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By Susan Parmelee

Susan Pamelee

Earlier this month, we asked members of our Facebook group, RaisingSouthOCTeens, to share their holiday family traditions.

It started a wonderful conversation among the group about how holidays bring together families in unique ways. With many of us feeling overscheduled, it was impressive to see that many families continue to keep long-held traditions alive.

Some noted the importance of traditions in their family while also accepting that as children grow older, these traditions may develop into new ones. I was grateful to learn more about how families celebrate the holidays.

One family starts every Thanksgiving Day at the beach, with their surfboards, volleyballs and sand toys, noting that they always have a beautiful morning to greet them. Holidays can be hectic with all the planning and travel and cooking.

But they can also give us the opportunity to slow down and acknowledge things we might normally take for granted, like the fact that we live in one of the most amazing climates in the world that grants us beach days with our loved ones in the winter.

Another favorite of mine was the family who collects an ornament while on their summer vacation. While decorating the tree, the family is able to reflect on the time they have spent together and appreciate the opportunities for togetherness and growth that are connected to those trips. Gratitude allows time to be thankful for the privileges we have in our lives.

In these posts, several families mentioned the meals and foods that they share over the holidays and how, for some, it means expanding past family to include people who have become important in their lives.

As someone who lives on the opposite side of the country from most of her relatives, I, too, like to appreciate those people who support us like family. Whether it be a neighbor, co-worker or close friend, our home is always open to all our extended family. Consider inviting those people in your lives to share in the joy of the holiday season, especially those who may not have their own family close by.

While as a culture we focus on traditions of gratitude on our annual day of Thanksgiving, developing a daily practice of gratitude actually brings joy and increases mental well-being. Brother David Steindl-Rast, an interfaith leader, suggests that “the root of joy is gratefulness … It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

Steindl-Rast suggests we increase our awareness of everyday opportunities for gratitude. Most days for me, that includes my dog greeting me with affection, the aroma of my cup of coffee, and appreciating the very short commute to work.

It may sound a little silly to be grateful for our daily beautiful weather; however, feeling the warm sunshine on my face most days definitely brings joy to my life.

As holiday family gatherings approach, remember to cherish those annual traditions and consider adding more. Here are a few ideas:

  • Thanks and Tell: Ask guests to bring an item to a get-together that reflects what they are thankful for this year. Each participant then shares what their item symbolizes.
  • Thanks and Giving: Ask guests to clean out their closets and bring a gently used coat or blanket to donate to a nonprofit that serves those in need.
  • Thanks and Forgiving: Consider using a moment of silence to forgive someone in your life who may have hurt you—this does not need to be shared with others.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with the community. All of us at the Wellness & Prevention Center wish all of you a holiday season filled with the warmth of family and friends, laughter-filled meals, and time to slow down and appreciate all of the gifts in our lives.

Please consider joining our Wellness & Prevention Center Facebook group, RasingSouthOCTeens, and post some of your holiday traditions and recommendations.        

Susan Parmelee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Executive Director of the Wellness & Prevention Center wpc-oc.org. She can be reached at susan@www.wpc-oc.org.

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