The Gift of Presence vs. Presents

While most of us have gotten better about breaking annoying cell phone habits, like turning off the camera flash and notifications, there are still areas we need to collectively improve if we ever want to be present during the holiday season.

The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year where families reunite and everything is supposed to be full of good cheer — but for some, it is a time of toxic family, anxiety, and awkward conversations over holiday cocktails. However, multiple generations with different personality types all together can still be a joyful occasion.

During the holiday season, our thoughts often turn to two things: family and gratitude. Deep down what we want is to spend more time making memories with our families. Often times we’re looking for ways to show our gratitude by giving our time, and attention, and thoughts to things of greater importance.

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Moments can’t be gift-wrapped. Image courtesy of James Besser

As wonderful as the holidays are, a lot of us struggle with this time of year for many reasons and it’s hard to remain “in the moment”. Don’t worry about who your “family” consists of. Your family does not have to look traditional (mine certainly isn’t). I consider family members those who truly love and care for us without judgement and criticism, regardless if we happen to share DNA or not. Families come in all different types and sizes. It is not a one size fits all.

With that said, how can you avoid unnecessary stress this holiday season and learn to appreciate the moments as you experience them?

No holiday celebration is perfect. Try to view any missteps as opportunities to exercise your flexibility, resilience, and patience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won’t ruin your holiday — think of it as creating a family memory. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about realistic expectations and remind them that the holidays aren’t about expensive gifts. The sooner you start speaking with them about another view of what the holiday means, the more you can expand their awareness.

Start this process by adopting the popular 4-Gift Rule, practice shared around the internet starting in 2014: Something They Want, Something They Need, Something They Wear, Something They Read.

If you are concerned about potentially difficult conversations at family gatherings, such as during the holidays, remember these events are about bringing people together, not driving them apart. Focus on good memories and what you and your family have in common. Plan activities that foster fun and laughter, such as playing a family game or looking through old photo albums.

We have people who love bringing old photos they’ve found throughout the year to share so we can digitize them and preserve them. Then we can share them with family who couldn’t make it that year.

Have you ever explored the memories of older family members? You may be surprised by what you find. Here you can connect on a deeper level with your deceased relatives and enjoy special experiences with your children or siblings as you look at the pictures and read the stories together. Show your gratitude for your family legacy by sharing stories of your own. When you meet up with Grandma and/or Grandpa at holiday gatherings, you can even record their stories and upload the audio to a shared folder for prosperity.

On the whole, the holiday season is short. It helps to maintain a broader context and a longer-term perspective. If something goes wrong, realize it’s not the end of the world. Remember the good things you have in your life and recognize that this situation will pass. There will be time after the holiday season to follow up or do more of the things we’ve overlooked or did not have the time to do during the holidays.

Commercialism can overshadow the true sentiment of the holiday season. When your holiday expense list is fatter than your monthly budget, scale back. Remind yourself that family, friends and the relationships are what matter most. Over the years we have watched our gift-giving bill increase and increase until we reached a whopping $1,600 a few years ago!

For me this was unacceptable. I was frustrated with myself for getting sucked into the madness of shopping. The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the winter holidays celebration, making the holiday season the most profitable time of year for retailers. In the U.S., the holiday shopping season begins on the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, and the frenzy often lasts until the very last minute — something I was prone to doing. I took a step back and asked myself, ‘What the heck am I doing?’

Sometimes, things need to scale back a bit in order to appreciate more.

You may feel pressured to be everything to everyone. Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re feeling less stressed. Reflect on aspects of your life that give you joy; go for a long walk, get a massage, listen to your favorite music or read a new book. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries. Be mindful and focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Be mindful of your blessings. Not everyone celebrates the holidays, can afford to participate in them, or has a family that they can be with (or want to be with) during this time of the year.

There’s a reason people love classic holiday movies like The Holiday — and songs like ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’. At its core, the best holiday entertainment evokes the spirit of closeness that embodies the holiday season.

It’s time to realize that presents are not the same as presence. Let’s turn our focus back to togetherness while we enjoy the human experience, especially during this time of the year where a warm hug can be worth more than a warm hat.

Natali is a Conscious Life Coach with an eclectic lifestyle and a matching view on the world. Check out her Instaquote game, read more of her musings on her website MySoulrenity, or tune into her weekly podcast MySoulrenity + Beyond.

Founder of, host of comedy podcast Stoned N’ Social, Empowerment Speaker, Conscious Coach, + intuition fiend. Nerdy, hippy-dippy cosmic girl.

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