HIT THE GROUND RUNNING: It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?

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The holiday season has arrived and just like every other year my mind is filled with a to-do list about a million pages long:

  • Hang up the lights outside.
  • Pull out the Advent calendar.
  • Address the family Christmas cards.
  • Figure out what to buy for (insert name of family member).
  • Stockpile wrapping paper and tape.
  • Decide what to make for Christmas morning breakfast.
  • Christmas cookies – buy them, make them, or forget all about them?

It seems as though every minute leading up to Dec. 25th is filled with unrealistic expectations to create the perfect holiday experience – which, as a result, creates added stress, frustration, annoyance, and an overall sense of bah-humbug.

How can we make the season truly live up to its “Happy Holidays” mantra?

Like many families, this time of year brings its own bundle of traditions with it. When Chip and I were first married, we did the typical try-to-fit-in-every-tradition-from-both-families style of Christmas. We would end up running around on Christmas Day with the mission of giving out all the gifts, visiting with every family member, and driving ourselves insane with a hectic agenda.

Our oldest daughter was the first grandchild for both my family (the Martins) and my husband’s family (the Dickeys). Luckily, we have always lived less than 5 miles from either set of grandparents. They see our girls regularly throughout the year and don’t mind one bit if they end up spending time as a Grandparent Squad with them.

Over the years, more grandchildren have been added to the mix and our families have grown for the better. Sometimes we celebrate holidays together (like Thanksgiving) but others we spend separately.

You know what we never do anymore?

Allow ourselves to feel like we need to fit it all into one day.

There are so many ways to celebrate the holiday season – wait, did you catch that? CELEBRATE. Yes, celebrate.

This isn’t a season that should be bogged down with expectations for the perfect Social Media post or ideal Norman Rockwell memory.

No, this is the season of joy – yes, even this year. Even after dealing with a pandemic for the past two years; even after debating with your neighbor about masks and vaccines; even after second-guessing your decisions on rapid tests, exposures, and quarantining – yes, even this year the season is supposed to be one of joy.

Maybe it will look a bit different from before. Maybe a tradition or two has been forgotten or left aside along the way. Maybe a few people are missing or are gone. Maybe it will be slightly tainted with the weight of what we have been carrying on our shoulders – but it can still be joyous.

Take the time this holiday season to embrace the joy. Surprise a loved one by calling them out of the blue. Set a lunch date with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Donate to a local shelter to help spread holiday cheer to someone you may never meet. Thank your sister-in-law for being one of only a few people who knows you best.

And above all, remember to take a few moments to look around, listen to the children laughing, feel the warmth of the season, and appreciate all you have endured and all the beauty that is certainly on its way.

Emily Dickey is a Waynesboro native who run for fun and always looks for an opportunity to spread the sunshine.