The holidays are not always happy times for people. It can be a stressful, depressing, or lonely time. There may be pressure to buy gifts and get people at least one big thing from their wish list. There may be overwhelm with having to be the host family. There may even be overstepping of boundaries and outbursts of emotions, from both adults and little humans.
So why do most of us get caught up in all of this? The simple short answer could be capitalism and living in a capitalistic society. The solution? Consider the long-term impacts of finding non-capitalistic ways to build meaningful connections that serve as the foundation for our relationships. As human beings, we want connection with other humans, and sometimes, those who are not human such as plants, animals, and nature. Gathering and gift giving are ways we can share or show that we want connection to continue.
We don’t always have to gift someone a big or small luxury item in order to do this. Sometimes, the best things are those that are unspoken. The things we feel that are said with a hug, laughter, or a shared experience. That is what I believe, the holidays are intended and meant to do- remind us of our innate ability to share and exchange our energy in ways that bring pure joy to us all. And what a gift that is.
I think of what my little family does around this time of the year and it’s a little different than when I was a kid. Most everything we do in our home is centered around our son’s emotional development. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big event or holiday or birthday party, we always leave room for him to process his emotions and for us to self-regulate. There’s nothing worse than being told not to cry or to stop being made when you’re a kid expressing a normal range of emotions. We have a handful of go-to’s that help us all self-regulate and make room for building our relationships.
To practice this, I have some things you can do to build connection and mindful gifting for the holidays.
1. Get outside. You know that being in nature calms your nervous system right? And if you live in the north where it snows, then fun in the snow can create lasting memories and provide a safe place for processing big emotions. Bundle up and take a walk through the snow with your family, friends, or furry companion. Go sledding or snowshoeing. Play and let your inner child run wild and free. See what adventures and creations you can come up with!
2. Use your hands to create something from scratch. Did you know that when we make things with our hands, we’re channeling the creative side of our brains which can be meditative AND reduce stress? We also have the ability to solve problems better when we use our hands to create things. Cook a meal, bake, or prepare a long-time family recipe, even better if it’s with family members or friends. If you don’t have a long-time family recipe, there’s no time like the present to create one. Let your family members or friends have a part in the process such as bringing some of the ingredients or helping make it from scratch. Everything from getting the ingredients, the process of cooking or baking, and serving the final product give us an opportunity to use our hands, connect with other people, and make meaningful memories. What will you chef up?
3. Self-regulating practices. When we’re stressed or overwhelmed, our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and remain calm) is on the back burner and we have a hard time making room for connection with ourselves and others. Deep breathing or slow inhales and slow exhales, quiet time, light tapping on the body, slowly drinking water, increasing oxytocin (such as with a massage, hugs or skin-to-skin) stretching, or dancing are all ways we can calm our nervous systems by activating our vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is connected to several neuronal pathways. If the vagus nerve is activated by self-regulating practices, we can calm ourselves and let our body know we are safe, which allows us to better connect with those around us. Whether you are hosting, going to a relative’s house, or trying to find some lactose free eggnog, make time to practice self-regulation. Which one(s) will you try out?
4. Games. Instead of heading right to the TV and watching all the movies or cartoons, we have made it a family tradition to play a board game for the holidays. Sometimes it’s our son’s pick, sometimes it’s the parents’ pick. Why do we do this? We help our son read the instructions, set up the game, and playing together all build moments for connection. OR if we are playing a game meant for outside, it gives us a chance to get out of the house and have fun outside. Also, who doesn’t love a little friendly competition?!
Take note of the emotions when playing with children who are learning that there is a winner and a loser in almost every game (it may also apply to adults!) If they get frustrated, pause, make sure they’re okay, and feel free to try some self-regulating practices for you and the kiddo(s) before continuing with the game or doing something else. Pro-tip: play age appropriate games if playing with children so they are less likely to get frustrated. Examples include Wake Up Stars, Banagrams, Candyland, Hungry Hippos, or tag (outside).
5. Create a scrapbook/photobook together. Getting crafty with pictures and decorating them on a nice piece of paper can serve as a memento for a future photobook or scrapbook and last a lifetime - or longer! Crafting as a family or with friends lets everyone channel creativity, reduce stress, and makes room for meaningful, memorable, connection. Grab some pictures of family, notebook paper, a thicker piece of paper, glue or tape, scissors, memorabilia (i.e. tickets, badge, ribbons, cards) are optional, and markers or stickers to add fun borders to a page. Write a little bit about the photo or memory. Make one page or more than one. Or make the page smaller like a postcard or bookmark to send to relatives. Use a laminator or plastic sleeve if you’re feeling fancy. There are no limits or bounds to how this can look. Make sure to use a space where a mess is to be expected and get crafty!
6. Buy Native. Support Indigenous and Native businesses this holiday season. Why, you might ask? Native and Indigenous entrepreneurs do it differently. You can find everything from sustainably made cosmetics, clothing, and ethically harvested body care products, to custom made and one of a kind artwork to wear or add to your home. Not sure where to start? Check my shop for a poem in sticker form you can gift to someone or for yourself.
I hope you leave this post with some ideas about how you can practice mindful gifting and relationship building during the holidays. Check my holiday gift guide for more ideas on where to buy Native/Indigenous made products.
Also see my Indigenous Creatures Holiday Gift Guide for tips on where to start looking for your holiday gifts this year. IYKYK!
Constant Motion Woman
Constant Motion Woman (Pearl) is a full spectrum doula, lactation counselor, and yoga instructor focused on setting families up for easy transitions to postpartum and parenting by building rest and emotional connection skills for healthy parent-child relationships in her clients. Find more about her work @constantmotionwoman or her website for a booking www.constantmotion.online/booking