If your December is starting to feel more like a month-long to-do list than the most wonderful time of the year, you're not alone. For many adults, the holidays are simply not as magical as they once were.
According to Rachel Goldman, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, it’s common for the holidays to feel different as we age. “Culturally, everything is tailored towards children, so there’s a magical thing about holidays when kids are young," Goldman tells TODAY.com.
As we get older, our lives become more complicated and holidays have a tendency to become stressful. “We have life as a whole and holidays are a little piece of that. Whereas for children, the world revolves around these magical moments in a way," Goldman says.
Keeping the Christmas spirit alive as an adult may not be as effortless as it was when you were a kid, but it can be just as rewarding. Whether it’s your never-ending shopping list or feelings of nostalgia that are detracting from your holiday joy, here are some simple ways to find the Christmas spirit again this year (and all the years to follow).
Put a grown-up spin on your childhood traditions
While maintaining traditions can be a definite source of joy this time of year, it’s natural not to enjoy the same activities or movies you did as a child.
That means it may be time to “adultify” your traditions. If you used to watch the same Christmas movie every year growing up but can’t quite get into it anymore, turn it into a date night with your significant other or invite a friend over to drink wine and reminisce while you watch. If you miss school gift exchanges, incorporate a "favorite things" party into your holiday festivities.
“We can play at any age, we can bake cookies at any age, and creating new traditions is really important for families these days, especially since the pandemic,” Goldman says. To do so, she encourages “thinking outside the box” and “ recreating old memories and traditions or creating new ones.”
Remember that even if you feel like you’ve grown out of aspects of Christmas fun, adults can benefit from decompressing through laughter and play just like children.
Spend time with younger family members
If you’re no longer a child and don’t have any children of your own, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the Christmas spirit. Celebrating with young cousins, nieces and nephews, or other kids in your life can make the holidays feel magical again. Watching the pure excitement on kids’ faces as they open presents from Santa will inspire you to find that same joy.
Even if you can’t be with them on Christmas Day, kids love the build up almost as much as the day itself. In the days leading up to Santa's arrival, carve out some time to write letters to Santa, make a batch of Christmas cookies or take a tour of lights and decorations in the neighborhood. Their genuine excitement might just rub off on you, too.
Make time for fun in your schedule
As an adult, you have to actually buy the presents that go under the tree — and not just discover them on Christmas morning.
“Holidays can become quite stressful, as we get older. We think about all the gifts and the decorations and the holiday parties and the holiday events we have to go to. For children, the world kind of revolves around these magical moments,” Goldman says.
As a grown-up, this may seem like a reason to say, “Bah humbug” to the whole season, but it doesn’t have to be. Take time to actually enjoy the season rather than just the responsibilities associated with it. If you’re someone who generally enjoys shopping, get it done early to avoid the crowds and mindfully pick gifts for the special people in your life. Meeting a friend for a shopping day and lunch can also turn a tedious errand into a social occasion.
Remember what the season is really about
“Naturally as we get older, we have to learn to create it [the Christmas spirit] within ourselves and remind ourselves of those memories,” Goldman says. To revive that magical feeling, it’s important to do things that help you connect with others. Volunteering your time and giving back to your community is not only an impactful way to help others, but you may notice some positive changes in your overall mood and wellbeing.
Spending intentional time with family and friends, practicing gratitude and filling your calendar with festive activities will help you get in the holly, jolly spirit. Goldman suggests that going to the local Christmas tree or holiday lights, even if you’re by yourself, can help you feel more connected to your community — and perhaps, more excited for the big day.
Accept the current moment
Major life changes can change the way you celebrate Christmas. Goldman emphasizes mental preparation with her patients, whether they have recently lost a loved one or are struggling with another big change. “We can think of loss in any way, right? It can be loss of a partner, loss of a family member, loss of a job, or loss of life for a few years with COVID," she explains.
In this case, it's helpful to plan ahead. Goldman suggests considering what kind of emotions or memories might be stirred during the season, and making a plan for how you will deal with those feelings in advance. “We can grieve things like not being able to be together or maybe even grieving the fact that holidays don’t look the same as they did last year, three years ago or 20 years ago."
Goldman's advice: "Accept it, acknowledge it and ask yourself, 'What can I do about it now?”