Rituals of Meaning

The Key to Wonderful Holidays

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Emotional Well-being Relationships

What is worse than a group of people getting together who don’t really want to be there? Sound familiar? Where is the holiday cheer in that? And how did we get here—where guilt and obligation are the holiday norm?

On a recent radio show I asked Dr. Mario Martinez, author of the Mind Body Code, why holidays are so stressful for so many of us. And he stated it beautifully. He said that the pleasure of mindful ritual, for example going caroling or to a tree lighting ceremony with the entire family, has been replaced by mindless routine laden with obligation.

He explained further that these mindless routines often involve what he calls “ledger” relationships. For example, one in which you feel obligated to buy a present for someone you don’t know or don’t even like, because it’s expected. Another is feeling obligated to see a toxic family member out of guilt “because it’s Christmas” or whatever. This is really what causes all the holiday stress. Truly.

As Dr. Martinez reminds us, “Love is actually a toxin to toxic people. They can’t take too much of it before they turn negative and turn the negativity on you.” An example is a visit that’s going along well until your mother says “Looks like you’ve gained weight” or “What have you done with your hair?” Happy Holidays, right?

Anyone interested in health can’t possibly want to spend their time with people like that. And then there are the other obligations. For me, it was gift giving and feeling compelled to create “holiday magic” for others.

During this season of light, do unto YOURSELF as you would do onto others. — C.N. Tweet this!

When I was a child, my mother and father did an amazing job of creating Christmas magic. I used to rearrange the presents under the tree every night and watch all those wonderful Christmas movies. And, like most kids, I got up at 5:00 am when it was still dark to sneak downstairs to see what Santa had left. My memories are full of wonder. I enjoyed every minute of Christmas dinner and then Christmas week, when so many friends came to our ski town for vacation.

Later I got married, and my husband and I started our residency training. We were often on call over the holidays, so holidays with family simply were never possible. When we had our own two daughters, I did everything in my power to recreate the magic of my own childhood on Christmas morning with them. But I was also working long hours and was too often away from them, so I also felt guilty.

I turned that guilt into buying more and more. As the girls got older, this became more and more expensive. After my divorce, when the girls were 16 and 18, I really went overboard. They had to take a break from opening presents because there were simply too many. The unwrapping went far into Christmas afternoon!

There’s an old saying about “How do you know what the edge is? Well, when you’ve gone over it and look back, you can clearly see that THAT was the edge—BACK THERE.” Believe me, I was well past it. And I was being driven by guilt, not by any magic.

Fast forward a few years when my daughters and I traveled to visit my mother for her 80th birthday. Because it was a road trip and my mother’s birthday is very close to Christmas, no one—my siblings or our children—had the wherewithal to bring Christmas presents. And guess what? We all agreed to forgo gift giving. It was a profound relief!

From that moment forward, we give our PRESENCE. And we truly enjoy the Solstice, the meals, and each other’s company. Now that one of my daughters is married, she and her husband are starting their own holiday rituals. And I have suggested that they follow their hearts in whatever way appeals to them. There’s absolutely no reason for them to start their married life with holiday guilt or unwelcome obligations.

And you shouldn’t either. So—here’s what I suggest:

Ask yourself what holiday rituals truly appeal to you—which ones contain magic and meaning or truly speak to you. Then figure out which have become routine and mindless. Have the courage to mindfully choose those rituals that give meaning to your holidays and ditch those that don’t.

But—and this is a big but—be prepared for the anger and guilt mongering that may follow if you have any toxic relatives who routinely manipulate others to visit them. And allow them to be angry. You may feel guilty at first. But that’s OK.

During the season of light, you simply must do unto YOURSELF as you would do onto others. In other words, your own well-being must be included in your holiday plans. Trust me on this, your holidays need never be stressful again.

If you are willing to truly invest in what has the most meaning for you, you will also be a beacon of sanity and magic for which your entire family will be grateful. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. This will be a family legacy—a new mindful ritual—that everyone will want to carry on for generations.

