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How to Make the Most of Your Holidays

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Tips and inspiration to keep the season low on stress and high on meaning [Photo credit: Getty Images][/caption]By Heidi Raschke for Next Avenue

From gifts that are truly meaningful to tips on navigating tricky family situations, we’ve got advice and inspiration from the Next Avenue stories below to help you have truly happy holidays:

Traditions and Family

Four Jews and a Christmas Tree — I grew up in a Jewish household where Christmas dawned each year with only one thought in mind: “Woo-hoo, the ski slopes will be empty today!” As my mother made clear, the trees, the ornaments, the music — that wasn’t for us. That was for the family one street over, who (charitably) let my three siblings and me come over each year to help decorate their tree. If our line of menorahs seemed less festive, well, we knew where Mom stood on the idea of a “Hanukkah bush.” Then came love. Then came marriage. Then came the Christmas trees Mom had disparaged. Read more.

30 Beautiful and Heartwarming Quotes About Family — As families gather for the holidays, here are some touching words on the subject. Read more.

Why Family Estrangement Is Roughest at the Holidays — When you’re about to ask a friend or a colleague whether they’re going home for the holidays this week, think twice. The holidays — so often tied to family and tangled in questions of going home — are not always so happy when you are estranged from a parent or child. They’re even more difficult when well-meaning types push you to bury the hatchet for the sake of peace in this theoretically joyous season. Read more.

6 Steps to Keeping the Peace This Holiday Season — Our expectations of family members and a desire to have a heartwarming, joyful time with them seem to peak during holiday gatherings. Yet that’s precisely when relatives can be at their worst, replaying old grievances and interacting in incredibly unproductive ways. To help prevent disappointment and ensure a happier season, try applying six strategies. Read more.

8 Ways to Handle Awkward Holiday Situations — It’s that tricky holiday time when you can find it hard to avoid the brutal truths like there is no Santa Claus and “I hate your marshmallow sweet potato casserole.” To help us negotiate those awkward moments, we decided to tap into Southern courtesy by consulting etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, the San Antonio-based owner of The Protocol School of Texas. Here’s how she recommended responding to a bunch of holiday hot potatoes. Read more.

How to Be Happily Alone for the Holidays — If you’re solo this holiday season, it may be by happy choice or you may be suffering a recent loss or simply missing your family. But alone doesn’t have to mean lonely. This time of year can be ideal for reconnecting with friends, taking care of yourself, creating new traditions and finding purpose through giving. Here are six ideas to help you enjoy your own company and add meaning and joy to this celebratory time of year. Read more.

An Empty Nester’s Christmas Morning — The presents are piled under the tree. The stockings hang from the mantle. The Yule log blazes on the TV. The big plastic Santa that my son and I rescued from a dumpster behind the local beauty parlor one long ago January has taken his customary spot in the corner. And my wife and I, up for hours now, watch the clock. It is 11:18 a.m., Christmas morning. Read more.

Gifts and Giving

Holiday Gifts That Give Back — Did you know you can stand up for gender equality by buying a soccer ball? Or help the homeless by giving your loved ones comfy socks? Read on for our list of holiday gifts that give back — by promoting literacy, keeping vinyl out of landfills, supporting sustainable farming and fair trade, helping people find meaningful work and more. View the slideshow.

A True Gift of the Heart — Last year, as the season of giving thanks gave way to the season of giving-because-it’s-a-given-that-we’ll-give, I received a party invitation that eased the transition from graceful comity to gross commerce. “Bring a small wrapped gift,” it read. “But make it an item you own and love … and would like one of us to receive along with its story.” So lovely, this idea of parting with something you own and love in hopes of affording another person pleasure. It instantly brought to mind a gift I received from my mother seven months before her death in 2010, one that continues to provide me with joy daily. Read the story.

How to Give Your Grown Kid the Holiday Gift of Money Smarts — Since I frequently speak to audiences and write about the importance of financial security, I’ve realized that one of the best holiday gifts I can give young people — and you can give your grown child or niece or nephew — is the gift of investing knowledge. It’s a gift with a far-reaching impact (and if you don’t get a huge “thank you” for it this year, you will one day.) Read more.

Best Gifts for Caregivers — As you work your way down your holiday gift list, there’s one group for whom it may be more complicated to shop, even though they deserve something special: the caregivers within our families and among our friends, as well as those who work with our aging loved ones. Read more.

Holiday Health and Well-Being

How to Practice Mindfulness to Stress Less During the Holidays — In the interest of helping all of us not only to survive, but maybe even to enjoy the holidays, I offer you a mini-tutorial on a practice that has been known to help everyone from cancer patients to Fortune 500 executives: mindfulness. Read more.

The Fiftysomething Guide to Staying in Shape Over the Holidays — With all the feasting and shopping and party-going and year-end budgeting, it can be tough to keep up a regular exercise routine. But research shows that taking just a week or two off from exercise can erase months of favorable metabolic gains, and gaining just 1 percent of your body weight can have serious health implications. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of activity to prevent both of those things from happening. Read more.

When You’re Depressed During the Holidays In the midst of frenetic advertising, pressure to shop for gifts and the ubiquitous seasonal music, the holidays can be an especially hard time if you’re depressed or missing a lost loved one. Read more.

Diabetes at the Holidays: Tough Lessons We Learned  — When our families gather for the holidays, there will be sadness mixed in with the joy, as we look around and miss several members who have died prematurely as a result of type 2 diabetes and its complications. In sharing our personal stories, we hope to renew the battle against type 2 diabetes in ethnic groups who suffer the disease at higher rates. Read more.

Holidays, Caregivers and Family: Making the Most of Time Together — One of the best things about the holidays is getting together with family and friends. It may be one of the few times of the year for out-of-town family to spend extended time with an older parent or relative. In addition to reminiscing and making memories, this time provides the opportunity to take a critical look at the health and wellness of a loved one and her surroundings. Read more.

Celebrations and Fun

30 Quotes Celebrating the Spirit of Christmas — To those who celebrate, we offer 30 Christmas quotes that capture the magic and mirth of the holiday. Read more.

Why I Love ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ I make a point to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year — a tradition that started after I saw the film with friends in the Music Box Theatre in Chicago as part of an annual holiday sing-along and movie night. If you don’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life all the way through, though, you miss some great scenes — and some great life lessons to boot. Here is a quick rundown of several of my favorite moments from this classic. Read more.

How to Take Great Family Photos This Holiday Season — Taking frame-worthy family portraits requires patience, planning and know-how. This is how a famed portrait photographer does it — and how you can, too. Read more.

10 Vintage Christmas Tunes to Put You in the Holiday Spirit — These 10 holiday songs, sung by some of our favorite musicians of years past, are a great way to get in the Christmas mood. Read more.

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