A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

7 Tips for a Healthy, Meaningful Holiday Season

7 Tips for a Healthy, Meaningful Holiday Season

The mad dash from Thanksgiving through New Year’s can feel exhausting. Several important holidays, including Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, fall within this 6 week period. In my house, we celebrate Christmas. As much as I love the magic of this holiday there was one year when much of the joy was lost in trying to make the season perfect for my kids. I shopped and wrapped. I cooked and baked. And I stayed up crazy long hours after working all day to make gifts. Then when the holiday rolled around I was so tired that all the beauty and meaning seemed to be gone. I looked back and realized I had missed what meant the most to me — savoring time with my family.

After that year, I made some changes to how my family celebrates the season. It’s still a busy time, but I’ve never looked back with regret again. Whichever holiday your family celebrates, these ideas may help you stay focused on the meaning:

  • Talk about what the holidays mean. Maybe have a family dinnertime discussion to explore this question. Do you want your children to see the season as a time to give to others? To focus on a higher religious purpose? To connect with extended family? Are there any special activities or traditions the family particularly enjoys? Plan together how you will focus on these intentions.
  • Pare down what you do. Are there any activities or traditions you could skip this year to make the holiday less busy or stressful? Maybe deciding not to send holiday cards will open up more time to take walks as a family. Will spending less time decorating the house allow more time to be together? It’s okay to attend fewer gatherings in favor of staying home to play games with your kids.
  • Adjust your giving habits. We have a large extended family, and in years past, we gave each person a gift, which was expensive and overwhelming. I also used to stay up late baking holiday treats for my co-workers. Now in place of all that shopping and cooking, my family chooses one charity to donate to. We find a small ornament to represent that charity (such as a star for Make-a-Wish, an animal for Heifer International), print a card explaining the donation, then give this ornament and card to our family and co-workers. For our extended family, we draw one name out of a hat and give a special gift to that person.
  • Take care of yourself. We all know healthy eating, regular exercise, and sleep make us feel good and reduce stress. There can’t be a more challenging – or more important time – to stick to healthy routines than during the holidays. One trick I use is to start each day asking myself what 3 things do I need to do to make it a good day? Exercise usually tops that list, and committing to it as I start the day makes it more likely to happen.
  • Change up your traditional meals. Are there healthier versions of traditional foods or new options your family could try this year? Can you bake fewer treats? One tip is to keep fruit on the counter and cut up veggies in the fridge so there are healthy snacks readily available. And, all that toffee I was making? Tasty but awful for us all! One reason I changed my giving habits was to stop contributing to everyone’s over consumption of sugar.
  • Acknowledge change or loss. While this time of year can be filled with joy, it may also be a time of sadness. If your family has lost a loved one or undergone recent change (such as divorce, separation, or a move), you may be wondering how to help your children through the season. Start by asking them how they’re feeling. Spend time remembering those who are not with you. And try to honor traditions that your kids love. Reassure them that it’s okay to feel both sadness and joy at the magic and wonder of the holidays.
  • Express gratitude. One way to bring more meaning and calm to the holiday season is to find opportunities to share gratitude. Take turns at holiday meals to say what you’re most grateful for. My sister-in-law has a wonderful gratitude tradition. Every Thanksgiving, she puts out a white table cloth and permanent markers of one color. Everyone writes something they’re thankful for. Each year gets a new color. As the years have gone by, the table cloth is covered in beautiful, sometimes funny, or poignant messages. Another way to express gratitude? Writing thank you notes. Have your kids write one a day as they focus on the meaning of the gift they received. Or sit together as a family one afternoon and write them as you look back over the holiday.

Whichever holidays your family celebrates, setting intentions for what means the most to you and focusing on those can help you enjoy the holidays more. As you do this, I wish you a healthy and peaceful season!

Find more resources for parents
My Doctor Online:
Eat Well, Be Active, Live Better – Strategies to Create Healthy Habits

This article was originally published on December 7, 2017

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.