mirth of the season alive for everyone – all ages, all faiths and all beliefs. Leave the “Bah Humbugs” to Scrooge and make a commitment to celebrate the good in humanity.

19. Practice Gratitude.

It’s easy to see what is missing or wanted. We spend far too much time doing that in life. Look at what you do have and reflect on how your life would be without it. Say “Thank You” to people. Reach out and tell the people in your life that they matter and tell them why. Write 3 things you are grateful for each day – unique to that day, no matter how small – and read it aloud to yourself before you go to bed. In no time you will start noticing the “gratitudes” around you in everyday life more and more,

20. Say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or…

…Whatever tradition you honor greet others with it as you like. It doesn’t matter if others only say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” – you say it your way. My Jewish Uncle loves being wished “Merry Christmas”. He says it is an expression that celebrates love from the person who believes in something good and greater than themselves. So send it out and be joyful in it. And whatever holiday wish comes your way remember that person is honoring you from the heart – who wouldn’t want that? And if you hear nothing back? So what? Put your merry heart into the universe. Keep your presence before presents. It’s good for you and all of us.

Buon Natale’ e Pace’ Tutti !