Before you dive into your holiday feast, a bit of preparation is in order. Having been introduced to the ScreamFree way of living, you’ve learned that your success and your ability to focus on yourself are closely tied. Remember: You are the only person in the entire world whom you can fully, freely control. So let’s begin with a seemingly simple yet definitely deep question:

1. For whom are we preparing or participating in this holiday meal?
Place the “popular” reason for the upcoming holiday aside for a moment. Instead, get personal and see if one of the following statements applies to you.

A. This holiday meal means everything to my family. I will plan/prepare/attend it because everyone expects me to do so, and the outcome is important to them.

B. This holiday meal is important to me. I will plan/prepare/attend it with all the food, people and rituals that mean the world to me.

C. We’re supposed to feast with the family on holidays. I’m fulfilling an ideal that doesn’t actually ring true with my family. No honest answer is wrong, and remaining truthful will prevent you from creating unreasonable expectations. If you get to the heart of the reason for this great feast, your efforts and your expectations will become more realistic and more in sync. A clear perspective, in turn, will enable you to have more control over your actions as the event unfolds. You may even choose to break bread in an uncustomary way.

2. What if we fight? What if the cake collapses?
Unforeseen circumstances happen. That’s life. And as we discussed earlier, the dynamics in certain families put the odds in favor of war over peace. We can learn to accept that some things may (or probably will) go wrong. We can also anticipate potential setbacks and prepare for how we will conduct ourselves — and perhaps salvage the day — when and difficulties occur. If an inexperienced cook is making the meal, for instance, extend your sincere, unobtrusive offer to help. And feed the kids a sandwich before you go for dinner.

3. How do you want to feel when the day is over?
Your answer is important to experiencing a ScreamFree holiday meal. Do you want to feel frazzled and frustrated? Then, by all means, plan for frazzled. Invite too many guests or force yourself to join an overwhelming crowd. Do you want to be happy? Seek moderation. Ask for and offer help when it’s needed. Determine what this holiday means to you and decide how to honor your feelings about the feast and your family. As you move forward with your choice of plans, you can take additional steps to ensure your holiday meal is ScreamFree and meaningful to you and your family.

A. Plan ahead.
Elementary yet crucial, planning is essential. If you’re hosting, plan your menu, your shopping and your guest list well ahead of the day so that you are not rushing around at the last minute.

If you’re traveling, realize that holidays create busy airports, bus stations and crowded highways. Allow enough time in your schedule for bad weather and other delays. If you have young children, pack portable toys, food and books to keep them happily distracted.

Bake ahead of time so that you are not utterly exhausted on the big day. Ask for help. Have each person bring his or her special dish, but be organized so that green bean casserole isn’t the only veggie dish of the day!

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Welcome guests into the kitchen and put all ages in charge of age-appropriate tasks. If having others in your kitchen drives you nuts, prepare as much as possible ahead of time.

Put the teens in charge of the little tykes. The big ones will enjoy the responsibility, and the younger ones will love the attention.

Leave off the new chair cushions. Or keep plenty of soda water on hand to remove stains in case an accident happens.

B. Keep Things in Perspective.
The idea is to share a joyful meal with loved ones. Forget about constructing a Norman Rockwell experience. Focus instead on the meaning of the celebration and be thankful for your friends, family and green Jell-O.

Keep in mind what and whom you can control. You cannot force a kid to prefer gourmet over junk food. You can, however, control your actions and make the best of any situation.

C. Learn the Power of Pause.
No matter how well you plan ahead, assume a positive attitude and acquire a sensible perspective. Anything can go awry. Learning to take a few deep breaths in the midst of a debacle opens a world of opportunities for you to grow and, in the process, teach others — especially children — invaluable lessons. Instead of becoming reactive and hastily assuming the worst when problems arise, simply pause. Creating a pause unlocks your creativity. You may even become regarded as your family’s steady resource and a breath of fresh air.

(Excerpted from “A ScreamFree Guide to Holiday Meals” by Hal Runkel. Used by permission of ScreamFree Living, Inc.)

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Copyright © 2008 Jim Burns, Used with permission.
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In response to the overwhelming needs of parents and families, Jim Burns founded HomeWord (formerly YouthBuilders) in 1985. HomeWord is a Christian organization designed to provide assistance to adults worldwide as they help young people make wise decisions and lead positive, vibrant, Christian lifestyles. Multiplication and Leverage: While absolutely committed to young people, HomeWord equips parents, grandparents and youth leaders; those who daily reach out to kids. By equipping adults, and leveraging those adults to reach kids, HomeWord reaches more young people more cost effectively.

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