Ever grateful

Ever grateful

Some tips for making memorable holiday moments to treasure

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 11/23/2011

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Dear Readers,
“Gratitude,” wrote an unknown author, “consists of being more aware of what you have than what you don’t.”

Never is this message more important to remember than when we gather loved ones around a holiday meal and expect everyone to respond with warmth and picture-perfect behavior.

Unfortunately, the combined stress of various family dynamics and trying to orchestrate a flawless feast can all too often cause us to lose sight of the connectedness, compassion and meaningful conversations that define what family is.

As you prepare to welcome guests into your home this holiday season, here are some tips and ideas to pick and choose from that support making memorable moments to treasure.

•    Do something fun to pamper yourself beforehand — get a manicure, take a luxurious bath with candles and scented water, listen to your favorite symphony — to embrace a positive and celebratory frame of mind.

•    Encourage guests to share what’s new and meaningful in their lives, especially those with whom you communicate infrequently.

•    Start new family traditions, such as bringing to Thanksgiving dinner the first Christmas ornament of the season for each guest or taking a group picture (and sending everyone a copy).

•    If you’re a guest, bring a small present your host will enjoy and appreciate. Offer to help tidy up or entertain family members’ young children with a story or game. Expressing words of sincere appreciation, compliments and acknowledgements or welcomed physical contact, such as a hug or a kiss on the cheek, can make the difference in creating a warm family attitude.

•    Consider the option of making restaurant reservations for Thanksgiving dinner. In addition to relieving the pressure of prepping, serving and cleanup, sometimes a new and different environment can distract family members from bringing up negative family issues. It also allows family members to leave when they want to.

•    Avoid potential boredom by planning activities that can be enjoyed together as a family — take a walk or drive, look at store windows or holiday decorations, watch a movie or play cards or board games.

•    Design a seating arrangement based on family compatibility. Use place cards to assign seats that separate people who don’t get along.

•    Create your own “second” family. Sometimes the best holiday meals consist of close friends, rather than family members, with whom you feel a loving and secure connection.

•    Keep the drinking of alcohol to a minimum.  In addition to releasing inhibitions at inopportune moments, too much drinking could also exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety.

•    Don’t stay cooped up in the house too long. Sometimes fresh air inspires a fresh attitude.

•    If you’re an out-of town guest, enjoy your family in increments. Go see other friends and participate in other activities.

•    Be sensitive to family members whose weight issues or eating disorders leave them vulnerable to family criticism. Reinforce a friendly directive that these topics are off-limits. Be prepared that a person criticizing won’t easily stop if it’s their form of control. You may have to confront such behavior more than once.

•    Refrain from openly expressing negative judgment toward family members’ significant others. Whether they’ve been a perpetual thorn in your side for years or you’re just meeting them for the first time, try to make an effort to connect. Aloofness and distancing can be as deadly to a family get-together as criticism, ridicule or sarcasm.

•    Steer clear of provocative subjects and bombshell announcements. The middle of Thanksgiving dinner is probably not the best time to declare that you’re getting your cheek pierced, dropping out of college, getting a divorce, going into the Witness Protection Program or quitting your job and moving back to your old bedroom.

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