The Gift of Love

There are so many things we could pull from this time of year to talk about regarding success. Like how businesses get people to buy stuff this time of year under the guise of giving gifts and getting great deals. Or how we talk about and celebrate the holidays for a month or more before we get to the actual holiday, allowing for sufficient time for planning, gathering and gift-purchasing. Or we could talk about how the holidays encourage people to spend time in community and do good for others (and it actually happens). Or we could talk about how the holidays allow many of us to end the year on a positive note, something that may not ring true for the rest of the year.

But today I want to talk about the success of getting love and community into our lives and into the lives of others. Whether you celebrate Christmas (religious), Christmas (secular), Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, this time of year is one of celebration and gathering together. We each celebrate something a little different, but with each holiday we’re invited to turn on or light some lights and gather together to celebrate. For several thousand years we’ve been celebrating Christmas (religious) and Hanukkah, Christmas (secular) for the past several hundred, and Kwanzaa for the last 50 or so years, taking time to set aside any differences or struggles we may have, remembering the good times and making new memories together. Anything that gets people of all cultures and backgrounds to stop and be more considerate of others year in and year out is worth talking about.

I’m willing to take on all the commercialization, crowded roads, spending, and some extra stress because more people are polite, more people are helpful, and more people show how they care unlike other times of the year. The time we take to purchase exactly the right gift for someone, make someone’s favorite foods (including special cookies), and lengths we travel to be together are all evidence of the fact that we do care about each other, even if we aren’t always willing to admit it. We may wrap our love up in the activities and actions of the season, but when all the trappings and trimmings are removed, when we stop moving and eating and sit, when the gifts are all unwrapped, what it comes down to is love for each other.

With the holiday season in full gear, I encourage you to make time to think about love and let that be the best gift you give or get this holiday season.

Be A Light

One of the things I talk about every December is the topic of light. It’s fascinating that we use light in so many of our celebrations. From candles for birthdays, to fireworks for the Fourth of July, to the lights in a jack-o-lantern, to lights on homes and trees for Christmas, to the lights of the Menorah for Hanukkah, to the Las Posadas celebration, and Kwanzaa’s lights, it’s clear we love to celebrate with light. And of course we can’t forget how we use light to illuminate our worlds and push back the darkness no matter how low the sun is or late the night is.

The other day I was shocked when I read that we’re heading to a new decade in less than two weeks. I have been anticipating and aware of the new year coming up, as it follows Christmas each year and means that the celebrations are over but the winter weather sticks around for a few more months, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me that with this new year was a big change with the calendar, and that’s to a new decade. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to celebrate and move into a new decade after this past one. This decade probably wasn’t the hardest one we’ve ever had, but there’s something about going into a new decade that is even more refreshing and exciting than going into a new year usually is.

This holiday season I’ve been lighting more candles than I often do, there’s something about the light of a candle that’s both soothing and inspiring. I may be a night person but I can’t imagine being without the light, or choosing to not be a person of light. I donate regularly to charity and non-profit organizations, and this year on Giving Tuesday I was thankful to be able to donate to some organizations that are really shining light in some dark places in the world, including one that supports children and their families with cancer (Jesse Rees Foundation), one that works with in-need children and families in Guatemala (Integral Heart Foundation), and several that work with veterans (Warrior Canine Connection, Travis Mills Foundation). With technology today we’re able to see first hand the great work these types of organizations are doing through posted pictures and videos on social media and in newsletters, and you can’t help tearing up watching some of the videos that shows the incredible difference these organizations and others are making in the lives of people who were lost and without hope, and now thanks to connecting with them and supporting them in the unique ways that they do, the lives of many families are greatly improved and they have hope again.

Life rarely changes in one day, often it takes many years to change, halt or improve, especially if you’re dealing with something like trying to change a country’s future, curbing addiction or addressing the world’s climate issues. But lately I’ve been seeing some more lights and more signs of hope than I have in the past. Light is a choice. No, every day won’t be filled with light and happiness, there are some really tough things that we’ll have to face in our life and others will have to face in their lives. But when you can, choose to light a candle, turn on a light, help a neighbor or coworker or stranger, share a positive social post, volunteer with organizations doing great things, or do something that makes you or someone else happy.

Even the smallest light can be seen when it appears in the darkness. When that one small light joins with other lights it has the power to banish all the darkness in the area. This winter solstice, on the day of the year that the darkness arrives the earliest and sticks around the longest, I encourage you to be a light today, this holiday season and in the new decade.

