Having a relationship free Christmas with no family/spouse to spend it with has made me think a lot about past holidays and why some were more effective and loving than others? What made one Christmas happier and lighter in feel than others?
I’ll be honest when I was in college we had a pretty mean streak of chaotic Christmas breaks. For about 3 years some or all of us ended up getting sick, my parents had a new baby (always tough) and they had just moved to California and hadn’t really settled in. Life was a challenge.
That said, we did always manage to leave the season with a sense of unity and purpose and particularly Christmas Day never failed to be magical. A lot of this credit goes to my Mother who does whatever she can to make our somewhat odd family united.
Anyway, I was thinking about what I could have done in some of those hard years to make things better? It’s hard to say because I was exhausted from school and ill equipped to deal with a family under duress. I was also immature and eager to get back to my independent life. A baby and young toddler were the last thing I wanted to deal with and my response was probably on the selfish side; although I do think I tried.
I sometimes think it would be easier if I had friends in California but since I only lived there for 9 months, even today, I end up working most of break which doesn’t make it much of a break for me. Plus, I find I turn into this different person when I am home. More of a nag and less of a carefree, happy person. Do any of you see that with your own behavior at home? I’m not sure why I do that?
While I was pondering these past Christmases I thought about how Christmas is like a little microcosm of all the ways we experience love (and its opposite) jam-packed into one month. There are so many opportunities to think of others and to receive love in return that it is really like no other time of the year, but again how can we make those interactions more effective?
I’m sure most of you have heard about the 5 Love Languages. They are by Dr. Gary Chapman and have been a part of a number of his bestselling books. While possibly a bit gimmicky, I have found them to be very helpful in my friendships and family relationships over the years and today I was thinking about how much they relate to Christmas. In fact, I think the success of a Christmas depends on our ability to express love in each of the 5 ways, and in the way others need that love:
5 Love Languages of Christmas
1. Quality Time- This is the type of person that will get very frustrated by a slew of activities that are rushed through (how many of us do that at Christmas!). They want time for ‘meaningful conversation’ and ‘eye contact and shared activities are needed to feel loved’ (I wonder how many people felt ostracized from me because I couldn’t make eye contact with them with my strabismus?).
Basically bonding time is what they need most of all. For example, this person would probably not be well suited to seeing a movie Christmas Day but would rather sit and talk over cookies.
My parents aren’t really ‘event’ people, meaning they enjoy doing things with all of us, but I don’t think they see it as an important expression of love. They would see all the time spent with me on the phone as more important than any activity we might do together (which for me is definitely the case; although I am also an activity person). In the past I have gotten frustrated when my family doesn’t seem as energized as I am about something important to me but maybe that is just not the way they express love? Hmmmm
2. Receiving Gifts- This is probably the clearest link to the holidays and most treacherous. Following the example of the magi of old we give gifts during the holidays and most of us try to give something thoughtful that the other person will like. With children it is often the quantity of the gifts that stand out where an adult may get one or two more carefully chosen gifts.
Here’s the rub- some people, as Dr. Gray points out, just don’t think gifts are an important expression of love; for others it is key. I can think of people in my family who land on both ends of the spectrum. My Dad, for instance, is not a huge gift person. He likes them fine but it’s definitely not his language.
One year I got my brother in the Christmas drawing and he said ‘ughh, Rachel is a bad gift-giver’ and I was so offended. (It may have been his strategy because I gave him a sweet gift to prove him wrong!). Giving and receiving gifts is important to me and I’ve learned a lot over the years about how to give an effective gift- https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/good-gifts/
Dr. Gray says “When you are with a partner who love little gifts and surprises, this is precisely what you will get. You will constantly be showered with new clothes, flowers or even chocolates. This is how they want to be loved, so this is exactly what they do for their partners. Giving the gift of self is also an important symbol of love to these people.”
On the other hand when someone is not a gift love language person it can come across as cold and distant to those who are. I can think of several Christmases I would have been happier had my expectations of both receiving and giving of gifts been aligned with the person on the opposite end of the gift. Something to think about!
3. Words of Affection- This is a person who needs positive reinforcement vocally to feel loved. Dr. Gray says “those who speak this language are sensitive people and don’t take criticism as well as others. They may illustrate their frustrations by using sharp words or even by harassing you.” (sound like a holiday you have experienced!). I probably fall into this language most of all; although, I have also learned over the years to hold feelings inside causing me anxiety and even panic. That’s how unnatural it is for me to not communicate my feelings.
This type of love language can be a powder keg when large gatherings combine lots of personality traits together, giving ample opportunity for snubs, slights and over-reactions. Even just the anxiety of reinforcing others and then not getting it back like you might have hoped can be difficult. For example, someone who is shy and private may have a hard time communicating with someone who needs words of affection.
On the other hand, this expression can be full to overflowing in the positive during Christmas as people share testimony of the Savior, and we feel Jesus’ love stronger than the rest of the year. Plus, cards, carolers, party-goers and family members all get ample opportunity to shower each other with words of love. It just helps to know that is what your loved one needs. Watch out for his or her patterns this year.
I can think of so many people who are great at this. My best friend Emily comes to mind. She is loving and thoughtful and we have a very similar type of love expression which is good for a best friend! :). My old roommate Camille is also excellent at absorbing large personalities. She is such a great listener, a necessary companion to being a words of affection person.
4. Physical Touch- This is probably the least visible during the holidays but certainly present. As we visit with loved one’s hugs and other physical touch are a part of feeling warmly welcomed and loved. If you are someone like me who is not a cuddly person sometimes such affections can be difficult to initiate but still appreciated.
It’s interesting after I showed my new roommate the house we were chatting and at the end of the conversation she said ‘Can I give you a hug?’. I don’t know her well enough to say she is a physical touch person but suffice it to say I would never have made a similar gesture and t was very friendly. Made me feel all the more confident in her character and that she would be a good roommate.
5. Acts of Service- Dr Gray defines this as “Some people find pleasure in doing things for others. This may mean that they will feel loved when their partners help out with chores or does things for them. However acts of service should be done out of love, not obligation”.
I was not always so great at the doing it out of love part but I did it and that counts for something. Again, I was immature and craving my independence. This did not always make for the most willing servant for my family, but we did work hard.
I remember one of the most difficult Christmas times my mother was injured and my Dad was sick and when we came into the house my Mother said ‘I hope you have come with an attitude of service’. I’m sure I wasn’t perfect but I remember trying to serve. My Sister (who was always better at this than me. Perhaps it is her language of love?) and I planned and cooked for a church party my Dad had scheduled weeks before the injury or illness nearly cancelled it. I know it meant a lot to my Mom to have our help and I look back on it with gratitude to my Heavenly Father for giving me the chance to serve.
I have always been involved with service for the community around Christmas. For years I did sub-4-santa, even when I was in high school, and have one planned this year for a family friend. I am also taking the lead on Swimfest which I see as service to my swim family. Next Tuesday I am going with my activity days girls to sing at the senior center near my house- another great opportunity to serve during Christmas. (The girls requested going to the center! Isn’t that cute?)
So those are the 5 love languages. I hope that you can think about them as you try to express love this Christmas season. The most important thing to remember is that Jesus Christ, the reason for the season, understands our language perfectly and can love us like nobody on earth. In fact, He already has shown the ultimate love by giving us His life so we could be forgiven and be happy. Returning to His presence with our eternal families makes all of life’s struggles worth it (and the happy times extra sweet). Merry Christmas!