Last Updated: November 18, 2014

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


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  1. Lucia Sweeney.
    4 years ago

    Hello from Dublin Ireland,
    I just discovered your video talks online today for the very first time.You are an amazing woman..what you say has resonated with me more than any thing else I have seen or read on line…ever!Your sense of humour makes the whole message vibrate with so much truth!I can’t thank you enough.I have just put one of your talks on my college whatsapp..we graduated as teachers 40 years ago this year.Sincerest gratitude to you.I know what you say will stay with me forever.From the bottom of my heart,thank you.Health and prosperity to you always.Lucia Sweeney.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      4 years ago

      Thank you for this amazing comment!!!

  2. Bonita
    8 years ago

    Had the gift of quiet time today to recover from the flu. Feeling off center and reflecting on why I get sick every December. So, as I have been doing for so many years now, I checked in with my surrogate mother,Dr. Christiane Northrup, and once again I have been the recipient of a spiritual re-boot. I felt that it was long over due to thank you for years of healings, wisdom, and compassion. I first bought your book, W.Bodies,W.Wisdom so that I would have something to say to my daughters when they asked questions.
    As a girl, I can remember praying for wisdom. The universe has answered in many ways, and you my dear sweet mother have enriched the lives of myself, my girls, and now my grandaughter.
    My heart is so full of gratitude and love for you. Bonita

    1. Christiane Northrup
      4 years ago

      This comments really touches my heart. Thank you, thank you.

  3. Michelle
    8 years ago

    Very well said. In the past few years I have been witness to some subtle changes in our family Christmas traditions. Fresh out of radiation and chemo one year it was to everyone’s shock and wonder why I refused to host Christmas here because my in laws moved out of town. Duh?!
    I always lived my life prior always saying yes and putting others before me. I knew that a very real and pivotal part of my journey was to learn to say no and I did. Everyone gossiped, naysayed, did their thing and I stuck to my guns. 4 years later, I actually feel well enough to host…and I invited them with the boundary that I will need help if I host. Ask and you shall receive. It is true. And never be afraid to say NO because saying YES when one does not mean does contribute to breaking down our energy field and can make one very sick.
    I love your program on HayHouse. I am guided to such wonderful information and energy teachers through your work. Thank you and joyful holidays to you, Dr.Northrup!

  4. Christiane Northrup
    8 years ago

    It takes a LOT of courage to step away from family programming. We all need each other. But none of us needs guilt-mongering people in our lives. And when we have the courage to choose our own happiness– instead of being motivated by guilt- we eventually ( maybe not immediately) find a tribe that truly supports us in all way. Including joy filled holidays that fill us up. Not drain us!!!

    1. Denise
      8 years ago

      I so agree! I have just found your website but am already sitting here shaking my head reading your post about the holiday traditions. Thanks so much for your insight!

  5. Corneille
    8 years ago

    Thank you for your remarks,Dr Northrup, as I have spent years, decades, trying to spread Holiday Joy within the inner circle of my very large family, only to feel empty inside when they “don’t get it”, leaving me sad and lonely.
    Now I see that I can celebrate with myself all I like, enjoy myself with loving thoughts and kind actions bringing me that inner joy I crave. Never again do I need to measure myself against the lack of response of others.
    Thank you for helping me see this loving alternative!

  6. Jean S.
    8 years ago

    Wow! Just think of how many people spend Christmas in all the ways that other people want them to and then get NOTHING out of it except misery and unhappiness. Thank you,
    once again Dr. Northrup for spreading this message to encourage others to create their own Christmas happiness. How utterly draining to be with people (even relatives) that you really don’t want to spend any time with let alone The Holidays.

  7. Amber`
    8 years ago

    Thank you for posting this article. It has helped relieve some of my stress this Holiday season. I am choosing not to pariticipate in some of our family rituals so I can take care of myself. As a result, I am getting some negative comments from others. However, I am happier and hopeful that others will adjust to my new way of thinking.

  8. Kathryn Wells
    9 years ago

    We’re travelling to Georgia to spend the holidays with my fiance’s family. They are all awesome people. I will miss my family here in San Diego, though. This is my first Thanksgiving without them, so it’s a bit of an adjustment!

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