The holiday season is here; lights flicker on trees and in windows, friends and family feast together, and the sense of excitement — even of joy — rests on these days.

What is it that makes these weeks so special, so transcendent? The parties? The food? The gifts? Perhaps. But maybe the holiday cheer that hangs like a twinkling veil over this time of year has less to do with these things and more to do with the intentional choices that this time of year births in us. Maybe the incandescence of the holiday season happens because we are choosing to live in a manner that is outwardly-focused … and that makes all the difference.

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Below are three themes that the holidays tend to portray. These are aspects of the season that we can carry into every month of the year if our hearts are open and willing.

Generosity
The holidays are all about giving. Gifts are exchanged and as nice as it is to receive gifts, we all know the truth that little compares to the joy of giving meaningful gifts to those we love. Their excitement, their surprise, their thankfulness — that is a gift in and of itself. Many of us also give to charities and organizations that we care about during this time of year. In light of the needs of the world and the spirit of the season, we are moved to share what we have, whether it is little or much, with those who have less than we do. Often, what the holidays help open our eyes to is how much we really do have, while at the same time awakening our hearts to the joy of generosity.

Maybe the incandescence of the holiday season happens because we are choosing to live in a manner that is outwardly-focused … and that makes all the difference.

Generosity is less of a financial choice than a mental choice. If we have a mindset of generosity, we can be generous with others in every circumstance, year-round. Donating to a food pantry, volunteering our time at a soup kitchen, babysitting a friend’s child, tutoring students — the opportunities are endless. The good thing is that we can carry this generosity throughout the year. By giving to our favorite charity on a recurring basis or by choosing birthday or wedding gifts for our friends that also give back, we can make a without the holidays prompting us.

Intentional Time
For many of us, the holidays are one of the only times during the year when we make the effort to see certain friends or family members. We go the extra mile — sometimes literally — to spend time and to celebrate together. Whether it is a Friendsgiving meal or a Christmas tradition with family, it is common to be more intentional with travel, parties and nights around the table.

Although it may seem obvious, learning to celebrate and enjoy our friends and family year-round is not something that comes naturally to all of us. Life gets busy; the calendar gets full, but building intentional relationships is something that must be fostered continually if they are to last. We can choose to set aside a weekly or monthly meal with those we hold dear and then we can refuse to let other things crowd that time out. We can decide to take a trip to visit that person we love five states over, even though it will cost us in time and money. We can schedule a phone call regularly with the ones we wish we lived by, but don’t. We can tell these people that we love them and that they matter to us, regardless of what season it is.

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Joy
This is the season where signs and songs declare, “Joy to the World!” and although many of us live with some degree of pain and sorrow, there is still often a communal sense of joy and fun. Holiday music plays in stores and on city streets. We eat more cookies, maybe, and drink a little more hot chocolate. Our offices throw parties. Strangers wish one another “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” On the right nights, even the air can feel charged with goodwill and hope.

The holidays help point us toward delight; the rest of the year we will have to thoughtfully choose that lens on our own.

Yet, this emotion doesn’t have to end when the presents are unwrapped and the lights are taken down. Joy — true joy — doesn’t stem merely from circumstance, as happiness does. Joy holds an element of personal determination: we can choose to see our lives through a lens of delight or through a lens of bitterness. The holidays help point us toward delight; the rest of the year we will have to thoughtfully choose that lens on our own. The same snow that glistens in December still glistens in January, if we have eyes to see its beauty.

These are some of the gifts of the holiday season: generosity, intentionality, and joy. But they don’t have to end when the year comes to a close. Let us choose to live the holidays as a lifestyle every month — and find ourselves surprised at the gifts we continue to unwrap.

How can you seek to live out the holiday spirit year round?

Images via Chelsie Autumn Photography

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