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Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve shared some tips for how to prepare your heart and mind for the approaching holiday season — and all the gathering that comes along with it. We talked about the importance of setting expectations, as well as how to embrace the gift of boundaries (and an exit strategy)

Today, I’d like to offer some suggestions on different ways to gather with family. Because we know there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that!
And just because we’ve always gathered one way doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever.

We can’t always be
all together (the last couple years certainly taught us this). But there are creative ways we can connect in meaningful ways during the holidays. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Enjoy a virtual meal together. Traveling during the holidays can be taxing and expensive. If you want to gather with family from a distance, try connecting via Zoom, FaceTime, or Meet. It’s not an equal substitute for a face-to-face meal, but it can be fun and meaningful in its own way!
  • Send special, homemade gifts to one another. Crafts and homemade art (especially from the grandkids!) make special, one-of-a-kind gifts. So do photo books, mugs, calendars, and the like from companies like SnapFish.
  • Give thoughtful gifts your family wants. It’s so easy to order another trinket off Amazon or panic-buy a gift for an unexpected guest from Costco. But if you have the time, consider gathering thoughtful gifts that your family actually wants, instead of something that might just end up at Goodwill in six months.
  • Opt for activities over stuff. Memory-making opportunities are the best. We love giving experiential gifts instead of gifts that fit neatly into a box. One of our sons and daughters-in-law recently took us on a Christmas train ride in lieu of gifts. And we’ve also loved trading gifts of a night out together at dinner and the symphony. Two nights a year, we get a double-date with our kids, and it’s an absolute blast.

Think outside the box (literally). Be creative. We all have way too much stuff. I’ll take memories and experiences with my kids over another candle any day (and I’m sure many of you can relate).

Another thing to consider when gathering with family is how and when you spend your time together. 

I used to be terrible about packing the holidays with too many activities. But that time is really so limited, and it’s important to honor the time.
If the goal of your family gathering is to get everyone together to see one another, maybe it’s time to scale down your Thanksgiving dinner or ask for help so that it’s not on one person’s shoulders. If an upcoming holiday gathering is already starting to feel overwhelming, have it catered for heaven’s sake. Nobody says you have to cook every dish on the table to have a good time together. 

And don’t underestimate the power of gratitude. Be mindful of being grateful and teaching your children gratitude and appreciation.
When we’re feeling frustrated, that can be a good cue to turn our hearts toward gratitude and true thanksgiving. Say those words out loud: “I’m grateful for [fill in the blank].” Or, “I’m so thankful to have quality time with [person you love].” Write a few cards to put into words how much you care about the ones you love. 

Be mindful of what others need (and would deeply appreciate) from you from your heart, not from your pocketbook.

By reframing how you think about gathering — and what exactly that looks like — you can set yourself up for a holiday season that’s as fulfilling and enjoyable as you deserve.