What a weird Thanksgiving this is, as the tradition of gathering with family and friends is put on hold for many of us due to the pandemic. You even may realize that you miss those annoying relatives who drive you crazy every year with their silly questions and irritating sense of humor.

Here’s an idea to rekindle the warmth of the holidays. It’s a blog I wrote a few years ago while I was going through photos to make our annual family calendar. Check it out…maybe you’ll start a new tradition that continues even when the crowds return.

Wishing you much health and happiness today and every day.

For the past 23 years, I have made a family-photo calendar for the grandparents and immediate family as a holiday gift. Since some of the grandparents and aunts/uncles live across the country, it has been a nice way to keep our daughters in their lives on a daily basis, albeit a very small way.

I love this calendar—perhaps even more than the recipients do. And as I was working on the calendar this past weekend, I realized the role that it has taken on in my life.

At a very simplistic level, this is my big holiday project. Some people bake cookies. Some people decorate their homes with little Christmas villages and garlands. And of course, others wreak havoc on the electric company with the beautiful outdoor light displays. Well, the calendar is as “craft-y” as I get.

At a pragmatic level, I never have to put a photo into a photo album because I can see the highlights of every year in each calendar. Who doesn’t bemoan the fact that they are just waiting for that rainy day when they will finally get the photos into albums? I did, too, until I realized that I had my growing stack of annual diaries.

This became even more apparent when my husband’s family spent days and days going through photo albums after my father-in-law died last spring. Granted, my father-in-law was a very organized shutterbug with many shelves of carefully labeled photo albums going back to the 1940s. Nonetheless, we spent days sorting, scanning and divvying up the pictures among the five siblings. I keep a box of all the past calendars—two copies of each actually—so that one day, each of our two daughters will have her own set of the family history neatly stacked and already sorted. Voilà!

The most important aspect of the calendar is the emotional one for me. It has become a deeply heartfelt tradition to rediscover all the moments that were forgotten in the blur of life. It is truly remarkable how many things I forget each year—the events…the funny moments…the significant and the fleeting.

It’s way too easy to forget the many great moments of your life as the “mundane-ness” of each day casts shadows over the special occasions. This year has been unusually hazy, yet unusually eventful due to the tremendous pressures at work and a higher-than-normal amount of travel for everyone in my family.

Until I sat down to review, gather and select photos from this past year, I had forgotten many of those details. There was ice-skating with friends…an evening sleigh ride to dinner on the top of a mountain…and the annual family Christmas photo while skiing on a “Christmas” run in Colorado.

There was the very sad loss of my wonderful father-in-law and the many special moments spent before, during and after the funeral with family.

There were bike races, ski races and running races…visits with assorted family friends…and a very special Father’s Day celebration for my husband, Ron—not to mention some incredible travel that included visiting our daughter during her semester abroad. As I skimmed through the photos, placing them in groupings for each month, I relived the experiences of those special times with those special people…just like those old Kodak commercials wanted us to do.

We all have cameras in our pockets now. And we snap, snap, snap…but how often do we review and reflect? A few years ago, my mother-in-law brought out all of the old calendars for my daughters to look at. OMG—what a wonderful experience to remember the funny faces of infanthood, the walks in the park and the first bicycle rides. The girls hadn’t seen many of the photos before, so it was great to tell the story of each picture—where we were…why we took that funny photo…why one child or another had dressed up in that silly outfit.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is telling the stories behind the Christmas ornaments as we decorate the tree. With each telling, I remember my high school friend’s young siblings who gave me a little glass angel…our first Christmas together as husband and wife when we had no ornaments and bought blue and silver balls that we still hang on the tree…and the surprise trip to France for my 40th birthday when I place the ornament I made from the hotel’s small shampoo bottle on the tree.

People write gratitude journals…and reflections on their days or years. It’s a great practice and one that I will be doing in the coming days as I prepare for an end-of-year communication to the company. But having the visual reminder of the events provides an incredibly rich experience that connects to deeper pieces of my brain. I actually am able to go back to that place, reliving not just the where but the emotions surrounding it, feeling the joy, the sadness and the love.

You don’t need to make a calendar, but it’s easy to go through your photos of the year, select the highlights and send them off to one of the many photo websites that can create a memory book for the year. A beautiful tradition you can start any time.

Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast,  where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life. 

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