“Holidays in general breed unrealistic expectations. The minute you start wondering, ‘is it going to be wonderful enough?,’ it never will be.”                                 ~ Pepper Schwartz ~ 

As the holidays approach, we are once again inundated with images and ideals of what we ought to experience.  Happy, smiling families, sitting around a bountiful dinner table have become the idealized version of what we all want, or desire, at this time of year. Unfortunately those ideals of what the holiday compels to represent, leave many people out in the cold. In reality, apart from the experiences of some children, the actual experiences of Christmas almost always fall short of our glorified rendition. 

Many of us dread being forced to spend time with family members that we would rather have nothing to do with. For others, family live too far away and cannot afford to travel to see them.  For those who have lost family or loved ones, spending the first Christmas without them will be especially difficult. Unfinished business with estranged family member also brings heart ache and regrets at this time of year too.  The effects of unemployment and poverty become even greater at this time of year when we are inundated with pressure to buy the latest.  

If you aren’t looking forward to Christmas, here are some ideas.

Try to Avoid the Hype and Commercialism 

Instead of hanging out at the mall and stores, go for a walk in nature.  Check out some local music and look for events and happenings in your community that are cheap, free and non-commercial. This is a great time to find out more about what is going on around you and become involved. 

Volunteer to Help the Less Fortunate 

If you are alone and feeling depressed, one of the best ways to shift your energy, is to help at a homeless shelter or volunteering at one of the many organizations that provide meals to the less fortunate.  The realization that we are not alone and there are many that are worse off than we are is a great antidote to feeling sorry for ourselves.  Volunteering also provides us with an opportunity to meet some great people who are generously giving of their time to help others.

Reach Out to Others 

If separated from family during the holidays, it helps to reach out and connect with them at this time. Hearing a voice at the other end of the line helps us to stay connected when distance and finances don’t allow us to be physically present.  Look for others that are in a similar situation as you and offer to get together to share a pot luck, play games or do some other activity

.Make This Time a Learning Opportunity 

Have that guitar sitting in the corner that you haven’t picked up for years, or ever?  Since you are going to be having free down time, make it a goal to learn a few cords.  How about that book you have been meaning to read or that painting that you’ve talked about forever and haven’t started?  Look at this time as an opportunity to learn a new skill, hobby or just do something that you might really enjoy.  The sense of accomplishment you will feel after will be rewarding and worthwhile. 

Share Your Gifts 

We all have gifts and talents and have something, that is special, to share with others. Perhaps you are a good listener and others are quick to open to you. Maybe drawing caricatures is your thing or you can make people laugh.  Are you a handyperson with an elderly neighbor with a dripping tap?  Do you have a great voice? Get together with others who like to sing and go caroling for shut-ins and senior centers. Personal gifts are so much more meaningful.  Think of the Christmas cards that you have kept from children long after the Hallmark ones were tossed Make up little cards for people that they can exchange with you for a service. 

Make a Plan and Share it with those in Your Life 

If you have lost someone and this is your first Christmas without them, it is okay to want to spend time alone and grieve.  It is just as okay to want to not be alone and wish to be around others. The important thing is to decide what you want and let others know in advance.  If you know someone who is grieving, don’t assume that you know what is best for them and insist that they come over. Ask; but let them know that you understand if they choose to spend time alone. Everyone handles loss and grieving differently and we should respect their wishes at this difficult time.


  • Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker.  To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com.  His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy.