The holiday season is one of my favorite times of year.  It’s a time when families focus on giving and spending time together.  It’s a time for delicious meals full of comfort foods and parties with friends and neighbors.  It can also be a time of stress, as many of us work to create the “perfect holiday” for our families.  What does the “perfect holiday” look like?  Well that answer varies from person to person and family to family.  For some people it’s all about decorations and for others it’s about the parties or religious celebrations.  Despite the variety of holiday ideals, there are some tricks to having a ‘perfect holiday’ season that apply to all of us- no matter what we celebrate or who we are.

A perfect holiday? It's possible with these 5 tips.

Don’t underestimate the power of tradition.

There’s a reason that religious holidays involve specific rituals and ceremonies.  These traditions are a part of what brings people together in a spirit of common values and connection.  And they’re what makes for a perfect family holiday as well.  Whether you light a menorah, attend Christmas Eve church services, or just like to spend this time of year with family, it’s important to create your own traditions at home.  And the chances are you’ve already got several.

You may not think that you’re creating a family ritual when you frost sugar cookies with your husband or everyone gathers to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas together on the couch, but these small activities have a big impact on how connected a family feels to each other.  Research has shown, and I’m sure your own experiences will confirm, that being able to count on the people you love to engage in the same holiday activities year after year is comforting and a wonderful reminder that you all belong together. When life is chaotic and busy, it’s nice to know that at least once or twice a year you can count on some things that will always be the same.

Embrace change.

I know this sounds a little counter-intuitive to the advice I just gave about starting and maintaining family traditions but change and tradition really go hand in hand.  Traditions give a secure foundation on which your whole family can find comfort while still being open to the inevitable changes that come with life.  Whether you’ve lost a loved one this year, had a new baby, or have sent a “baby” off to college- life is full of transitions.  Make the holidays a time to celebrate and honor these changes with love and a sense of togetherness.

You can even incorporate these changes into long-standing traditions.  If Dad always cuts turkey for Christmas dinner, maybe it’s time to bestow that honor on your son who just got married or graduated from college; allowing your family to continue the tradition by passing it down to the next generation of adults.

Change also brings the opportunity for new traditions.  Finding a way to remember a family member who has passed away can be difficult for many people during the holiday season.  Creating a special tradition allows everyone to remember the person they loved and also strengthen the bond between those of you who remain.  It will be an emotional decision but with some careful thought and honest communication you can come together as a family and create a new special legacy that will continue year after year.

Practice self-care.

Everyone needs self-care but I want all the moms out there to pay special attention to this step!  Self-care is the greatest gift you can give your family this holiday season.  Why you ask?  The only way to give them your best is to take care of yourself first.  Much like the oxygen mask rule on airplanes; you can’t really help others if you’re drained, tired, and overwhelmed.  Unfortunately for many of us that’s exactly what happens at this time of year.  Our desire to give our family and friends the best can easily turn into a never-ending to-do list and unrealistic schedules.

The path to a ‘perfect holiday’ is learning how to say no when necessary and prioritize.  One helpful way to do this is by starting the season with a different kind of wish list.  Before you list out the gifts you need to buy and the parties you want to attend, make a list of the experiences you want to have.  Decide what things are most important to you this time of year.  Is it celebrating with friends?  Maybe the best part of the holidays for you is in the gift giving?  Or maybe you long to share quiet meals with extended family?

Whatever makes it to the top of your holiday experience wish list is what you should use to drive your decision making for the rest of the season.  Instead of spreading yourself too thin trying to do everything; decide to put self-care first this year.  Focus on just doing those few things that matter most to you and doing them with your full energy.  You’ll enjoy them more and set a good example for the people around.

Capture the memories but don’t forget to live in the moment.

One of my favorite parts of having extended family around is taking great photos and videos.  And with today’s smartphones, everyone can play photographer anytime they want.  Capturing these special moments on film is important but it’s also crucial to learn how to stay in the moment and enjoy creating the memories.  Social media has given us a double-edged sword.  It allows family members and friends who are far away to feel engaged even when they can’t be present which can be an amazing gift.

On the flipside, it can allow people to be in the same room with each other and still not connect.  This holiday season, consider setting aside time to be completely unplugged- no phones, no computer, no iPads!  Instead of tweeting and sharing photos with the world, focus on sharing yourself with the people in front of you.  It’s a perfect time to tell stories ,reminisce about holidays past, and just have fun being together.

Stop chasing perfection.

I know we’ve been talking about creating the ‘perfect holiday’ season but the real secret is that perfection is just an illusion.  The ‘perfect holiday’ is the one where you’re living in the moment, connecting with friends and family in a meaningful way, and fully aware of all that you have to be grateful for.  That can be as simple as sharing hot cocoa after shoveling out the driveway or laughing together over take-out after the dog has eaten your ‘perfect’ turkey.

If you take a moment right now to reflect on some of your favorite ‘perfect holiday’ memories what comes to mind?  I’m willing to bet that it has little to do with having the right decorations, cooking the perfect meal, ortaking J.Crew-catalog worthy family photo.  I’m willing to bet that it was about feeling loved and connected with someone special because in the end that’s the real trick to a ‘perfect holiday’.