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December has for centuries been a time of celebration in honor of the rebirth that follows the darkest days of winter. The occasion of Hanukkah and the advent of Christianity transformed this month into one of special focus. As this period of celebration has grown, it is now often accompanied by extravagance and stress that easily overshadow our desire to enjoy this time of year.

The results often include frazzled nerves, strained budgets, fatigue from overflowing social calendars and a general sense of disappointment if big holiday expectations are not met. In the end, many of us wind up feeling guilty or sad because we just want to ‘get it over with.’

It can help us contend with the stress if we, even momentarily, jump off the holiday merry-go-round long enough to focus on those things that we know will make our time with friends and family more meaningful, gentle and full of joy. I look forward to hearing this month’s feature story – Really HAPPY Holidays – will assist you in finding greater joy during this season of celebration.



Recent quotes from Coach Joyce K. Reynolds have appeared in The Wall Street Journal; USA Today;; Chicago Tribune; American Airlines Magazine, The American Way; Microsoft's; Cosmopolitan; Working Mother Magazine; Learning/Discovery Channel/; Sun-Sentinel, Glamour.



Whether its Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza or another December holiday, this gift-giving, celebration time presents plenty of opportunity for both joy and stress. Starting with the mid-summer arrival of the first catalogs, we are presented with the idea of making the holidays extravagant, perfect and harmonious. Unfortunately, by their arrival, many of us are bone-weary from unreasonable schedules, worried about successfully managing family and friends, tired of fighting our way through crowded stores and feeling financially overextended by the whole affair. Just plain light years away from a festive mood.

If you've already gotten there, here are a few suggestions that may help you return to the joyful intent of the season:

1. Remember What The Season 'Tis For.
No doubt, holiday celebrations mean pressure for most of us. No matter how hard we try to enjoy the season, there's always too much to do and not enough time to do it in. In addition to the resultant rush, we can easily set ourselves up by thinking if we plan better, work harder at it, buy enough special presents, this year it will be a perfect holiday. What can, instead, make it more joyful is to maintain our focus on the heart of the events. For example, instead of feeling obliged to spend a lot on gifts, we can grasp the fact that "it's the loving message behind a gift, not the gift itself," as H. Ronald Hulnick, coauthor with his wife, Mary, of 'Financial Freedom in Eight Minutes a Day' said. A perfect example: one year, Mary set up a video camera in the living room and sat down in front of it. "I want to tell you a few things from my heart," she began. For 30 minutes, she told her husband why she loved him -- how much she appreciated his loyalty, sense of humor, and tenderness. "It was the most caring gift I ever got," her husband says. In this frame of mind, we're more likely to find that our sense of joy has less to do with material giving and more to do with preparing for a time of love and companionship with family and friends.

2. Ascertain a Comfort Level.
Truly knowing what we can comfortably handle over the holidays and conveying these parameters clearly to family, friends and colleagues allows for the maximum opportunity for an enjoyable season. To reduce stress, "tailor the holidays to yourself," says Marjorie Baier, an associate professor at the Jewish Hospital College of Nursing and Allied Health, in St. Louis. "Think, 'I'll celebrate my way' and then do what you love." In other words, neither we nor anyone around us will enjoy the holiday if we are irritable or angry because we're overextended or grudgingly doing things we really don't want to do. Thoughtfully and sincerely setting boundaries gives us - and those around us - a greatly improved chance of enjoying the events of the season.

3. Consider the Consequences.
If we know that our holidays would be more joyful and relaxed if we didn't plan to build a nativity scene out of homemade marzipan, bake five kinds of cookies, decorate our homes with fresh garlands and all manner of elaborate extras but we feel we just must do it all anyway - we do ourselves a great service by acknowledging the consequences of such decisions. Unless we have a staff of people to help, these kinds of plans have a high potential for producing stress and self-disappointment. If we face this fact but, nonetheless, decide to go ahead with the full plan, there's no room for blaming others. Then it's time to either cut back or grin and bear it. The choice is ours.

4. Make Time for Self-Forgetting.
Cyril Tourneur said, "Joy is a subtle elf. I think one's happiest when he forgets himself." The greatest joys often come from simple things like including those in our circle of celebration who might otherwise be alone. An elderly neighbor. A foreign student. A single friend absent of family. Or we might have some fun doing the simple but unexpected for others. Jaye Bryant, a retired businessman in Great Falls, Montana, spent six hours one Christmas taking neighborhood kids to slide down a snowy hill. As the children whooshed to the bottom on inner tubes, Bryant met them and dragged the tubes back up. "At the end of the day, I was sore and wet," he recalls. "But it gave me a good feeling to see the kids enjoy themselves." Whatever the choice, we can rekindle our own joy by arranging to provide a bit of it for others.

