This is the season for bringing together two of the most stressful parts of life: holidays and our families. While there are a few people who are fortunate enough to have families that get along and find it easy to agree on the where and when of holiday celebrations, I suspect that this group is the minority. Conflicts can range from which family members are going to host various holiday events, how many people to invite and whether to invite granddaughter Shelby’s punk rock boyfriend with all the tattoos and piercings to dinner when it might upset Uncle Harry. The opportunities for stress and conflict are unlimited.
Some of us love the rituals and traditions of holiday celebrations while others would just assume skip them altogether. Holiday gatherings can be especially difficult for those who have been recently widowed or divorced. The death of any family member, whether sibling, child or life partner tends to come into sharp emotional relief when family members gather for special occasions. Families that can find a way to honor the memory of those who have died, yet do so without making the holiday revolve entirely around the loss, seem to fare the best through these emotionally rough waters.
Sometimes the greatest gift we can give to our loved ones is to have the generosity of spirit to engage graciously in their preferred holiday rituals even if you personally don’t feel the same way they do about the holidays. On the other hand, sometimes the greatest gift we can give to ourselves is to limit the amount of time we spend at a holiday gathering that is likely to be sad or very uncomfortable. You can participate in the family gathering to a small degree and make other plans—go for a quiet reflective walk in nature after the Thanksgiving meal. Or perhaps visit other friends and their families to enjoy a wider range of holiday experiences than you can enjoy only with members of your own family. Here are some questions we can discuss related to families and holidays:

1) What do the holidays mean to you and how important is it to celebrate holidays with family?
2) If various family members differ a lot about whether, when and how to host family celebrations, how do you determine what you want your participation to be?
3) One of the greatest causes of family holiday stress is expectations. How flexible or rigid are your expectations? Are you willing to allow them to be more flexible?
4) What was your best holiday celebration experience, with or without family? What made it so great?
5) What are your best and most creative ideas about how to manage holiday and family stress this year? Share your best thoughts with others.