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What to Expect and What Not to Expect This Holiday Season

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

You're in school thinking about the upcoming winter holidays, and you can barely sit still in your seat. Parties! Punch! Peanut-butter cookies! Perfect presents! But even though the holidays can be great, sometimes they can leave a kid stressed or confused. Check out the links below to learn more about the different winter holidays and the best ways to enjoy them - whether you'll be breaking out the mistletoe, dreidels, or kinara!

Mistletoe or Menorah
The most well-known winter holidays are Christmas (this Christian holiday celebrates Christ's birth), Hanukkah (this is a Jewish holiday and a festival of lights), and Kwanzaa (this holiday is an African-American celebration of culture and family). Many families (but not all) celebrate one or more of these holidays. Some families celebrate other winter holidays.

Your family may enjoy different winter holidays than your friends' families do. Or perhaps you enjoy the same holiday, but you celebrate in a different way. If you have a different religion or if your family has its own ways of celebrating, you and your friends should talk about the things that make your family holidays special. Ask them about how they celebrate and talk about the things that you and your family do. You might even want to visit your library to learn more about winter holidays other than your own; there are many great kids' books that talk about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and more.

There's no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. Families enjoy different traditions, which are  special things they do every year at the same time.

Dreaming of Piles of Presents
A sweater and socks again? Of course it's fun to dream about a special toy you want to get this December, but remember that you may not get what you ask for. The presents are not what winter holidays are about.

People give you presents because they love you. If you don't get what you want, it's OK to feel a little bit sad about it, but you should always be happy and thankful that someone thought of you.

You might feel upset when you rip off the wrapping paper and don't see your dream toy, but you have other chances to get the present you asked for. You can save your allowance to buy it for yourself or wait for your birthday. In the meantime, enjoy the presents you did get and remember that you may get what you wanted later on.

If Your Family Isn't the Same as Last Year
Maybe you've moved far away from family members, your parents are divorced or remarried, or someone close to you has passed away. The holidays can sometimes be a sad, stressful, or difficult time for kids whose families aren't the same as they once were. Here are a few ways to make a new situation better.

If your parents are divorced, you may spend the holiday in two or more places or you may not get to see both parents on the same day. You may be asked to share the holiday with one parent and his or her new boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife. You may spend the holiday with new stepbrothers or stepsisters.

If you feel unhappy or confused about the way you'll be spending the holiday, talk to your family about it. It's OK to be sad or upset, and you should tell your mom or dad or another adult you trust how you feel. It's also OK to have mixed-up feelings. The most important thing is to share those feelings and not keep them inside.

It may help to ask your mom or dad exactly what the holiday plans are. This way, you'll know what to expect. If there's something you really want to do, like go to a party at your school, church, or temple, ask your mom or dad ahead of time if you can schedule that event as part of your day.

Also, it's a good idea to plan a fun activity just for yourself. You could make a craft,
read a book, or play with a new toy to keep from getting bored.

If your family is different this year, start a new tradition. Make special cookies, dance to a special song, light a candle, or have everyone decide on something that will make the holiday special and memorable.

The holidays can also be a time to remember the people we love who have died. It's OK to be sad about missing someone. It may make you feel better to do something in the person's honor, such as making him or her a card or small gift. Some families also find that sharing fun and nice memories of the person can help them feel better.

Remember that no matter which part of your family you are with this holiday season, you are still important and loved by everyone.

Keeping Your Holiday Cool
If you've ever been shopping right before the winter holidays, you'll remember that the mall was crowded, the lines were long, and people were crabby. This kind of holiday stress could affect you, so try to keep your cool.

Make sure you get plenty of sleep and exercise and don't eat too many sugary snacks and candy - a little bit is OK, but a lot will make you feel yucky. Keep yourself in good health this holiday season to keep your stress low.

Try not to worry about all the parties you hope to go to and the presents you hope to get. Just enjoy yourself and have a good time playing with friends and visiting family. Making gifts for the people you love is fun, and they will love getting presents as much as you do. Remember that holidays aren't about getting stuff; they're about spending time with people you love.

Another nice holiday idea: give to charity or help those who have no family of their own. Tell your mom or dad that volunteering at a hospital or homeless shelter is a great way to share the holiday spirit and ask if you can make it a family activity.

Whether you find the holidays super or stressful, remember that they'll be over in about a week or so. Have a good time and have fun with the people who love you the most.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: November 2003