A Little Christmas Magic

A song that always catches my attention in the holiday season is A Baby Changes Everything sung by Faith Hill. Hearing this song again the other day got me thinking about parenting and having children. For most it’s an equally exciting day when their child is born as it was for Mary and everyone else when Jesus was born in the Biblical Christmas story. For others, in this day and age the ability to have a child isn’t as significant as it was back in Biblical times or back when the first stories about Santa circulated. In some circles and families there’s certainly pressure to have a child, but most are not under that pressure and can choose whether they want to bring a child into this world or if their time and efforts are better off with other pursuits. Finally, unfortunately there are some people who have children and aren’t as excited or changed by the process as they should be (including those families you wonder why they chose to have kids).

But then I got to thinking about some of the less-traditional ways that a child changes things. For those who can’t have children, adopting a child from a less-than-ideal situation is a huge blessing for both the child and new family. For families who lose one or both of a child’s parents while the child is still young, the child can be what keeps them going and helps them work through the grieving process. For those whose children have grown older and don’t have grandchildren or don’t frequently see them, working with children as a career or volunteer activity can be a great way to keep that child-inspired zest for life spark alive. And for those who see a cute child in the store or out and about, it’s a reminder to smile and love life. Whether they played an active roll in bringing them into the world or not, sometimes a child can be the one thing someone needed in their life or just that day.

Yes, children have their moments where we wonder what someone was thinking when they had them, or why they can’t just appear grown, or how soon they’ll get through this phase. Working through these tough times with a child can teach us many things that we can apply to other areas of our lives such as working with difficult people or coworkers, managing expectations, conflict resolution, and lessons on patience in general. I’ve found that these moments are fewer and farther between than some may think, and that more often than not kids are a blessing.

If you learn anything from kids at this time of year, learn the value of believing in the magic. We don’t often see the magic as adults because we pick out details like the amount of work or where the dirt shows up or managing schedules, but if we stop and listen and look around, hopefully we too can find some of that magic for ourselves this season and beyond. What magic will you welcome into your life this holiday season?

Celebrating Christmas with Advent Calendars

Something that many families participate in during the holiday season is an Advent calendar. It’s a fun way to keep kids engaged and a simple way of celebrating Christmas for more days than just the one that officially is given the title of Christmas. It’s been something we did as a family growing up, and this year since I was gifted an Advent calendar, my partner and I have been doing it at night as well and it’s been more fun than I remember it being even as a child.

Advent calendars are essentially a way of counting down/to the day of Christmas, typically with one thing each day. Growing up we had some simple paper ones with a scripture behind each window, and for a few years we had Lego ones which were a lot of fun to create something special each day. Many popular Advent calendars today have a little piece of chocolate in them, although it’s pretty much open ended, as long as you have 24 different somethings to do like attaching a paper chain or doing a fun Christmas craft or doing different Christmas activities like decorating or baking cookies.

It doesn’t matter what the specific tradition is that you practice, or if you choose to do something different each year, it’s about doing something together as a family, honoring the season, investing the time to really think about the holiday of Christmas and all of what it means (both secular and religious), and of course having as much fun as you can during this time of year. For us adults, it’s a good break too, giving us a chance to step back from all that we’ve got going on, everything we’re thinking about and working to plan and have a minute to reflect on why we’re doing all we’re doing, and hopefully recapture some of the joy we had as a child about Christmas.

Do you have an Advent calendar tradition in your family, or is it something you would like to start? If you’re looking for somewhere to start, on my other blog this week I shared some fun DIY ideas.

A Season of Good Tidings

Today is one of the last “titled” holiday shopping/spending days of the year, today is Giving Tuesday. The numbers so far are saying that it’s been a great past week for stores and lots of people were shopping both in store and online. I have hopes that the non-profits will get a good fraction of what was spent in stores over the past week, having seen quite a few emails already indicating organizations have match-donations in place, and last year having raised over 1 billion. But I think we all need a reminder from time to time though that this month is about more than finishing another calendar year and taking advantage of great deals, and take time to not just remember but appreciate and apply the sentiments behind Christmas (both secular and religious) and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

For people around the globe this month is supposed to be something special, a reminder that there is still good in the world, that we haven’t forgotten our fellow mankind, that peace can be a reality, that the light can beat the darkness, that maybe we can finally have some victories over the things that hold us back. Over the past week I’ve been a bit surprised and pleased by something, and I wanted to share it with you today, as we begin this holiday season.

On Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday I made a phone call to a government office and spoke with a very pleasant lady who was also very helpful at the end of the day no less. On Thursday I met some extended family for the first time and we had a fantastic time. On Friday while shopping all of the employees I encountered were not only helpful but had a very positive attitude. Also while shopping the majority of people I encountered were not only polite but also relaxed and patient, and even some who had holiday cheer.

