Just ME: The Gift of Being Present

The first Christmas my twin sister Jenn and I spent away from home was the year we left Kansas to strike out on our own in Southern California. We didn’t have a cent to spare for the holidays, so on Christmas Eve we raided a Christmas tree lot after it closed, rescuing a discarded tree that was headed for the trash heap. I remember climbing over the chain-link fence and tossing it over to Jenn, tying it on the car, and decorating it at home with a popcorn chain and aluminum foil bows. It still makes me smile to think of it… we made a wonderful holiday memory together, and with so little.

This season, pause and set an intention for what you want the holidays to look like. I set an intention each year to be present with my family, like the Christmas that Jenn and I had, without stuff, without phones, but with each other. As women, I think it’s up to us to set the tone for the family dynamic. The holidays can be stressful, but by leading with intention we can reduce the drama and the noise.

One of the best ways to quiet the noise is to turn off technology. Give yourself the gift of being present. I’ve often thought that if we could turn off our devices all day Sunday, or not answer our phones after 5 at night, we would find new ways to connect with our family and friends. When the family is together over the holidays, it might be the perfect moment to unplug. Try taking time to look into your family’s eyes, lay on the couch next to your kids, and have face-to-face conversations.

Another way to make the holidays meaningful is by giving handmade gifts. Every handmade gift the boys made us was our favorite, and we made sure they knew it. The tradition stuck, and now we make most of our gifts for everyone in the family. The boys have done beautiful paintings and woodworking projects; last year Scout made a table that we have dinner at every night, from a piece of wood he found by Boulder Creek. Last year, I made Jenn and my niece Tyler cross-body bags out of a pink sweater I cut up and attached some leather straps to; they thought they were almost too pretty to use!

Decorating is another fun way to spend quality time with the whole family. I used to take a Polaroid every year of each family member, and then any friends who joined in our holiday celebrations. I would then mount them on paper with the date and hang them on the tree. Everyone still gets a kick out of seeing those photos on the tree each year. Decorations are one place, though, where I don’t necessarily try to keep it simple. The more—and the cornier—the better, is my motto when it comes to Christmas decorations. Bring on the giant blow-up snow-globe and the lit-up reindeer on the roof—why not?

It’s so easy to get over-committed during the holidays. If we don’t set boundaries and carve out time for the things that are meaningful as a family, we risk being exhausted from each gathering. We all have the same time off, and while spending it together can be the biggest gift of all; it can also lead to drama-filled extended family gatherings. We used to go see the family in Kansas over the holidays, and after making the rounds of four sets of parents (moms, dads, stepmoms and stepdads) we were all toast. I quickly decided that we would stay home for the holidays and invite extended family to come see us.

The main intention that I have in my mind over each holiday season is to keep family front and center. Whether that’s sledding in Chautauqua Park, watching our favorite holiday movies together over and over, or sharing our homemade gifts, we are in the moment with each other, and that is the greatest gift of all. Share your favorite holiday memories or traditions here, and let us know how you stay present with your family. Happy holidays and shine bright!

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