Richard and I just indulged in our favorite December tradition—we watched our favorite Christmas movie (Scrooge! the musical starring Albert Finney) which kick-starts our holiday spirit every year.

No matter what you observe: Ramadan, Kwaanza, Chanukah, Solstice or Christmas, this is a celebratory time of year. For some it's a joy, for others a nightmare, and pressure to spend too much, eat too much, and socialize in ways you don't like. If your Holiday expectations are out of line with what you can really accomplish, you'll be stressed.

Holidays can be the best of times and the worst of times. Holiday rituals, thoughtfully done, can be a source of bonding and strength. To de-stress the holidays, get intentional about them. Happier holidays require three things: 1) lighten up on expectations, 2) ask for help, and 3) understand what other people are thinking.

To lighten up expectations, understand that this is your real life, not a picture-book experience. Family or friends may squabble, food may not turn out perfect, and gifts may not go over as well as people hope. A sense of humor will help lighten up the whole thing. Think of yourself as a holiday trouble-shooter, rather than a designer of perfect scenarios. Find out what’s really important to yourself, your guests and your family, and pare your celebration down to the important things. Focus less on spending money or decorating, and more on spending time with those you love.

Ask for help by getting other people engaged in the happenings, and sharing the work. You'll find that a lot of camaraderie comes out of working together, and a lot of the holiday fun will happen behind the scenes as you work with others to get ready. Your family and friends will feel more a part of the celebration if they actually create part of it.

Understand what people are thinking by talking of events in advance with your spouse, your children, or other members of your family and friends. Ask them what they like most, and least, and what they hope will happen. If you know the “hidden agendas” you'll be less surprised when they show up.

Once you’ve made your holiday easier and less stressful, you have room to add more meaning.

Encourage family members to talk about what's meaningful to them, or their favorite holiday memories. If your holiday is Christmas, for example: Invite each person at your celebration to choose or bring favorite ornament for the tree, and ask them to tell why it's meaningful to them. Spend a moment after Christmas dinner asking the oldest member present to share his or her memories of Christmas past. Gather around the tree and read a favorite Christmas story. Or, read a few pages of a longer work, like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, or O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi aloud every night leading up to Christmas.

Adapted from It Ends With You © 2004 Tina B. Tessina

Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Dr. Tessina, is CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for, a website designed to strengthen relationships and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship with personalized tips, courses, and online couples counseling. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC News.