As we enter into Christmas weekend, I’m noticing a trend. Photographs are shared that harken to that holiday feeling we all love and hold in our hopes. Tales of travel (or pilgrimage, perhaps) unfurl as friends go near and far to spend these days away from work. And somehow in the midst of it all, we perpetuate this warm, bright ambience that the world is supposed to experience this time of year.

“I don’t really feel it,” said someone I’ve encountered on our current getaway to Lithuania.

How could you not FEEL it, I might ask. Vilnius, Lithuania’s beautiful capital, is covered in snow, decked out with lights, and revolving around a lovely little Christmas market. Fathers and mothers parade about with hot mulled wine in their hands and their candy-gnawing children. The light dusting of snow over the city’s medieval buildings should be able to light up the heart of even the most stubborn grinch.

But that’s not always how the holidays feel.

From feelings to faithfulness

The Christmas season fills many of us with anticipation every year. When I was growing up, I wanted every Christmas to be my best one yet. Decorations had to be grand and perfect. Gatherings filled with laughter and genuine connection. Food, of course, impeccable.

But as I’ve grown, I’ve realized that while expectations can land where we want them to, they are not always met. It’s simply a fact that not every holiday season will be easy. Not every holiday gathering will feel sincere. Not every Christmas table will have all those we wish could be there. And not every Christmas memory will be healing.

What we have instead, are choices we can make in the moment– this very moment.

I’ve been dabbling in mindfulness thinking (mostly thanks to my Ph.D.-pursuing husband who studies it as part of his research). While I am by far no expert– barely a novice, in fact– I’ve picked up on quite a few general principles of mindfulness that have been proven effective in difficult emotional moments. So I’ve tried to translate these ideas into mental steps that bring overall peace.

4 simple steps to holiday peace

1) Embrace your plans (or lack there of), fully.

Learning not to simply be okay with, but to fully accept your holiday plans can be harder than we might think. This is a unique challenge when social media reveals some friends galavanting around the world (if that’s what we want), while others gather around hearth and home (if that’s what we want). The candles on others’ table may seem to shine brighter; holiday traditions in other countries seem to capture the spirit in realer ways.

Embracing your plans means truly coming to terms that this year, this time, you are where you are. You are in this one time and place, and joy is possible.

2) Accept those around you for who they are, not who you wish they were.

Traditionally, the holidays are when families gather. We all want to live in that hallmark card where fathers and mothers are still married, where children laugh and play while grandparents look on with generosity gleaming in their eyes. If this is your story, I hope you know what a unique experience you have. If this isn’t your story, you’re likely to find yourself disappointed– perhaps heartbroken– by the truth.

Accepting people for who they are– not who they could be or even who they used to be— is part of bringing peace to the table at Christmas. It doesn’t mean allowing them to treat you poorly, or giving up on them if they need to change; but it does mean committing to them in their current state. Even if it means they no longer fit in your picture-perfect story.

3) Find moments of solitude to experience gratitude.

Am I grateful? Sometimes it takes a while for me to realize that I am not. Being grateful doesn’t simply mean remembering a thing or two that you enjoyed in the last week. It means truly taking the time to acknowledge the beauty and grace experienced in brief moments and over time.

Solitude can help with these realizations– when we have no one to entertain and nothing to prove. Whether you choose to journal or simply sit in silence, take time apart from everyone (I find early mornings or late nights best for this) to remind yourself of all there is to be grateful for.

4) Make your holiday other-centered.

Part of the reason we wrestle with the holiday season is likely because we make it about ourselves– and inevitably always come up short. The imperfections we notice, the unmet expectations, the situations we find awkward or difficult, only ever have power to “ruin” a holiday that we’ve expected to be the true and ultimate thing that makes us happy and fulfilled at the end of the year.

But this season doesn’t have to be about that. It can be about others. It can be about God’s invitation in Jesus for us– and thus the world– to be made new. It can be about celebrating those who are uncelebrated, quiet heroes who are faithfully loving and serving the weak. It can be about bringing unlikely characters to the table in true resonance with the anthem, we are more alike than different.

So wherever you might find yourself this weekend, however you end up spending your Christmas and New Year’s Day, remember this. There is always a choice and an invitation.