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The modern definition of the winter holiday season is most often equated with frivolity, indulgence, and lots of glamour. No matter one’s culture or background, everyone gets involved in Christmas in some way, whether by attending the annual office party, exchanging gifts with friends, or going all out and hosting the very special family meal.

It’s all exciting and a welcome break from daily routines and responsibilities—but in the midst of all the parties, festive outfits, and holiday shopping, we sometimes tend to lose sight of the deeper meaning of the holiday season.

The break from work means plenty more opportunities to get together with family members, friends, and other loved ones from our circles. But are we really making the most of this time or thinking about the idea of giving beyond the material gifts?

Quite the opposite: attending those gatherings may be all about a social obligation rather than something to enjoy. And we often dread having to spend another special holiday with that distant cousin we don’t really know or our relatives who might have critical comments to make about our life choices. It’s a story we’re probably all a little too familiar withif not from personal experience, then from watching it play out in one too many holiday comedies.

We believe it’s time to dig a little deeper and change the narrative to a healthier, more joyful one. Festive gatherings don’t need to be reserved to overindulgent food buffets, gifts you will probably want to return, and surface-level conversations. We can design our experiences more mindfully and add a deeper meaning.

At the end of the day, the original meaning of the holiday season (or any other celebration for that matter) has always been about human connection and using the extra down-time to return to core values such as joy, love, kindness and compassion. The fancy decorations, glamorous outfits, and indulgent meals are just the sprinkle on the top, not the core reason for celebrating.

Now the question is: How do we go back to socializing and celebrating in a more mindful way?

Set Your Intention Right

It all starts by taking time to set an intention about how you really want to be spending your holidays. Think back to previous years and pinpoint what you enjoyed and what you would like to change about the holiday season. Perhaps you used to overspend money on buying one too many gifts for yourself and others that didn’t end up sparking the kind of joy you were hoping for, so this year you can set an intention to choose gifts in a more mindful, sustainable, and responsible way.

Or, if you find yourself not genuinely enjoying the gatherings you’re attending, take a closer look at the people you spend your time with and try to understand whether you can improve your experience by making more effort to connect with your family and friends or, alternatively, if there are some people that you shouldn’t be around to begin with.

Just like any other aspect of an intelligent lifestyle, it takes a lot of self-assessment and conscious planning to create the experiences you want, both for yourself and those around you. Meditation, journaling, and visualization will once again be your best friends here. By jotting down or meditating on how you want to feel at that time of year and who you want to be around, it will become easier to take the necessary steps in bringing those kinds of intimate, meaningful experiences to life.

Mindful Games

When it comes to the events that you do choose to attend, the key is to go in with both an open mind and an open heart. Let go of any expectations or negative memories from past experiencesthe past doesn’t have to equal the present after alland set yourself to truly connect with the people you’re choosing to spend this festive time with.

This means talking less about the weather, politics, and other general topics, and going a little deeper, asking your friends, relatives, or even new acquaintances about their lives, their dreams for the future, or even what they’ve been struggling with. It’s a very different kind of socializing that requires the willingness to open up and be vulnerable from both parties––and it also results in deeper, genuine connections and more rewarding experiences.

Intelligent Change’s Let’s Get Closer games were designed to help facilitate those deeper connections, with a series of mindful questions and conversation prompts, backed by the power of positive language, that can inspire deep, fun, engaging, and insightful conversations. Designed as an easy-to-play card game that can transcend age, gender, or background, the concept is to simply encourage family members, partners, friends, colleagues, and even strangers to engage with each other in more authentic ways.

You can choose between three different levels of cardsClose, Closer or Closestdepending on the level of intimacy you’re willing to get to, ask each other the insightful and, to some point, life-changing questions on the cards, and start valuable discussions about what truly matters. Questions can range from your favorite childhood memory, to your biggest insecurity, or the least known fact about yourself––and the only requirement is trust and openness. Provided you’re ready to open up, you’ll finish the game having established a strong, nurturing bond––the ultimate ice breaker, if you will.

Around the Holiday Table

Aside of pre- or post-meal games, you can also take different steps to enrich the experience of gathering around the table as a family or group of friends. For instance, you can encourage each person to contribute. One person can bring their favorite bread, another can cook a starter, while anyone with a sweet tooth can take care of dessert. That way, the pressure isn’t all on the host and everyone is immediately more engaged and connected, sharing the anticipation of a great time together.

Before beginning to eat, you can also encourage everyone to take a moment to express their gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy a delicious meal and be surrounded by loved ones. Or you can share your favourite festive memories of you and the other person. Or you can define what makes this gathering so special.

Gratitude, in any ways of expression, is a fundamental part of any conscious lifestyle, and we tend to practice it on an individual level in our Five Minute Journals, but holiday gatherings are a great opportunity to introduce this concept to your family and friends and practice gratitude as a collective.

When gathered around the table, in between meals, or while on your coffee––or mulled wine––break, you can add an extra element to your dinner experience by opting for the Table Talk game. This compact conversational game combines simpler, yet still meaningful questions that create opportunities for more fun and engaging conversations with your guests. Listen mindfully and ask second questions if you feel like it will help the person open up and go deeper. Sometimes, the most interesting conversations come after the initial answer.

And this is what festive season is all about––mindfulness, love, authentic connection. Sometimes, the best gifts aren’t things, but simple joyful experiences, heartfelt feelings, and genuine emotions. Because joy can be found in life’s smallest, everyday momentsif you choose to see it.

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