Why share all this? Because for the first time in a long time, I have hope that maybe we’re making a difference in the world and people are getting the message that it really doesn’t pay to be a Scrooge or a Grinch, and that it’s much better to live your life with consideration and care for others, working together to make the world a better place. Some of the interactions I had with people this past week were a great reminder that it really doesn’t take much to make life a little easier, just a smile, kind word, willingness to help and/or positive attitude.

So as we head into this holiday season, I would encourage you to be of holiday cheer; to embody the things we’re taught in the Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and both Christmas stories; and to let this be the most wonderful time of the year.

A Season for Community

You’re probably aware that yesterday was Thanksgiving, today was Black Friday, tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, and Tuesday is Giving Tuesday. All of these have to do with one thing: community. The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of community, partnership, victory and life. Black Friday many of us go out to stores and stand in line and make small talk with those we share our towns and cities with. Small Business Saturday is all about getting people to spend at their local small retail stores (mom and pop shops) to support them. Giving Tuesday is all about donating to non-profits and the organizations making a difference in our communities and around the world and giving them a portion of the financial support that we just spent in for-profit stores over the past week.

One thing that really stuck out to me this year as I read between sale emails, was the number of emails from organizations that included a picture of their whole crew as part of celebrating the season, thanking their supporters, and thanking their people too. It’s so easy to forget in this digital age that there are people who send these emails, people who pack our many boxes, people who bring the petitions to organizations and governments, people who grow all our food like turkeys and hams, people who pick up our garbage and recycling, people who truck items to big box stores and so many more examples, just like businesses sometimes forget that there are real people buying their stuff. There are people on all ends of the story, and it’s about time we not only recognize that but celebrate it as well.

We have a choice how we treat each other, the people we choose to have in our lives, and the way we living in not just our individual communities but how we share the world as well. Thanksgiving may be over, but I would encourage you as we enter this Christmas (and Hanukkah and shopping) season, to spread good tidings wherever you go and whomever you’re with, and let others know you appreciate them. It will be a better holiday for all if we remember we’re all part of a community and that love, peace, patience and joy goes a lot farther than rudeness and hate does.

Bringing the Fun Back to Holiday Shopping

For many businesses they’re hitting some of their biggest shopping days this week and next, from Thanksgiving food shopping to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday to Giving Tuesday. Is your business ready? I don’t think these shopping days ever become “old hat,” and many of us reach a point where we just throw in the towel and say that we’ve prepared as well as we can and just work our hardest through these days.

You may do a decoration switch if you did a big Thanksgiving spread and have to change it over before Black Friday and the unofficial start of the Christmas/Hanukkah season, but otherwise we are pretty much at the point that there’s nothing you can do except minor marketing or website updates; you probably can’t get in additional product before Monday, you probably can’t hire anyone else before Monday, and aren’t going to overhaul your store (online or retail) because you don’t want to risk screwing it all up.

So unless you’re planning a big decoration activity between now and Tuesday, there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s to encourage yourself and your employees to have fun. I was listening to Christmas songs the other day on YouTube while I was working and caught some of the video that was playing along with the song and the thought that popped into my head was that the artist looked like they were having fun! Yes, they were working hard to give an excellent performance, but they still were smiling at the band accompanying them and looked like they were having a good time.

It stuck with me that yes, much of this season has become about giving gifts to each other and buying stuff, but it’s also a ton of fun to sing songs, dress up with Santa hats and bells and reindeer antlers, decorate our houses inside and out, make special foods, and gather together. You can’t do anything about not having a product in stock anymore or about the long lines or how tired people are because of how early they got up, but you can keep your Christmas Cheer close at hand and welcome each guest with a smile and maybe even a bit of that joy, magic and giddiness that kids have on Christmas morning.

Go beyond being patient, courteous, helpful, and efficient this holiday season in your business and add some sincere celebration too. How do you spread Holiday Cheer in your business?

A Family Christmas

One of the things I love most about this time of year is how much we focus on family, whether you define family as those who share the same blood as you, those who you’ve known your whole life, or those you’ve met along your life journey that have become as or more important to you than those who you share blood with. Something about Christmas brings out the need to be with family in all of us. We desire to spend time with those who are important to us, we enjoy giving them gifts and showing them small tokens of our appreciation for being in our lives, and we talk about memories of those we love.