5. Know What's Too Much of a Good Thing.
Psychologist Nancy Dess, an expert on eating and emotional health at Occidental College in Los Angeles, says that depression and physical stress are often the results of overindulgence during the holiday season. Drinking at party after party can have a cumulative effect. "When the partying stops, people get hyper and irritable," explains Dr. Mary Dufour, of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Yet, according to Gallup polls and USDA nutritional figures, 1.7 billion cookies, 15 million pounds of fruitcake, and 120 million pounds of eggnog will be consumed over the holidays. If we care about our health and our moods, holidays are times for moderation, indeed.

6. Beware of High Expectations.
No matter what we've heard over the years, for the most part, the Norman Rockwell holiday does not exist. Most of us simply can't live up to the images on Christmas cards or in television commercials. Instead, we can make the holidays fit what's possible, not necessarily what's been presented as ideal. As we do so, we reduce the chances of setting up the inevitable disappointments that heightened expectations can produce. In fact, our families and friends can be our greatest sources of joy and fulfillment if we approach the holidays with a realistic view.

7. Avoid Emotional Landmines.
Holidays can be particularly fertile times for old feuds and misunderstandings to ignite into irritation or anger. "If you haven't gotten along with Uncle Gus all year, he won't change at Christmas," warns psychologist Marta Vago, of Santa Monica, CA. Recognizing this can protect us from succumbing to resentment and help us stay polite and emotionally distant when holiday gatherings bring us together with some less pleasant relatives or acquaintances. "Sometimes stress comes out of every nook and cranny of the other person's conversation," explains Dr. Jonathan Himmelhoch, a University of Pittsburgh professor of psychiatry. "Stay neutral and avoid the emotional content of what the person says. Accept the fact that whatever's wrong with a relationship, it won't get sorted out around a Christmas turkey."

8. Help Heal a Few Hearts.
For many, the holiday season brings painful reminders of loss or unhappiness. Grief over the death of a loved one, anger or sadness over a broken family or frustration over a strained relationship all can be heightened at this time of year. If we keep in mind that many people are dealing with difficult situations and strive, during the holidays, to connect lovingly with those around us, we will help heal not only other aching hearts but our own as well. Very often, just this new perspective can bring insight, hope and the ability to cope with difficulty and change.

9. Prepare for Things to Go Awry.
We know 'tis the season to be jolly but it's also the season for annual holiday dilemmas that result when things go wrong. Let's face it - working around all the different families, friends and traditions just isn't easy. And, even though we've meticulously planned ahead in order to prepare for all possibilities, we're better off to remember that no matter how much arranging we've done, things will go wrong. Awareness of this rock solid fact and flexibility in dealing with the things that, ultimately, go in a direction other than we had planned, will help us cope more calmly and graciously.

10. Celebrate the Joie de Vivre.
"Each of us has the ability to find our personal joy of living,' said Renee Repound. The ultimate pleasure we find in this holiday season will hinge on how much we embrace the fact that happiness comes from within rather than from trying to anticipate and meet the expectations of others. And, if we are not currently in the most festive state of mind, we can invite the 'joie de vivre' by cooperating with - rather than fighting - our internal process. In other words, there's no need for self-criticism if we are feeling sad or lonely during the holidays despite who is around us or what's going on. Simply understanding that we have the capacity for joy - making room for its return if it's currently absent - can bring a quiet pleasure and peaceful benediction to this holiday time.



Winter Solstice, usually December 21, is the longest night of the year. It marks the beginning of winter and marks the turning of the year when the days start getting longer again and the earth heads back toward spring. In older times, when lives were more dependent on the cycles of nature and agriculture, this was celebrated as the rebirth of the mighty Sun, the Lord of Light. In celebration of light and rebirth, the Winter Solstice also coincides with major holidays for many creating a universal time for spiritual awareness and celebration.

Marianne Williamson captured the essence of all spirituality in Illuminata "How beautiful the world will be when we have mystically journeyed back up to the light. When all lower thought has been transformed into its highest possibility, when all human energies have been freed from the tyranny of fear, how light we will be, how released we will feel. And the time is now: We can accept the future in the present moment. The Jews say the Messiah is coming; the Christians say the Messiah has been here; Einstein said that there is no time. The truth is, the Messiah is within. It doesn't matter what we call it or how we frame it. All that matters is that we claim our inheritance, the power of God to heal and redeem us. Forget the language. Just build a new world."



