6 Ways to Put the Happy Back in Your Holidays

Child in winter coat laughing

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house 

Not a child was sleeping, nor were you and your spouse. 

The presents sat wrapped, beneath the big tree 

While the kids argued, you played referee. 

December felt long, much longer than before

Between presents and baking, it felt like a chore!

Where was the joy, the warmth, and the cheer?!

Do you really have to do this again next year?

You long to go back to a time you barely remember

When life was simple and happy. When was thatSeptember?

Stress, it seems, is all you feel nowadays

And you wonder just how to put the happy back in your holidays.

–Poem by Kayla Runkel

As you think back on holidays past, are you filled with wonderment and joy? The lights, the pageants, the time spent with family–it truly made this the most wonderful time of the year…years ago, that is.

But somewhere between the crowded department stores and the endless hours spent in the kitchen baking, you’ve lost it…your holiday spirit.

Now the holidays are anything but happy. In fact, you’re trying your best just to get through them this year.

Still, you long for the days when this season was something to be enjoyed. When you spent hours blasting Christmas carols around the house and the sight of twinkling lights put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. 

So what can you do?

If the holidays have you feeling less Ho, Ho, Ho and more Bah Humbug, no need to worry! Here are 6 ways you can put the HAPPY back in your holidays this season.

1. Keep to Your Routine

It’s happening once again. Grandma and Grandpa have been here for only two hours and already your children are bouncing off the walls, loaded up on cookies and candy. 

“It’s the holidays,” you tell yourself. “It’s okay for them to be a bit spoiled.”

You put on a smile and try your best to enjoy their company, but bedtime is fast approaching, and you know the kids won’t go down easy tonight.

“Alright kids, say goodnight to Grandma and Grandpa.” 

As you expected, you’re met with much protest. 

“Ahh, come on,” Grandma says. “Can’t they stay up one extra hour? We’ve missed them so much.”

You’re stuck. You want so badly to say yes–to not be the wet blanket–but you know better than anyone how much your children need their sleep. 

As hard as it may be, stick to your normal lights-out routine. Why? Because having cranky kids is never fun. But cranky kids and cranky parents? Now that’s a recipe for holiday disaster.

I know how difficult it can be to maintain a normal schedule with holiday gatherings and obligations also pressing for your attention. But trust me when I say, sticking to your normal schedule will set the course for a smoother, less chaotic, holiday season. 

2. Manage Expectations

Adventure awaits! Now with more action-packed gadgets than ever before! This Christmas won’t be complete without…

You hear the commercial draining in from the other room as your son watches his afternoon television program. You can’t help but sigh. It seems like every time you turn on the TV or listen to the radio another holiday toy is being peddled to your kid. 

Of course, his Christmas list gets longer with each and every advertisement he hears.

You want to give your son a Christmas to remember–what parent doesn’t? But you don’t want it to come at the risk of entitlement. The fact of the matter is pretty simple. He is not getting everything he wants for Christmas.

But how do you break the news without ruining his Christmas? Or even worse, without inviting a huge temper tantrum?

This is the time to have a serious talk about holiday expectations. Perhaps you sit down to have a family meeting or start a discussion in the car on a holiday road trip. Be frank with your son about his wish list and set limits you all can live with.

Managing expectations ahead of time will help make sure your son doesn’t feel let down on Christmas morning.

This is also a great time to have him write a GIVING list that is at least as long as his wish list. What gifts does he plan on giving to his friends and family? Does he plan on giving his time to others? 

As adults, we know it’s better to give than to receive. What better way to drive that lesson home than by having your kid write out all of the ways he intends to give to others this holiday season?

Helpful tip: Not sure just how to battle the entitlement epidemic? Check out my book The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic – A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World. 

3. Consider Gifts of Time

Maybe it’s your daughter who will not stop bugging you for the latest Barbie dream house or your son who has his eye on a brand new video game console. Whatever it is, one thing’s for certain: the glitz and glam of the hottest toys of the season are always hard for parents to top.

But there is one gift that will surpass all others, no matter what. The gift of YOU! 

Yes, you can give your kids the best gift of all simply by giving them your time and attention. While I am a huge advocate for spending daily one-on-one time with your children, this gift of time should go beyond the usual special time together. 

To make your gift of time more tangible, consider making a coupon book for your child filled with fun activities to do together.

For instance, you could have coupons good for One Ice Cream Date, an Impromptu Dance Party, or One Extra Story Before Bed.

Whatever activities you choose for your gift of time, be sure your undivided time and attention is the #1 priority. 

The beauty of giving your time as a holiday gift is that it is inexpensive, thoughtful, and, of course, incredibly fun! What could be better?

Helpful tip: These also make great gifts between siblings and grandparents.

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4. Share the Work

Every year you swear things will be different. Then crunch time hits and you are down to the wire when you notice something. You are doing absolutely everything. The present shopping, the cookie baking, the card writing–it’s all fallen squarely on your shoulders, just as it does every year.

No wonder the holidays are so stressful.

Why not change things up this year? Just because you can do everything, doesn’t mean you should. Instead, make it a point to share the work with the rest of your family.

Is your spouse a terrible baker but great at wrapping presents? Does your son love cookie decorating but could care less about shopping? Whatever it may be, find a way to divvy out the holiday responsibilities between family members so that it’s both enjoyable for them and takes the burden off of your shoulders.

As you discover new ways to work together to make the holiday happen, you’ll create long-lasting, happy holiday memories your kids will treasure for years to come.

5. Use Shortcuts

You see it every time you hop online–the seven-course plated meals, presents wrapped to perfection, and family Christmas portraits with every person donning matching plaid pajamas. 

Yes, it’s hard to get into the holiday spirit when you’re surrounded by nothing but Pinterest perfection. 

The thing is, that isn’t what the holidays are about. In fact, it isn’t even real.

The season is about the spirit and the people you love. So give yourself the gift of grace and stop chasing holiday perfection. Instead, take shortcuts!

Bake a cake from a box. Buy the store-bought cookies. Put a present in a bag–or, better yet, have them wrap it at the store! 

The holidays are not about how everything looks as much as how it feels to be surrounded by those you love. So, should you find your light being dimmed by the thought of trying to create a picture-perfect holiday, do yourself a favor. Put the camera away and take all the shortcuts you want. 

6 tips to happier holidays

6. Focus on Service

Want to know a surefire way to bring some joy back to your holiday season? Give! 

Give of your time. Give of your talents. Perhaps even give of your money. But most importantly, give as a family

Pull the focus away from the commercialization of the season and shine the spotlight on service. Because when we focus on what we can do as a family to help others, it helps keep the hustle and hurry of the season in perspective

Serving others in need shouldn’t feel like just one more thing to check off your holiday to-do list, because the reward is so much greater than the effort it takes to do so.

Curious where to start? 

Give of Your Time

Start by calling around to your local places of worship and shelters and ask where they have the greatest needs. Do they need help serving meals at the soup kitchen? Wrapping presents for children in need?

Whatever it may be, pick a day when your whole family is available and go serve together. Not only will this provide a wonderful chance for you to spend time with your own family, but serving those less fortunate will help give your children a healthy appreciation for what they already have.

Give of Your Talents

Do you consider yourself pretty talented in the kitchen? Is your spouse handy with a hammer and nails? The holiday season is the perfect time to put your talents to good use.

Maybe your church needs a handyman to help build the Christmas pageant set. Perhaps your local soup kitchen needs an experienced cook to help prepare a tasty holiday meal. Whatever it may be, finding ways to use your talents to serve is a wonderful way to give back this season.

Give of Your Money

Time can be a precious commodity–especially during the holidays. If you’re looking for a way to serve that fits into your busy schedule, consider giving a monetary gift this season.

You can always give your spare change to the bell ringers on your way into the grocery store, or write a check to your favorite charity. But now is your chance to get a little creative and think outside of the box!

Try contacting the guidance counselor at your child’s school and see if there is a student in need. Maybe they are without a winter coat or have some overdue lunch fines they can’t manage. 

If you have the means to give a little extra, this is certainly a great way to serve. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to get your children involved, especially if they have an allowance and want to make a meaningful donation of their own.

Final Thoughts

We’ve all been there–someone wishes us a “happy holiday” and we respond with a forced smile and simple, “you too.” 

Believe me, I get how easy it can be to get bogged down in all of the holiday to-do lists. But this time is meant to be enjoyed and treasured! Not dreaded.

If the happy has been seriously lacking in your holidays, take heart! Trying out any one of these 6 tips for holiday happiness is sure to have you feeling merry and bright in no time. 

Or, if you’d like even more strategies to get your family back on track, I’d love for you to JOIN ME FOR A FREE ONLINE CLASS.

I’ll teach you one of my most trusted parenting tools to get kids to listen without nagging or yelling!

From our family to yours, we wish you the HAPPIEST holiday season.

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About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions® and the best-selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on The Doctors, CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.