Is world peace really possible? Maybe, but peace begins within, then extends into the home before it can reach global proportions. Sadly, the holidays, proclaimed the most wonderful time of the year, are more realistically the most stressful, bringing out the worst in people rather than the true spirit of love and generosity.
Most Christian families dream of a traditional Hallmark Christmas: perfectly wrapped gifts hidden beneath an impeccably decorated tree; the aromatic scents of sumptuous food baking in the oven; colored lights that magically twinkle to the sounds of traditional Christmas carols; and family members enjoying the company of loved ones seated around the dining room table.
Yet for many, the most wonderful time of the year is actually comprised of arguing, fighting, stubbornness, resentments, rifts, and personality clashes. The very messages of peace, love and kindness are buried among arrogant egos. Not having a perfect family does not mean families cannot share a joyful holiday season together. People can learn to get along with family members they are not particularly fond of or who are difficult or dramatic. Simply follow my “12 YEA’S OF CHRISTMAS” plan.
1. Minimize your time together. There is no hard and fast rule stating that we must spend all of our time, or even a full day, with our loved ones. Too much time together can lead to drama: people getting on each other’s nerves or increasing the risk that someone may say or do something offensive, thereby setting off a series of heated conflict. Instead of a long drawn-out holiday dinner, plan a 2 hour brunch instead. Less time = less risk.
2. Be prepared. Plan ahead how you’re going to interact with one another, especially those who may potentially create drama. Going blindly into a possible dramatic situation can leave one feeling unprepared for whatever chaos may ensue. Just as one knows exactly what to do in the event of a kitchen fire, one must also be prepared for any inappropriate behavior from family. The better prepared, the more effective one can be in minimizing any damage and returning the situation to a joyful celebration. If Aunt Harriet criticizes everyone and everything, enlist the aid of other family members to remind her that today is a day of joy and any unfavorable remarks of any kind are momentarily banned.
3. Focus on the good. Find something about those challenging members that you like, admire or respect or perhaps a fond memory you have of them. Use this as your opening conversation. For those less-than-favorite-but-must-socialize-with family members, remind yourself that every person has something favorable about them. Keeping in mind that thoughts determine our feelings which ultimately dictate how we treat one another, be certain to form an positive thought about the individual before engaging with them. Begin your interaction on an affirmative note: perhaps offer them a compliment. The person who initiates the conversation sets the tone. And remember, every family member has value and adds value to the overall dynamics of the day.
4. Remind yourself of the message. The holiday season is about love (aka kindness). Fill everyone’s stockings with kindness. Go out of your way, for just this day, to be kind to everyone, especially those who are the most difficult. Vow to bring out the best in everyone at the gathering. Put aside your dislike of them as best you can and be the example of true generosity. Feelings and behaviors are contagious and you can be an inspiration for others to follow your lead. Be a leader. Help your grandmother hang up her coat; offer to set or clear the table for the host; spend time taking with your moody nephew.
5. Refrain from judging and labeling. Every person has personal issues, you and I included. Separate their behavior from who they are intrinsically (children of God). Their poor conduct s is reflective of whatever is troubling them. Don’t take personal offense. Be compassionate and understanding. Look beyond the outward behavior to the intrinsic goodness of who they are. Repeat after me: “They are worried/stressed/hurting but they are my family. Their behavior does not apply to me. Sometimes even I misbehave. Therefore I will respond with compassion.”
6. Practice introspection. Ask yourself, “Why do I allow their behavior to bother me? What is it within me that needs to heal so that this will no longer be an issue for me?” Only when we look within and question our own reactions and reasons behind them do we have the ability to truly enjoy our family. If my cousin overeats, why is that an issue for me? Once I am able to find the answer to that question, their eating habits will no longer bother me and I am free to simply enjoy their company.
7. Establish a commonality. Particularly with those who pose the greatest challenge to us, finding common ground provides somewhat of a bond between us. Two women who are mothers, men who share a love of professional sports – these are areas where people can relate to one another, thus providing a deeper understanding of the other. And understanding leads to trust, the very building block for strong relationships. If Aunt Joan made the deserts, tell her you found a great new recipe that you’d like her opinion on.
8. Avoid sensitive or controversial topics. Use humor whenever necessary to diffuse tension. One can thoughtfully redirect the conversation should it enter the “danger” zone of a highly volatile topic. “Let’s not discuss my credit card debt tonight, Uncle Harry. Let’s talk about your last vacation. Was it fun?” Or, the shift can be more discreet. If a sensitive issue comes up, redirect it by saying, “Oh before I forget, I wanted to let you know that next week I have a doctor’s appointment and I need someone to watch the kids for me. Is that possible?” From that point, you can easily continue on less controversial matters.
9. Set limits and boundaries. No one needs to be subjected to offensive or inappropriate behaviors, not matter how understanding or patient they are. If cousin Joe is drinking excessively, one can certainly tell him (politely but firmly) that he has had enough to drink and offer him coffee or a soft drink as an alternative. Keep in mind, that boundaries must be fair and reasonable and only put into place if the so-called offense is serious enough to warrant it.
10. Practice forgiveness. Forgive the insensitive remarks, mistakes, and lack of finesse. Let things roll off your back. We need not actively address each and every incident that does not meet our standards of appropriate behavior. If someone comments that my dress is unflattering on my body type, I need not make an issue out of it. I can ignore it, let it roll of my back, and chalk it up to a thoughtless comment. To confront the party at that moment could create a scene that could certainly ruin the holiday for myself and others. If necessary, if it is important enough, I can address it at a later date.
11. Love vicariously. Keep in mind that the person you label difficult is probably loved by someone you love. Treat them kindly out of respect for the other party. Think about how you would feel if your child was behaving badly and others spoke unkindly about him or worse, treated him as such. Would that not be painful for you as well? Even if I may not be fond of my son’s wife, he loves her and I love him. Therefore out of love and respect for him, I treat her as if she is special to me, for indirectly she is.
12. Remember your authentic nature is love. To be anything less than love to anyone else will create conflict and dis-ease within you. Be true to yourself; be gracious, generous, and kind at all times. Remember, too, that karma is always at work. What you send out will be returned to you. But more importantly, you will be judged by God. Be an example of His goodness in this world, especially to your family, for He always repays our kindness.
We all have obnoxious, self-centered, opinionated people in our families, including ourselves. We could choose to avoid them from Nov. to Jan. or we could argue our way through the holidays. However, there is no honor in either. To make a concerted effort to peacefully and lovingly engage with our diverse family members enables us to test our full potential of being the spiritual creations we are; to live our Divine beliefs and practice the true message of the holidays which is love and peace, goodwill to all mankind. Take the time to incorporate the 12 YEA’S OF CHRISTMAS into your holiday season, regardless of your specific religious beliefs. You can have harmony in your home for the holidays.
“We cannot be a world at peace until we are first a people of peace.” The Secret Side of Anger by Janet Pfeiffer
PEACE ON EARTH. GOOD WILL TOWARDS MEN.
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