Six Ways to Enjoy the Holidays Without Losing Your Mindfulness

by Rachael on December 13, 2011

Welcome to the December Mindful Mama Carnival: Staying Mindful During the Holiday Season

This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month participants shared how they stay mindful during the holiday season. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Yes, I really am going to write a list article on mindfulness and the holidays. And yes, the first tip is really going to be about to-do lists. I’ve had trouble accepting these realities, because lists hardly seem all that spiritual. Yet if it weren’t for my lists, I’d have a mind even more filled with plans and clutter and garbage than I do now, all getting in the way of my awareness of the present moment, whatever that might include … the Christmas music on the stereo, the oblique light of the day, the weight of the darkness that comes too early in the evening….

1. If you give gifts for the holidays, don’t write a shopping list. Write a to-do list.
Every year I make a budget based on the previous year’s budget, and then I write a shopping list based on the budget. In past years, I would treat that shopping list like a to-do list. But a shopping list is a list of items to buy, not a list of actions to take, and so every time I looked at the list, I’d have to think through all the actions I’d have to take to cross the remaining items off the list. Again and again and again. The less I have to think about anything the better, I say, and so this year I wrote a proper to-do list. A proper to-do list (in my book, anyway, as well as in Marilyn Paul’s) uses verbs. For example, don’t put “cards for Critter’s teachers” on the list. Put “write cards for Critter’s teachers.” And if a task includes multiple steps, note each action that you know needs to be taken. For example:

  • Get cards for Critter’s teachers
  • Find out the name of the new assistant teacher in the Critter’s class
  • Write cards for Critter’s teachers

I love my to-do list. I really do. So much of my anxiety about getting ready for the holidays has fallen away. I know exactly what I need to do, and bit by bit I’m actually taking care of it.

2. When you’re not planning, stop planning.
The trick with the to-do list works only if you keep yourself from constantly thinking about what’s on it. Oh, and how my monkey mind loves to obsess! While I’m taking a shower, while I’m waiting for the bus, while I’m chopping up broccoli for dinner, it just wants to think and think and think about what’s on the to-do list, and when I’m going to take care of it, and what’s on the to-do list, and when I’m going to take care of it, and what’s on the to-do list, and … well, yes. It really is that repetitive, distracting, and useless. If you find yourself planning when you don’t need to be making plans, just let the thoughts go.

3. Don’t try to do too much.
One hundred (or more!) holiday cards? Yeah, I don’t do that anymore.

4. However, when it comes to the practices that take care of you, now is not the time to let things slide.
I’ve learned the hard way that when I give up on regular zazen and writing, going into survival mode in the midst of busy, busy, busy-ness, I end up feeling as though left with nothing more than a wasteland of a soul. Or worse, completely colonized by the busy-ness, as though there were no more me to me, but just the constant doing, doing, doing. Whatever your regular practice is — yoga, meditation, art, writing — don’t let it go now in order to make room for the busy-ness. Even just fifteen minutes a day can be enough.

5. If the darkness of winter gets to you, be gentle with yourself.
From the ending of Daylight Savings Time in November to the beginning of Daylight Savings Time in March, I rely on my nifty sunrise/sunset chart from the U.S. Naval Observatory to remind me that not only does it get better, but it doesn’t get too, too bad. “It” being the darkness, of course, and “not too bad” meaning at least the sun doesn’t ever set before 4:00 around here. And yet every year the early darkness stuns me. It’s always worse than I remember it. And so I sleep more. It’s OK. Now is the time for dreams.

6. Remember what the holidays are really about — for you.
For me, Christmas is childhood, is giving, is the divine made manifest in this world. The fairy lights, the gifts, the music … these are physical reminders of these deeper truths at this time of year. Yes it is cold, and yes it is dark, but even now, we are heading back toward spring….

What are the holidays really about for you?


Mindful Mama Carnival -- Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ Visit The Mindful Mama Homepage to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Carnival!

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Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica @ ChildOrganics December 13, 2011 at 1:16 PM

I really appreciate #2 on your list. My mind has a tendency to obsess as well, this is something I really, really need to work on. Great post!


Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama December 13, 2011 at 2:15 PM

Great minds think alike 😉 I think we wrote very similar list posts for this carnival!

I love the idea of the to do list rather than the shopping list – thank you!


Kelly December 13, 2011 at 8:40 PM

Oh Rachael – did you write this list just for me? 🙂

There are so many things in this post that I needed to ‘hear’ – especially #4! I have found myself doing that a lot, pretty much ever since I returned to work, and it’s showing – a lot. :p Now I’m thinking it’s time to revise some of my thinking around what I don’t have/make time for.

Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful inspiration.


Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling December 13, 2011 at 8:52 PM

I love your list– especially number 5. This year, as I’ve really started to learn more about the winter solstice and the cultural celebrations surrounding it, I am learning to think of our cold New England winter as a new beginning with returning light.

-Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling


Terri December 13, 2011 at 10:27 PM

Oh I’m a huge ‘to-do list’ fan and I love the idea of making shopping lists into to-do lists. I also operate more mindfully with clear plans. Thanks for the reminder not to let self care lapse, something that I have done lately even though I’m not consumed with any holiday busyness at all! I’m off to do my 15 minutes of yoga before bedtime!


Terri Babin December 18, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Self care during the holidays is so crucial, thank you for all of the wonderful reminders!



Zoie @ TouchstoneZ December 20, 2011 at 3:50 AM

Thank you for participating in the Mindful Mama Carnival.

I may have discovered the secrets to why my gift lists and todo lists don’t work as well as I would like. Your breakdown of making them more effective speaks to me and I’m changing how I write them now. And I completely agree about leaving them alone and staying present the rest of the time. It’s yet another mindfulness practice to stay on task for lists and on tasks off list.


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