Mental Health

Finding Meaning In the Holidays

This blog post is written for people who celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas, or for those who want to learn more about these holidays. Please know that I sincerely respect people of all faiths as well as non-believers, and that I honor each person’s choice to celebrate or to not celebrate the season.

What do the holidays mean to you? For people of faith, this is the time of year filled with the religious significance of celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas. After all, the word “holidays” comes from “Holy Days” and originally it referred only to days of religious significance. Now, however, it has come to mean any special day of rest and relaxation or time away from work. In the same way, our “Holy Days” have become a broader, secular celebration that may mean different things to each of us.

Given our culture’s materialistic focus, it can be a really challenging to find meaning in the holidays. We are urged to do more and spend more to make this the “perfect holiday.” The increased demands that bombard us this time of year make it particularly challenging to find time for the rituals and traditions that gives our holiday meaning, yet it is vitally important that we do so. I offer the following suggestions in the hope they will help you and your family find meaning in all of your holidays celebrations.

Set aside time each day for prayer and reflection or to engage in a conversation with God and express your gratitude for his many gifts. Your church or synagogue may have prayer books for just this purpose and these can provide helpful guidance.

Celebrate in ways that are most enjoyable for you. If you love music, go caroling or attend a Christmas concert. Read or sing your favorite psalms or Bible passages.

Decrease the focus on materialism and consumerism. Give and ask for gifts that reflect your values. These could include hand-made, personalized items that often mean more to the recipient than store-bought things. You may choose to give or receive an experience such as tickets to a theme park or event that you can share with your loved ones. You may also ask that a donation to a charity be made in your name. Of course, there is nothing wrong with buying each other gifts to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah; just be sure the gift-buying and giving enhances rather than overshadows the meaning of the holidays to you and your family.

If you have children, teaching them about the meaning of your family traditions and their religious significance will deepen both their understanding and appreciation of your faith. Kids often love being involved in preparing special foods, lighting the menorah, and singing seasonal songs. If you celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah in your home, this is an excellent resource for children:

For those in need, the holidays can be especially lonely. Please consider volunteering you time or donating to a local charity such as a food bank or soup kitchen. Doing so puts your faith in action and will actually make you feel better. Research has consistently shown that acts of altruism increase personal happiness and a sense of purpose.

For those of you who feel alone this time of year, my heart goes out to you as I know how isolating that may feel especially around the holidays. Please know that although you may have lost someone close to you and/or feel lonely, there are people out there who really want to connect with and support you. Your synagogue or church may be a helpful place to start finding them.

I hope you find these ideas helpful and I wish you and your loved ones peace, love, and a meaningful holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Suggested reading for the holiday season:

Celebrating a Christ-centered Christmas: 7 Traditions That Lead us Closer to the Savior

Hanukkah: The Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration