The holiday season means very different things to different people. I recently commented to a friend that I love the holidays and was surprised by their response.

They told me they find it very difficult because growing up it was such a time of stress in their family. The memories of struggling between different expectations of family members and the arguments they would witness stuck with them and continues to cast a shadow over the season.

For years this friend had never shared this with me, so I had assumed they felt the same way that I did about the holidays.

Once this conversation started, I learned how mixed the feelings about this time of year are for so many people. Sometimes it is because the memories are upsetting, and sometimes it is because the current realities of the season do not live up to the good memories from their past.

For people who moved away from their families, the holidays may feel lonely. For those who have lost loved ones, they may feel empty or sad.

And yet, for some, the festivities help bring joy and something to look forward to.

For me, the one thing I love most about the holidays is the chance to show the people I care about how much they mean to me. I enjoy picking out the perfect gifts, and sometimes stress over the choices for a long time. But this process is part of the fun for me. Perhaps I enjoy the distraction from the usual things that I stress about.

For some, the pressure to buy gifts can feel overwhelming. They may not know what to get, or not have enough money to feel they are getting the right gifts. If the pressure is removed and you think instead about what the intent is behind the gift, it can help put it in perspective. Gifts are meant to show appreciation and should not just be out of obligation. Something small or homemade, or even just a nice handwritten card, can serve the same purpose.

I take time to write personal notes in my cards. I think about the people who supported me through the year. A kind note is ultimately more important than whatever gift I end up selecting.

I enjoy seeing the decorations in my neighborhood. I try and take one evening to drive around with my family and look at the lights. Several homes in my neighborhood even have light shows that are set to music on a local radio station. We get a drive-through dinner and eat in the car while enjoying the free show.

Think about the parts of the holidays that you enjoy, and lean into that. Do not feel pressured to enjoy every aspect of the season, or even pretend to in front of your friends. When we can be genuine in our friendships, we allow ourselves to be open to more support. It may even allow your friends to feel comfortable opening up to you about their true feelings.

Allow yourself to experience the holiday season in a way that feels most comfortable to you. Remove any expectations and be in the moment. Do what makes you most happy. When gift shopping, remember it’s not the size or cost of the gift that counts. Give gifts that show your gratitude towards those who support you. And, most of all, show yourself the support and caring you deserve.

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