How To Start Making Your Own Holiday Traditions Right Now

published Dec 11, 2013
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(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

This year, I’ve been asking myself, “What are you waiting for?”. A lot of people my age get stressed out at the holidays because either we’re not where we thought we would be by now, or we’re not where our parents thought we would be. We end up avoiding holiday traditions because we feel like they don’t apply if we don’t have a “family” yet, getting roped into extended family shenanigans by default, and feeling out of place and without a true sense of “home” all season long. Well. It’s time to change all that.

Diving in and getting some holiday traditions in place is something that will make this month happier while helping to make home (and home life!) better long after New Years Eve has come and gone. And why not reinvent them to reflect your own style and personality? Isn’t that what making a home is all about?

I believe it’s important to celebrate wherever we are at whatever point we’re at in our life. By doing so, we move closer to who we want to be.

Here are ten ways to get started (no excuses!):

1. Send Holiday Cards: Just because you don’t have two kids and a dog doesn’t mean you don’t have friends. Listing out the people that are most important to you and who you want to send a holiday blessing to (a real live, specific one, from your very own address) is a really great way to remember the network of people who love you and who you love. And creating little pieces of art for them (you can be as simple or elaborate as you want) is a wonderful meditation for the end of the year. That holiday family picture that you always dread? Could be a self portrait in crayon, a picture of you and your roommate, a photo you took of the moon that for you stands for “this year.” Sending something from your address – your home – extends your home’s blessing and what it stands for across the network of people you have grown to know and love all over the world.

2. Throw a Holiday Party: Make it your own! If eggnog and gingerbread really make you yawn, get creative! Throw a potato print wrapping paper party, have everyone bring a vegetable and make soup, or have a DIY party where you can commiserate about how poor you are and make imperfect presents for your parents. Parties don’t have to be about showing off. They can be gatherings where togetherness is better than being alone, where inside is warmer than outside, and where your home becomes a shelter not just for your friends, but for other travelers and refugees who are far from the place they were born.

3. Decorate for the Holidays: Opening the door to a festive home at the end of a long day can make the holidays feel like a season and not just a string of events. (And if reindeer make you cringe, luckily there’s a whole new generation of hipsters who have reinvented holiday decor.) Hanging a branch or a star or a string of lights in your home can be simple. But even something simple can transform the experience of coming home from mundane to festive. Dress your apartment for a holiday the same way you’d dress yourself for your favorite play, ballet, or first date – full of celebration, thankfulness and the expectation of all good things.

4. Make Your Own Holiday Schedule: Sometimes it’s hard for your extended family to realize that you can make your own holiday schedule, especially if you’re not married with kids. But part of being your own “household” (even if that’s just you), is the ability to schedule the way you leave your home. A friend once told me that his best quality time with family actually happened when he planned to visit family around the holidays – but not on them. Less expectations, less stress, and you feel like you’re choosing to engage rather than doing it by default. However you decide to be with family during the holidays – do it yourself. And don’t feel bad if you want to do something like stay home (YOUR home) for a holiday. The more you make your own choices about how to connect, the more fully present you will be when you do choose to be together, and your family will be grateful for it.

5. Have a Friend Holiday: One Tuesday of Thanksgiving week a few years ago my friends and I were all at Whole Foods after an intense class and, completely spur of the moment, we decided to throw a “Friend Thanksgiving”. We split up the dishes, split a cab to my friend’s house, borrowed dresses from her closet, poured lime gimlets, and cooked up a storm. To this day it goes down as one of my favorite dinner parties ever. Why reserve your favorite foods for just once a year, and why not reinvent the holiday (in addition to or instead of the real one) to include the family you have that the world sees as “friends”?

6. Give Gifts You Can Afford (or better yet, make them): Don’t feel pressure to spend a lot of money that you might not have around the holidays, but don’t rule out gift giving either, just because your parents still let you sign the extended family gift tags. Do it in your own way. Design your own gift tag, from your house to the ones you love. Give something unexpected. Something you couldn’t do with words. Spend the most time or money on the person you feel the most distant from. Write cards. Frame old photos. Make a painting. Make it from you. Give because you know it will change you, not because you expect anything in return. Gifts are a way of expressing your love with something tangible, and the process of giving changes and defines who we are. Let it come from you and your house and move you towards who you want to be and what you want your house provide to the world.

7. Make a Wish List: There is a part of the holidays that is about magic, and there’s no reason that just because you might not believe in Santa anymore, you can’t ask for the impossible. Make a wish list and don’t show it to anyone. Mail it to the North Pole from your house. Put it out to the Christmas Goat, or to God, or the World, what you really want in the next year but might be afraid to say. So you want to have a kid? To buy a ranch? Reconcile with a lost friend? A miracle for someone who is sick? Enough money to go to the gym? The act of wishing for more than you can provide for yourself is important, and not just for kids. You don’t have to be cheesy about it. The less people that know, the better. They don’t have to. Give your wishes the same way you give your gifts – without expecting anything in return. But don’t forget to give them.

8. Bake Something: It can be gluten free. Just let it make your house

smell like the best things in the world

9. Take Some Time Off Work: OK, we get it, you’re a workaholic. That’s a super boring way to be an adult. But it’s also a narcissistic way of looking at the world. You think the earth will go off its axis if you take a week off of work during the holidays? Nothing any of us do is so important that we can’t rest, and it makes you a better person to acknowledge this with the practice of choosing to take time off. You can do it in your own way – read a book, spend all day at the movies, volunteer at a soup kitchen, get started on your novel – paint your bedroom – but take a break from the stuff you do the rest of the year. Who knows. It may give you some new ideas to include in your yearly resolutions.

10. Buy Your Home a Present: In the flurry of gift giving, don’t forget to say thank you to the home that shelters you. Do something sweet. Paint. Fix a shelf. Buy new sheets. Sing it a carol. Our home is where we lay our head and gather the strength to live our lives. It should get a present during the holidays just like the rest of the people who make us who we are.

What holiday traditions have you reinvented or made your own? What makes you feel most “at home” during the holidays? Share the wealth! Comment below!