Happy Holidays! Is it okay that I didn’t say Merry Christmas? What is the “true meaning of Christmas”? According to whom? These are the questions that often arise at this time of year. They arise for me, too. I don’t have clear answers, and each year, I discover something slightly new about the answers for me, based on the circumstances I have at the time.
Recent research led me to learn that the first known Christmas celebration was “Christ’s Mass” in the year 336. Experts suspect it was little more than a mass to honor who was believed to be the savior of people who needed a savior to keep them striving for more in their lives than survival, especially more than survival by any means. The world was even more violent than it is today. I imagine that going into a gorgeous church, hearing peaceful music, and being sheltered from the worries of the day, if only for an hour, helped our ancestors to overcome famine, illness, and war. It might not be as relevant or effective to us today, but I can see how it might have had deep value at the time, much as it has at various times in my life.
When I was young, Christmas was all about gifts, mostly the ones I was getting–or hoping to get. I could make a lot of excuses to explain away my self-centeredness. We were poor, and Christmas was the time I got new clothes, toiletries, and a toy. It was understandable that I got excited about something that was just for me, not handed down from a sibling or cousin. I was a child. I was expected to be immature and focused more on the commercial aspects of the season. Yet we can understand behavior without condoning it. I was selfish and less than stellar when it came to giving.
As I grew up, I began to discover that the joys of giving were often greater than receiving, just as I was told. I still get immense pleasure from surprising someone with a gift I thought they would love and having them love it. I am aware that I can sometimes be competitive in this regard and yet again miss some of the more inspiring messages of the holidays. It’s hard for a human being to have their actions not be about them. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to give without strings attached.
As an adult, I care little about the gifts I will receive and often agree with loved ones to skip gifts. Instead, we focus on being together. This usually requires me and Peter to travel, which means a lot of extra financial and transportation burdens that can distract us from the enjoyment, if we let it. Our holidays have typically been peaceful and easy. I want that for you, too, regardless of the religion you practice and regardless of whether you practice one at all.
Admittedly, I don’t know how much I believe of the story of Jesus’ birth. If it occurred today, Mary would be ostracized and called a lying slut for making up such an unbelievable story about her virgin pregnancy. Joseph would be hailed as a good man for stepping up to take on another man’s responsibility. Jesus would be damned as a bastard child, much like I was shamed in our 1970s Catholic community for having divorced parents. Journalists and investigators would spend their lives searching for Jesus’ “real father,” and there would be debates about what a real father is. That’s not all bad. We don’t have to be hateful to those who question what we take for granted as true.
The Third Ear Conflict Resolution process might help you resolve some of these conflicts as they arise. I expanded the workbook in the third edition of the DIY Conflict Resolution book to give you lots of practice using the process, but here’s the basic framework to get you started right away.
Action One: Define the Conflict Succinctly
This sometimes changes slightly for me, but I can often express it as something like “My family and I disagree about what I am required to do or give to honor Christmas.”
Action Two: Identify the Interests of the Parties to the Conflict
I thought Christmas was about Christ, the birth of who many people believe was the Savior of humans from their sinful lives.
I am not sure I believe the nativity story, and I feel strange pretending that I do. I also feel disrespectful in engaging only in the commercial aspects of the holiday.
I want to be valued for who I am, not how much I spend.
I’m not sure my family members believe or think differently, and I must be careful not to assume they do.
Action Three: Play with the Possibilities for Resolution
I’ve learned it’s best with the people who love us unconditionally to simply be honest. I don’t want to be a spoil sport and ruin the holidays for anyone, but I also put myself in serious debt over the years, as I attempted to give the best gifts for a holiday I don’t fully acknowledge. I’ve even been one of those people Dave Ramsey refers to when he says, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” I could be angry at the people I did this for who didn’t respond the way I wanted them to, or I could take responsibility for my part. I tend to look for what I can do differently, and it often begins with thinking differently about the person I am in conflict with.
Action Four: Create the Future with a Specific Action Plan
You might have heard of SMART goals, and I recommend something similar, which I call SMILE goals. Once you’ve considered what you can do to improve the situation and move toward resolution, you’ll need to make sure you take the actions:
- Specific – You need to know who will take which actions and by when.
- Measurable – You need to have a way to know whether an action has been taken.
- Individualized – An action plan that doesn’t consider how you think and what you can do will often just be tomorrow’s trash.
- Likeable – You must at least not hate the idea of taking the action(s) you say you will.
- Easy – It must fit into your schedule. Put it on your calendar like any other important appointment.
Action Five: Stay on PARR
Plan, Act, Revise, and Repeat the actions in your plan, until you get the results you want. With family, it can take several attempts and substantial time to let go of all our assumptions about each other. But conflict resolution is an amazing gift to get and give. It will be worth the effort.
Make this your best holiday season yet!