Every year, the holiday season rushes in with a whirlwind of activity. There are festive gatherings to attend, Santa photos to take, and so many gifts to buy. And it’s very easy to get swept up in the joyous chaos of it all, and to lose sight of the deeper meaning behind our celebrations.
It’s a busy time of year. Happy, but let’s face it – a little frantic too.
Which is why, at this time of year, it is more important than ever to focus on gratitude and mindfulness. In fact, instilling gratitude and mindfulness into our family traditions can help us slow down, be fully present in the moment and significantly enrich our experiences. Not to mention, it helps us connect more deeply with our loved ones.
Which is kind of the point at Christmas time, right?
Why do gratitude and mindfulness matter during the holidays?
The holidays can become a hub of materialism, where the focus often lands on presents and events. However, instilling gratitude and mindfulness within family traditions can counteract this, creating a deeper sense of appreciation and presence.
Mindfulness – the practice of being present and aware of our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings – holds the power to ground us in the present moment. It allows us to savour the simple joys amidst the chaos, fostering a deeper connection with ourselves and those around us. In the whirlwind of the holidays, mindfulness becomes an anchor, helping us appreciate the beauty in the little moments; from the aroma of freshly baked cookies to the joy of gathering around the Christmas tree with loved ones.
Gratitude, on the other hand, is a transformative force. When we cultivate gratitude, we shift our focus from what’s lacking to what’s abundant in our lives. It invites positivity, enhances empathy, and creates a sense of contentment and peace. During the holiday season, gratitude serves as a guiding light, reminding us to cherish the relationships we have, the shelter that keeps us warm, and the laughter that fills our homes.
Benefits for children and families
Incorporating mindfulness and gratitude into holiday traditions serves as the cornerstone for a more meaningful and fulfilling season. By weaving these practices into our celebrations, we amplify the joy and depth of the holiday experience, and also teach children valuable lessons along the way.
Teaching children mindfulness practices helps them to effectively manage emotions and navigate stress, fostering resilience during overwhelming moments. During the holiday hustle and bustle, these tools become invaluable, helping children remain grounded amidst the excitement and potential overwhelm.
Encouraging gratitude cultivates empathy and strengthens familial bonds by emphasising appreciation for each other. From expressing gratitude for thoughtful gestures to simply acknowledging each other’s presence, these practices lay the groundwork for deeper, more meaningful connections and create an environment of appreciation and love.
Mindfulness amplifies the enjoyment of cherished traditions, encouraging children to be fully present and engaged in the moment. Whether it’s decorating the tree, singing carols, or baking holiday treats, mindfulness allows them to savour these experiences, fostering a sense of joy and wonder.
Reducing stress and overwhelm:
Mindful practices offer moments of respite and a chance to pause amidst the chaos, providing a sense of calm and perspective during the holiday rush.
A focus on what truly matters:
By focusing on gratitude, we shift the focus from materialism to the richness of relationships and shared experiences.
Family exercises and traditions to embrace this holiday season
Gratitude jar or journal:
Encourage family members, including children, to maintain a gratitude jar or journal. This daily ritual can begin at the start of December and continue until the new year. Every evening, take a moment to reflect on the day and write down something you’re thankful for. Children can draw or use stickers to represent their gratitude. As the jar fills or the journal pages accumulate, use family gatherings as opportunities to share and celebrate these moments of gratitude. This practice not only fosters appreciation but also serves as a beautiful keepsake of cherished memories.
Acts of Kindness calendar:
Creating an ‘Acts of Kindness’ advent calendar can infuse the holiday season with altruism. Assign a kind gesture for each day leading up to the holidays, encouraging family members to actively participate. For instance, one day might involve leaving a note of encouragement for a neighbour, while another day could be about donating toys or clothes to a local charity. Engaging in these acts not only spreads joy but also instils a sense of empathy and community spirit in children.
