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  • Shanna Donhauser

Happy Holiday

Who doesn’t love peppermint mochas, candy canes, the smell of pine trees and cinnamon?? The Grinch. That’s who. And anyone who remembers how chaotic and stressful the holidays can feel.

Do you find yourself in a spat with your spouse every year right before Thanksgiving? Are you dreading the endless holiday traditions that are not even your own?

This worksheet offers structure and organization for talking with your partner about building holiday traditions that you both love. You can discuss important elements of the holidays in a calm and connected way.

By the end, you will have a detailed, intentional plan for organizing your family during the holiday season. Cheers to building a purposeful and intentional family!

First, identify a role: Cinnamon or Nutmeg. These names will be used throughout the worksheet to differentiate roles.

Second, get cozy. Cuddle up on the couch, get some hot cocoa, and get ready for some hard, heart work.

Remember: the purpose of this conversation is to better understand each other and to organize your plan. Be kind to each other. Listen carefully and try not to interrupt your partner. If you need clarification, ask. If you start to feel agitated, frustrated, shut-down, or withdrawn, take a break. Set a timer, go on a walk, read a magazine, make some tea. Then come back together and try again.

The work you do right now, with this worksheet, will set the tone for the entire season. So let’s roll up our sleeves and dive in.

1. Describe or write about a favorite childhood memory from the holidays. Share with your partner (Nutmeg, you first). While your partner is speaking, pay attention and try not to interrupt.

  • What about this memory feels special?

  • Is this something that you want for your own family?

2. Describe or write about a simple and precious holiday tradition in your family. Share with your partner (you’re up first Cinnamon…)

  • What about this tradition feels special?

  • Is this something that you want for your own family?

  • Are there things about this tradition that feel non-negotiable? What parts of this tradition could be adaptable? For example, in my family we always had Christmas brunch, but one way to adapt it for my husband was to add eggs benedict (part of his family tradition).

1. Describe a holiday memory that was cringe-worthy, or difficult; something you would NOT want to repeat. Share with your partner (go Cinnamon!)

  • What about this memory is hard?

  • What things would you want to change?

  • Share with your partner, things YOU can do to prevent holiday disaster.

  • Ask your partner for ideas of things they can do to help prevent holiday disaster.

2. Write out your holiday “contract” below:

This holiday season, I agree to __________________________________________________________________.

This holiday season, I agree to __________________________________________________________________.


Be mindful of timing and be ready to leave on time

Help with food preparations

Get the kids out of the house so you can ___________.

Only drink three drinks at the party

Remember to bring gifts

Be available for spontaneous errands without complaining

NOTE: If this holiday disaster brings up hurt feelings, spend some time processing it now. Take ownership for mistakes in the past, and try to accept your partner’s sincere apology and this new attempt to make things better moving forward.

1. Describe or write out some things that would make your ideal holiday, your holiday wishes. Share with your partner (Nutmeg, you’re up).


  • What parts of Nutmeg’s holiday wishes sound appealing to you?

  • Pick one wish that you like and try to expand it together.

  • Now you share your holiday wishes.

2. Write out the holiday wishes that overlap or that are appealing to both of you:

Setting kind and firm boundaries can help prevent hurt feelings and leads to easier execution of holiday wishes. Gracefully setting boundaries is hard, especially around the holidays. Everyone wants to spend time with you, your partner, and your beautiful children. But without clear boundaries, families feel torn, distressed, and unhappy. This part of the worksheet helps identify which relationships need clearer boundaries and provides some sample language for how to set kind and firm boundaries.

1. Which family members and friends do YOU think need clearer boundaries? Write your list below, then share with your partner.

________________________________ ________________________________ ________________________________

________________________________ ________________________________ ________________________________

NOTE: You are responsible for YOUR family and YOUR friends. Your partner CANNOT set or even enforce boundaries if you have not already set clear expectations with your community. Your partner can and should support your boundaries, and help enforce those boundaries. But you must be the one to clearly articulate and set boundaries with your loved ones.

2. What is the primary issue that needs to be addressed?

  • Time or days of events

  • Location of events

  • Type of events

  • Quality of interactions

  • Boundaries around kids

  • Financial expectations

3. Identify things that you could offer to replace the primary issue. For example, if the primary issue is wanting to spend Christmas Eve with just your little family, you can offer to go ice skating or look at lights on a different day with grandparents.

4. Choose one of the above to work through the following sample language:

You: Hey, [insert person]. You know how last year we [insert issue]. This year we’re going to [insert new plan]. We’d love to [insert offer] this year with you. What do you think?

Them: But we always do [insert issue]!

You: I know. And I will always remember [issue] fondly. But this year we’re going to [insert plan] because it’s important to me. I’d still love to [insert offer] with you. Think about it and let me know if that works.

With an actual example…

You: Hey mom/dad. You know how last year we all came over to your house for Christmas morning [issue]? This year we’re going to stay at our house [new plan]. We’d love to have you come over this year [offer]. What do you think?

Them: But we always have Christmas morning at our house!

You: I know. And I always remember those mornings fondly. But this year we’re going to stay home because it’s important to me. I do want you to come over though. Does 8AM work for you? Think about it and let me know if you want to come.

5. Be ready for disappointment. Families get comfortable with patterns and routines, and when one person tries something new, that can be jarring. They will protest change. As you set boundaries, your family members or friends may be disappointed or even upset. That’s okay. As long as you are clear, kind, and firm about your own boundaries, people will adapt.

But what if they don’t adapt…?

6. That little voice in the back of your mind may get loud. Fear of losing precious relationships makes us impulsive, reactive, and anxious. But when you are clear, firm, and above all, KIND, you are setting boundaries from a grounded place. People generally respect and respond to groundedness. Practice with your partner. Practice with a friend. Practice in the mirror. Then make an opportunity and do your best.

What if they don’t adapt…?

7. Your clear, kind, and reasonable boundaries may result in hurt feelings. However, if you understand where the hurt feelings come from, you can sometimes offer a reasonable replacement. If grandparents are hurt because they don’t feel included, find other ways to help them feel included. If aunties or uncles are offended about not exchanging presents, exchange cookies or homemade cards instead. Some people react to boundaries with offense, as though your boundary is a wall keeping them out. Show the people that you love, that you can still love them deeply and thoughtfully AND still have boundaries and limitations as a person.

*Download a printable PDF version here.

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