The Feast of Dedication

The story of a miracle that took place in Palestine over 2100 years ago, tells of the tyrant Antiochus the Syrian, who hated all nations other than his own. And he vowed to destroy all faiths as he conquered many nations but the Jews resisted. He tried to force them to give up their God and their sacred books. He befouled their temple in Jerusalem and ordered all the holy books burned as well as those who studied them. A man named Mattathias lived in Palestine with his five sons. When Antiochus' men came to Mattathias' village of Modin, demanding the people make sacrifices to idols and threatening death to those who didn't, Mattathias killed them. He then cried out in a mighty voice to people: "Mi Komocho Be-Elohim, Adonoi!" - Who compares with you among the gods, O Lord!. The first letter of each word in this phrase in Hebrew (MKBEA) is pronounced "Maccabee." Thus, the name was given to the followers of Mattathias and his sons. The Maccabees hid for many years in the mountains and attacked Antiochus' men. When Mattathias died, his son Judas took over as leader and after seven hard years of fighting, he won a number of victories and finally he and his followers returned to Jerusalem.

Judas was determined to cleanse the temple and rededicate it to the one true God. When the cleansing was completed and the time came to kindle the eternal light in the Temple lamp, they discovered there was only a small cruet of sanctified oil, enough for a single night. Eight days were required to prepare fresh consecrated oil and there were eight cups in the Temple lamp, called the Menorah, and one had to be lit each night. To the surprise of Judas and all the people, the oil miraculously lasted throughout the eight days. And every year, since that first celebration, Jews gather in their homes to light the Hanukkah lamp and praise the Lord for delivering them out of the hands of a mighty and wicked host.

The Festival of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a 7-day, non-religious celebration founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, during which African Americans celebrate and reflect upon their rich heritage. Derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means ‘first fruits,’ Kwanzaa is rooted in the harvest celebrations practiced in various cultures in Africa. The holiday seeks to enforce a connectedness to African cultural identity, provide a focal point for the gathering of African peoples and to reflect upon the Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles, that have sustained Africans. These include unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Africans and African-Americans of all religious faiths and backgrounds practice Kwanzaa beginning December 26 through January 1.

Each evening a family member, usually the youngest child, lights candles in a special candleholder and discusses one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. No celebration is complete without Karamu, the ceremonial feast that traditionally takes place on December 31. The essential spirit of this feast is Umoja which means unity, as expressed by the gathering of the family and community to celebrate history, culture and the upcoming new year.

The development of Kwanzaa assumed a reassessment, reclaiming, recommitment, remembrance, retrieval, resumption, resurrection and rejuvenation of the Way of Life principles recognized by African-Americans. Today, Kwanzaa is recognized by millions throughout America and the world. It is celebrated often in community settings provided by homes, churches, mosques, temples, community centers, schools, and places of work.

The Spirit of Christmas

The word Christmas comes from the old English "Cristes maesse" meaning Christ's Mass. The holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The actual birthday of Jesus is not known, therefore, the early church fathers in the 4th century fixed the day around the old Roman Saturnalia festival traditionally celebrated between December 17 and 21. The first mention of the birthday of Jesus is from the year 354 AD. Gradually all Christian churches, except Armenians who celebrate Christmas on January 6, the date of the baptism of Jesus as well as the day of the three Magi, accepted the date of December 25th.
In American/English tradition, Christmas Day itself is the day for opening gifts brought by jolly old St. Nick. Many of our current American ideals about the way Christmas ought to be, derive from the English Victorian Christmas, such as that described in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
The caroling, the gifts, the feast, and the wishing of good cheer to all - these ingredients came together to create that special Christmas atmosphere. The custom of gift-giving on Christmas goes back to Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Kalends. The very first gifts were simple items such as twigs from a sacred grove as good luck emblems. Soon that escalated to food, small items of jewelry, candles, and statues of gods. To the early Church, gift-giving at this time was a pagan holdover and therefore severely frowned upon. However, people would not part with it, and some justification was found in the original gift giving of the Magi, and from figures such as St. Nicholas. By the middle ages gift giving was accepted.


2002 by Joyce K. Reynolds. Duplication with credits only please. Click here for easy access to all books referenced. For complimentary 20-minute Coaching session e-mail or visit Click here to send this newsletter to a colleague. Executive Business Coach on Click here to Unsubscribe. Newsletter maintained by Web Factum, LLC.