Jump off the Stress Express with family holiday traditions

Twas the week before Christmas and all though the house everything was in shambles. Too much to do and not enough time. More shopping to be done, presents to wrap, cookies to bake and decorating too. Oh the hustle and bustle, the extra work and the stress. The crowds, the cash, the toys, the noise.  It’s stressing us out.  So why do we do it?

If your answer is, “For the kids” you’re certainly not alone.  For many people, the holidays are about children and bringing them as much joy as possible. But think for a moment about your own childhood.  What made the holidays special for you?  Not sure your answer best represents the feelings of today’s population of kids?  Think again. I asked them.

“The thing I like the most is being able to see all of my relatives. We get together at my grandparents’ houses and have big meals, which leads to another good part. The food. We usually have big hams and mashed potatoes and other good stuff. Then I feel like I won’t be able to eat for another week.” –Ryan, age 12

“I always have a good time at Christmas. On Christmas Eve we stay up late and play video games. Then in the morning I get my stocking.  We also play board games. I love Christmas.” –Meg, age 12

“All of my Christmas’s have been jolly. I think my best memory has been spending time with my family.” –Devin, age 12

“The first thing I think about when somebody mentions Christmas is picking out and putting up a tree and decorating it.” –Jessica, age 12

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Sure, he took four quotes from a stack that suited his purpose.”  Not true. Of the 75 students I surveyed only 12 even mentioned unwrapping presents as a significant memory for them. Family gatherings and family activities created the fondest memories for 84% of the group.  So if you’re racking up credit card debt to create the perfect memory for your kids, you’re wasting your money. Not to mention your time and energy.

Okay, you’re used to reading scientific mumbo-jumbo about the brain and its inner workings in this column, so here goes: Long-term memories are more easily formed when stimulating multiple sensory pathways.  You want to create great memories around the holidays?  Do stuff.  Do stuff with your eyes and your ears and your mouth and your hands.  Solve problems.  Be social.  Get together.  Have fun!

Think about it, which are your most vivid memories: those in which you were actively doing something, or those in which you were passively getting something?

As immersed as the present opening frenzy is in our culture, my feeling is that it’s insane.  And so is the social and economic machinery that supports and encourages it.  So if you’re thinking of maybe stepping off the Stress Express this holiday season, here are a few suggestions.  Try them on for size and if they fit, maybe think about starting a new tradition this year.

Feed the birds, build a snow fort, play card or board games, get creative with wood or crafts or a cookie baking and decorating party, a hike in the woods, a bon fire with roasted marshmallows and hot chocolate, star gazing, winter camping, participate in the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count.

With a little thought and planning, it’s easy to step off the frenzied commercialized holiday train.  Take steps today so that tomorrow your holiday memories will be filled with laughter and joy.

And if you discover something great, or you already do something great, I’d love to hear about it.  We’ve still got a few weeks before things get really crazy.  Email me your traditions and I’ll collect and post them on the website and facebook page.  What better way to spread joy and peace this season than by teaching the rest of us how you create great holiday memories?

Founder of WeTeachWeLearn.org, Chris Wondra is just another Wisconsin public school teacher. Email Chris at: mrwondra@weteachwelearn.org.

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