THE BLOG
11/07/2014 06:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Making the Holidays Meaningful

The commercialization of the holidays is oft lamented, and I would certainly join in that chorus. I tend to not buy into it though, and I recently got to wondering why. It could be that I am simply not that materialistic, but where did that stem from? Perhaps it's because my family of origin wasn't well off. I grew up in a tiny home; five people in just under one thousand square feet. My parents sacrificed a lot in terms of financial security in order to send my two brothers and I to private school. It could also be that my parents did well in instilling good values and establishing strong traditions that had little to do with material gifts.

I started trying to recall my very favorite holiday memories, in order to get to the bottom of it, and here is what I came up with:

1. Lying Underneath the Tree: I loved the view of the lights and ornaments from below, and I remember situating myself face up under the tree and staying there for quite some time.

2. The Smell of Cinnamon: Whether in candles, or coming from the kitchen, cinnamon is a scent that I have come to associate with the holiday season, and getting a whiff of it even at the mall brings back many lovely memories and feelings.

3. Handmade Ornaments: My mom is Martha Stewart's long lost twin, and over the years made a plethora of beautiful ornaments. We had cinnamon cut out ones (see #2), beeswax ornaments, hand sewn ornaments, and more. I have kept many and proudly display them on my tree every year.

4. Driving to Look at Lights: Always an adventure, especially in old, not so reliable cars. I recall a magical feeling that arose when gazing at the lights on houses and city buildings.

5. Singing in the Car: Someone would start and it wouldn't stop until we got home, and much laughter generally ensued. My two brothers are musicians and I truly believe this tradition had something to with them finding and choosing that path.

6. The Holiday Party: Our close friends usually had a party every year, and I remember the din of voices and laughter, us kids putting on a "Christmas Show," playing games, singing carols, and eating once a year treats.

7. The Little Boxes: My mom made these adorable little boxes; a different design for each family member, that hung on the tree but were also functional. We each placed coupons for each other there on Christmas Eve. These were gifts of time and service; playing a game with my little brother, taking on one of my older brother's chores, helping mom out, and giving dad a back rub. I don't remember many that I received, so I highly recommend this tradition in order to facilitate embracing the joy of giving. I remember being so excited writing out my coupons and placing them in each box.

8. Unwrapping Gifts, Slowly: One at a time, as a matter of fact. This served to prolong the joy and to add some mindfulness in acknowledging each gift and the person who gave it.

9. Quality over Quantity: Because money was tight my parents went for the things that would be well loved and useful, and they made many of our gifts. My mom even sewed clothes for my Barbies. Seriously. I still have some and they are totally '80s rad.

10. A Lazy Day: I loved having a leisurely morning spent slowly opening gifts, then lazing the day away until dinner. I know now as a mom that my mother didn't really get to enjoy a lazy day since she was in the kitchen preparing dinner, but we kids got to play with our new toys, watch movies, read, play board games, or whatever else struck our fancy.

I encourage everyone to think back and recall their most poignant holiday moments. I would be willing to bet that very few favorite memories have anything to do with stuff, but everything to do with family, tradition, and the good feelings that come along with taking in all the season has to offer. I have loved being able to create magical and memorable holidays for my kids, and now my partner's two grandkids as well. Last year they redecorated my tree -- another precious memory to hold onto!

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Happy Holidays!