Mindful moments in decorations:
While decking the halls, encourage mindfulness by taking a moment to appreciate the scent of pine, the sparkle of ornaments, or the warmth of holiday lights. Encourage everyone to pause and take in the beauty around them, fostering a sense of presence and appreciation for the festive ambiance.
Mindful holiday meals:
Holiday meals often bring people together, providing an excellent opportunity to practise mindful eating. Encourage everyone to pause before meals to express gratitude for the food and those who contributed to it. Encourage slower eating, paying attention to flavours and textures. Engaging in conversations about the meal’s ingredients and origins further enhances mindfulness, fostering a deeper connection to the food and the people involved in its preparation.
Nature walks or outdoor activities:
Amidst the hustle and bustle, finding moments of tranquillity can be rejuvenating. Schedule family walks in nearby parks or forests. Encourage everyone to observe and appreciate nature’s beauty. Engaging in outdoor activities promotes mindfulness by encouraging a heightened awareness of the present moment, away from digital distractions.
Gratitude art or craft projects:
Create art or crafts centred around gratitude. This could involve making a gratitude tree where each family member adds leaves with things they’re thankful for, creating a visual reminder of all the things to be grateful for over the holidays.
Gather around and share stories of gratitude or moments that brought joy. This practice not only strengthens family bonds but also reinforces the habit of acknowledging and appreciating positive experiences.
Embracing mindfulness and gratitude in gift-giving
Gifts of presence:
Encourage experiences over material possessions. Consider gifting mindfulness tools like journals, meditation apps, or subscriptions to activities that promote presence. These gifts not only offer moments of tranquillity but also serve as a gentle nudge toward mindfulness.
Instead of or alongside material gifts, encourage family members to write gratitude letters to each other, expressing appreciation and love. These letters serve as heartfelt reminders of the impact each individual has on others, fostering deeper connections and gratitude.
Foster mindfulness by creating homemade gifts. Crafting something with care and attention encourages presence and gratitude for the process and the recipient. These gifts carry a personal touch and emphasise the value of effort and thoughtfulness over material extravagance.
Beyond the Holidays
While these traditions will certainly help you have a more peaceful, rich and meaningful holiday season, the benefits will also last far beyond the holiday season. Regularly practising gratitude and mindfulness as a family has the power to positively impact family dynamics and improve the wellbeing of all members.
Nurturing family bonds:
Regular engagement in gratitude and mindfulness exercises nurtures deeper family bonds. Children learn to express themselves openly, fostering trust and understanding within the family unit. As these practices become ingrained, they strengthen the emotional fabric that holds the family together
Promoting emotional well-being:
Studies have shown that regular gratitude practices can lead to reduced stress levels, increased happiness, and improved overall mental health. Similarly, mindfulness exercises contribute to emotional regulation, enhancing self-awareness and empathy. By instilling these habits early, parents empower children with emotional resilience and coping mechanisms.
Shaping life perspectives:
Children learn from what they see and experience. Growing up in an environment where gratitude and mindfulness are prioritised shapes their perspectives on life. They learn to appreciate small joys, view challenges as opportunities for growth, and approach life with a positive attitude.
These practices, woven into the fabric of family traditions, create a holiday season that’s not just merry but also profoundly meaningful.
In a world where consumerism often overshadows deeper values, cultivating gratitude and mindfulness becomes a transformative act. It instils in children – and reminds adults – of the beauty of simplicity, the richness of relationships, and the power of being present in each moment.
May this holiday season be a time of heartfelt connection, profound appreciation, and lasting mindfulness for you and your loved ones.
Sarah Conway is a child and adolescent psychologist, mother of 4, and founder of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 15 years of experience working in mental health with children, teenagers, and families. Sarah’s mission is to help parents move away from punitive parenting strategies and towards mindful, intentional parenting that builds emotional intelligence in children and parents alike. As a busy mum herself, she knows firsthand how difficult mindful parenting can be, particularly when it was never modelled by our own parents. That’s why she provides parents and children with simple, practical strategies and tools that help them learn to manage emotions – together. She believes that changing the way we parent will change the world.