By Betsy Hagen, Associate Director for GET Operations, Guaranteed Education Tuition Program

December 18, 2018


I love the holidays! I write a to-do list, get my greeting cards done, purchase gifts for a family in need, invite others to join us for a meal, and start the holiday decorating early with lights, snowmen, and music. I learned some time ago that the holidays are what you make it!

It’s the time of year when you hear all kinds of holiday messages:

“We wish you and your loved ones safe and happy holidays.”

“Enjoy the peace and serenity of the season.”

“May your holidays be filled with happiness, health, good cheer, and warmth of family.”

Some of these messages are sappy, some are heartfelt, and some we may even say out of sheer obligation.

I believe the holiday season holds a special place in our hearts, both from memories of long ago and newly created traditions. We can shape our holiday experience through intentional efforts to bring joy to others, practice self-care and embrace important family traditions and beliefs. We all want to create a “happy” holiday season for ourselves and those we care about. It’s also important to remember that happiness can look different to each of us.

Unfortunately, sometimes happiness does not arrive in time for the holidays. This might be because of bad memories and past experiences, new challenges we’re facing, or unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves and others. Encouragingly, I have recently seen more workshops and services being offered in communities and at workplaces to help people through the holiday blues.

While this is my favorite time of year, I have had my own experiences with “unhappy” holidays:

One year, I was 15 and very excited about Christmas. I am the oldest of four children, and my parents always made Christmas a very magical time. This was done not with a lot of presents but with tinsel on the tree, lovely smelling bread and cookies from the kitchen, and neighbors stopping by for a visit and to wish us a Merry Christmas. On this particular Christmas, my siblings all received new bikes. I received new handlebars and a new seat for my old bike. My parents were very practical and knew I would be driving soon so I didn’t need a new bike. I was shocked and very saddened and felt it was the worst Christmas ever. Somehow, I thought my parents thought less of me than the other kids and I really wanted something new. Throughout the day, I tried to be happy and joyous and interacted with my family, but it was tough. As the day progressed and I realized that my parents were being practical and loved me, my holiday spirit rose once again. Many years later, I realized that holidays are what you make it. It’s about being together, sharing laughter and merriment!

More recently, over a period of six months, we had three close family members pass away, two others were diagnosed with cancer, and another with early onset Alzheimer’s. We also had to move my mother-in-law to an assisted living facility and prepare to sell her home. The holiday season was upon us and we were so overcome with grief, we thought: how could we possibly pull everything together and have a “happy” holiday? I went through the motions of decorating and baking but there were voids where people once were. We all deal with grief in our own ways and it’s best to respect that but I also had five grandchildren who were looking forward to being together and get a little gift or two. Through conversation and the help of friends and family, we were lifted up and experienced a “happy” holiday. We will never get over our losses but we will work through it with the love and support of others.

Life events have a way of freezing you in time, sometimes for a bit, sometimes longer, but the holiday season is the same time each year. It is up to each individual to engage in happiness over the holidays and look for ways to help others who are down.

So, reach out to others, watch a holiday movie or two, bake some cookies with a loved one, share a beverage, enjoy a theater performance, relish in a winter experience (such as ice skating, hiking, skiing, or snowboarding), extend kindness, and be present. Add a little sprinkle of college savings to the mix as well!

Whatever your “happy” holiday season is like, embrace it or create it. The choice is yours. The holidays really can be what you make it!

I wish you peace, love, hope, and joy during this special time.


About the Author

Betsy Hagen is the Associate Director for GET Operations for Guaranteed Education Tuition Program in the state of Washington.