Just coming off the Thanksgiving holiday and moving directly into another holiday season, I’m struck by a comment I have heard several times, ”That was a lot of work for a twenty-minute meal.” At first I was saddened, but then I realized that so often the culmination of the holiday “event” leaves us somewhat let down. I think this is because we don’t appreciate the journey and preparation leading up to the holiday as part of the event itself. They call it the holiday “season” because it spans many days and those days of preparation are supposed to be filled with joy.

In our family, we celebrate Christmas and I look forward to Christmas morning with the stockings full of surprises, dinner cooking in the oven all day and an evening surrounded by family. But the joy of the season is so much more than just the single day. For me, the joy of the season is cutting down and decorating a Christmas tree together, making Christmas cookies with my Girl Scout troop and doing a cookie exchange, picking out toys for Toys for Tots with my children, appreciating the lights on the Christmas tree in the dark winter dawn as we get ready for school, wrapping presents to put under our tree (and not putting tags on them
to drive my kids crazy!), cherishing my daughter’s high school holiday concert, and attending the Christmas Eve service at the church my husband’s mom attended as a child.

I think we approach many events in our work and in our life the way that we do holidays. We focus so much on the “work” and “effort” that culminates in that one event that we miss the joy of the journey. The journey is what makes the destination or special event even sweeter. Every holiday, special event, or big milestone in our life or work is marked by many steps along the way. What are the highpoints on the journey towards graduation, a promotion, the completion of a big project, retirement, a move, finishing a 5k or marathon, or having a baby? Instead of focusing on all the effort or work or over-emphasizing “getting there,” we are more fulfilled and have a richer experience when we relish the milestones along the way, including the ups and the downs, the joy and the fatigue, and the accomplishments and failures. Then, we can fully celebrate the event – all of it – and what is still to come.

We have been coaching young leaders about visioning and planning and I think those skills are helpful as we look forward to the holiday season (and you can apply to it any of the special events or milestones listed above, too!). To create a vision and plan for your holiday season, consider:

  • Starting with the end in mind, as Stephen R. Covey suggested, by picturing what brings you joy during your holiday season, who is important to include during this time and what your favorite activities or “must haves” are
  • Creating a plan several weeks in advance of the actual day or event. For me, once Thanksgiving is past I start to plan for Christmas, but I know many people like to plan earlier
  • Making a list of your must haves, like my list above, and timing for each so that you can prioritize and include them in your holiday season. Be sure to include others in making and prioritizing the list, which may require some give and take, so you have full buy-in to your families holiday festivities and plan
  • Identifying activities, traditions, or invitations that you should eliminate so that your must haves don’t get squeezed and you don’t end up over-committed, tired and resentful of all the festivities of the season. Your list may change, too, over time and some things that were on your must have list are not a priority anymore. Sometimes it takes courage to admit that things that used to bring us joy no longer do -- to ourselves and to others
  • Enjoying each of the things on your list, including the late night secret present wrapping, bundling children up in way too many layers to attend a concert, planning menus and shopping to prepare the wonderful cookies, treats and meals, or any other effort that goes along with the activities we chose

When you take a few minutes to envision and plan for your holiday season – and not just the day or event – you will better experience the joy of the seasonal journey and appreciate your family, friends and neighbors with whom you choose to celebrate.

What are your favorite things that bring you joy during this holiday season? Are you making time for them and enjoying this wondrous and magical time of year? Post a comment to share your favorites of the holiday season and what strategies you employ to experience the joy of the season. We’d love to hear from you!