Beyond the Perfect Present: Making the Holidays Meaningful

Friday, December 18, 2015

No matter our religious or cultural background, we all feel pressured during the winter season to frame a picture-perfect holiday experience. Whether it's to serve a flawless Thanksgiving dinner, create a Martha Stewart-inspired holiday home or to give (or receive) a much-desired gift, many feel a stressful frenzy ascending as temperatures drop. Our search for holiday nirvana too often involves crowded shopping malls, overloaded credit cards and pitched battles for the ideal balsam fir, leading to frazzled nerves and bad tempers.

Instead of celebrating each other, we compete for dominance on a consumer battlefield. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Saint Joseph’s University theologian Shawn Madison Krahmer, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, advises us to take a step back from commercial pursuits and to focus instead on the central meaning of the holidays.

“Set aside the cultural expectations of spending the most and getting the best,” Krahmer says.

“If you are religious, the ideal would be to reflect on the core values of your faith. If not, think about the times when you most enjoyed being with loved ones or family during the holidays — when something spontaneous and wonderful happened that helped to define the place where you belong, lending deeper meaning to the occasion,” she adds.

Not surprisingly, Krahmer espouses a broad definition of family.

“It really is about being with those we think of as family, which can mean a traditional nuclear family, a group of cherished friends or a larger community,” says Krahmer. “Gathering together on an important occasion creates a special communal bond that makes a lasting impression on everyone involved.”

Krahmer can be reached for comment at, at 610-660-1870, or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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