The day after Christmas, we had nothing to do but “be.”

With single-digit weather outside our windows, still-exciting new toys strewn across the kitchen floor and the absence of things on our “need to” list … there was a calm about our house that just felt “light.”

We had an amazing Christmas.

For the first time in a long time, stress was not a word I used to describe our holiday. I attribute its absence to the shift I committed to prior to the season starting.

That shift was to focus on FAMILY.

Any time that I started to feel off-center, hurried or frustrated … I asked myself if my action was family-focused.

When I got stressed about finding the perfect gift, I shifted my thought to how much joy would be in the room when we gathered with our three kids around the tree. When I got frustrated that I forgot something at the grocery store, I found gratitude that I was able to cook for my extended family who was all under my roof. When the kids started acting up at Christmas mass… I chose to find peace in the fact that we were THERE. Together. As a family.

And it worked.

Because the day after Christmas I woke up with a beautiful calm inside my spirit.

I reflected on how much fun my husband and I had on Christmas Eve coming up with ideas to make the morning that much more special for the kids. I loved the way the room felt as the kids so excitedly and graciously opened and gave their gifts. I felt the gratitude that two of our friends welcomed us into their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family dinners because we don’t have family in town. I recognized how incredible it was to create traditions with our core group of five.

And then the day went on…

I felt my brain shift back towards autopilot and away from all of that holiday focus and perspective. I started thinking about “all of the things” like I typically do.

What chores need to be done? What work emails have I let go over the last week? How much of this laundry can I get done? How am I ever going to get this house back in order? What do I need to get at the store? 

The stress started creeping in. And I felt that holiday-hangover grief of saying goodbye to the magic and getting back to normal life.

But with God working right on cue, my oldest asked if we could all play one of the new games together. I smiled and agreed… and for the next 45 minutes, the five of us sat in a circle on our kitchen floor and played. 

We laughed in a way I wouldn’t have if I was writing emails. I saw a competitive side of my typically “everyone wins mentality” daughter that I wouldn’t have seen if I was folding laundry. We celebrated individual victories by doing dances choreographed to the “winning song” that we made up… a moment I would have missed while I was decluttering.

The kids marinated in having their mom and dad’s individual attention, and we soaked in having theirs.

It wasn’t to say that my brain didn’t start to wander and think about the next thing I needed to do. But when it did and started to open up space for stress to creep in…  I remembered why Christmas was so great… why I had looked out the window with my cup of coffee that morning and was able to reflect on such a magical, memorable holiday.

It was the focus on family that resulted in the feelings I am always craving: peace, joy, laughter and calm.

And I realized that focus isn’t just about making the holiday season great, it’s what can might life great.

Because, if you think about it, the holiday season is really no different than the rest of the year.

There are to-do lists. Other people to think of. Places to be. Meals to put on the table. Clutter to de-clutter. Birthday, anniversary and new baby presents to buy. False expectations that we will try to avoid but subconsciously succumb to.

Just in a different way.

But you know what else there is?

Board games to play. Eye contact to share with our kids. Silly dances to be danced in the kitchen. Laughter in our bellies just waiting to be put out into the universe. Opportunities to gather with family and friends. Sunday Church to attend TOGETHER. Time to show the people we love in our lives how much we love them.

Chances to focus on family.

And when you shift your brain to focusing on that, you can have the joy of the holiday season all year round.

Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, speaker and photographer who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. Through her work, she aims to empower people to overcome their fears and insecurities and live their truth. She and her husband raise their three children in Pittsburgh, PA.