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How to be mindful of others’ experience this holiday season

IT’S THE HOLIDAY SEASON. You knew that, because there’s no way you can avoid this time of year. It’s literally everywhere from commercials to Christmas music everywhere you go. It’s (in theory) the most wonderful time of the year, but not everyone subscribes to that idea.

Last year, I wrote about making the season work for you, and how it’s okay if it doesn’t look the same as it’s “supposed to”. I stand by that message wholeheartedly, so if you need a reminder, go read it. Let’s call this part two, because there’s another side to this whole holiday season thing I think we need to be aware of.

Not everyone’s holiday experience is the same.

I know it’s easy to know that, but it’s not quite as simple to practice it. We all have a lot of assumptions and default thinking when it comes to this time of year. This is a time to spend with family. Gifts have to be given. You’re supposed to have the day off of work. It’s a time to slow down and be more generous than usual. Christmas music makes people happy. It’s a magical time of year. I could keep going, but you get the point.

You might be looking at that list and nodding along, getting super excited to light the menorah or open presents on Christmas morning. That’s awesome. I’m so glad we’re in a season that brings you so much joy. But, it’s not the same for everyone.

The holiday season can bring up every feeling imaginable.

Personally, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I don’t dread this time of year, and I have some holiday traditions that I really look forward to. But I also roll my eyes at a lot of it. No, I will not buy a gift for everyone I know just because. I like a handful of Christmas songs, and that’s about it. I don’t really look forward to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. and sometimes I get salty that everything is closed when I just want to have a normal day.

This is where I remind you about the wonder that is the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show. IT IS THE BEST. It’s also one of my favorite holiday traditions.

Because this time of year can be complicated, people manage it in a lot of different ways.

A great example of how different this time of year can feel to people is the music.
This is a holiday song. Isn’t it fun?! I want to dance around in my living room to this. This is the holiday mood for tons of people!

So how can you help?

Remember those assumptions? Be aware of them. They’re untrue for a lot of people, and can even be triggering. Very few holiday season conversations are more awkward than when someone asks excitedly, “So what are your Christmas plans?!” and someone else has to answer with “….Nothing”. Not everyone celebrates. Some people don’t want to have plans. A good question to ask instead is, “Do you plan to celebrate (insert holiday here)?”.

There are those who choose to work, because they get extra money and it keeps them occupied on what would otherwise be a challenging day. So if someone tells you that they’re working, the response of “Oh no! That sucks!” (or something similar) isn’t always great to hear. Rather than insert your own judgement in there, ask them how they feel about it.

For anything else related to holiday happenings, it’s great to ask something neutral like, “How have the holidays been for you?” and then have an open mind to whatever they have to say. They might be super excited to talk to you about twinkle lights and whether the 8th night of Hanukkah should have the biggest gift. Or, they might want to change the subject. But this gives them the opportunity to just say what they feel, rather than have to correct an assumption or be dishonest.

Explaining yourself to someone who clearly thinks you’re weird or doing the wrong thing is really hard, especially if you’re already struggling.

This is also a song for this time of year. It’s very different. And yet, many people relate more to this one. Me? I like both – which gives you an excellent idea how I feel around this time of year LOL.

Bottom line? Just keep in mind that your feelings about the holidays could be different than someone else’s.

If it’s easy for you, that’s wonderful. I think we all have the best intentions when we ask someone what they got for the holidays or if they’re excited for the time off. I also think people have the best intentions when they seem surprised or disappointed if someone says “Nothing” or “No, I’m going to work”. But when we know better, we do better. So just be aware. Check in with people around you in a neutral way and really ask them how they’re doing.

This time of year is both wonderful and mind numbingly hard. Both are completely valid experiences. Let’s all make sure we’re engaging accordingly.

Author: Rachel

Rachel is a licensed therapist and co-founder of Viva Wellness. She gets most of her inspiration for the blog while on the run, and if you ever need to find her, she’s probably in Central Park. If she’s not running, you’ll find her planning the next time she’s going to eat, exploring all things wellness in NYC, or raising her stress level by watching her sports teams.

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