The stories of Christmas are also all about family, both by birth and by choice. Santa and the elves are a family by choice, they work together at the North Pole and are often thought of as a package deal. The Bible stories surrounding Christmas are all about family, both by birth (Mary and Elizabeth) as well as through marriage (Joseph and Mary). Even the story of Scrooge talks about family by birth (nephew Fred) and by choice (the Cratchit family).

Family should be the people that you want to spend the special occasions with, that you want to create lasting memories with, that you want to build a future with. They should be the people that you would miss if you never saw them again, think of when you want to share something with someone, and can do big activities as well as absolutely nothing with. Family are the people who see you through thick and thin, who you can rely on to give you an honest but loving opinion, and who will support you through the changes and challenges of life. Those are lots of great reasons to celebrate family this Christmas.

So whomever you’re gathering with in the coming days, I encourage you to make it merry and celebrate the people who matter most in your life.  Learn from the stories of Scrooge, Santa, Mary and Joseph, and put family first this Christmas.

Christmas Traditions

What do countless holiday movies, my own family and many years of Christmas past have in common (besides Christmas of course)? Tradition! From the lights to the trees to the gifts to the cookies to the Church services, there are traditions and memories all around. One of the things I love about the holidays is that we can each have our own traditions but find lots in common with others as well. For example many families have a Christmas tree, but some decorate with simple tonal balls, some decorate with stars, some decorate with handmade decorations, some like white lights and some make a big production out of the decorating. So I may not decorate my tree like yours, but we can all talk about and enjoy the trees we all decorate.

Tradition is one of the ways we create memories, the ways we make the holidays special for our kids, it’s also a big part of the magic of the holidays, what makes us love them so much. Without the traditions and loved ones to spend the holidays with, it’s just not as magical or special. Yes, sometimes it can seem like a lot to pull together or do, but it’s always worth it when you go back to think about the memories and time spent with those you love.

The good thing about traditions is that you can keep traditions you’ve had going, and/or you can start new ones. Maybe you don’t enjoy those you had as a child, or you’ve got new joys and celebrations in your life now that you want to incorporate and keep going forward. Whatever you choose isn’t important, as long as you make the effort to celebrate those traditions for your family and for your own holiday spirit.

Traditions are a gift we pass on to the next generation and share with each other.  It’s something we enjoy doing and sharing each year, being part of and incorporating into our remembrance and celebration of Christmas.  What traditions will you be sharing this year?

A Stocking Full of Success

One of the oldest traditions during the holidays is the tradition of hanging stockings. Since at least the early 1800’s people have been hanging stockings to wait for gifts on Christmas. I think Christmas stockings have lots of great lessons for business owners as we journey through the holiday season and reflect on the new year beyond.

Stockings are fun because everyone can get involved and the cost to participate can be a lot lower. Yes, you can easily put some expensive jewelry in a stocking, but it’s also fun to put little knick-knacks in, gifts of candy or fruit, or those unique odds and ends that are posted all around the checkout registers this time of year. Yes, some businesses only offer big products or services (and are typically expensive) but most businesses offer large and small products at a variety of price points. The smaller/less expensive products/services can be a way of getting a customer to initially purchase from a business, they can also be impulse purchases, and they can be little add-ons that lead into or connect with your bigger offerings.

The concept of many gifts in one package is also a great opportunity for businesses. You can package up some of your most popular offerings, and you can also partner with other local or related businesses to create a combined offering that brings you all exposure. Whether you offer a package deal (aka discount) on several offerings when purchased together or just make it easier shopping for people by packaging things often bought together into one joint offering, multiple offerings put together can help to clear off someone’s gift list (or needs list) quick. The holidays are all about being together, sharing and caring and there’s no better way to celebrate what you offer and what other great businesses and business owners offer than by putting together a “stocking” of an offering from each of you that could either compliment each offering or are just a smörgåsbord of offerings that have something in common like for a specific career (nurse, business owner etc.), locally sourced, or other passion (dog lover, traveler etc.).

Finally, the packaging matters. Stockings have become a special, treasured memory for people. They’re often adorned with special scenes, made by hand or personalized with names or initials. Year after year we’re proud to hang the stockings and excited when we can add another one to the family when someone else becomes a permanent member of our Christmas gatherings. The packaging and presentation of your offering also matters. From the marketing to the website to the physical packaging to delivery there’s a lot to consider and attend to with regard to the appearance of your offerings (including the people involved), and it’s important to do so. The presentation tells a lot about how you feel about what you’re offering as well as is the initial introduction to what you’re offering and can create a positive or lackluster first impression.

So go ahead, make the holidays a little merrier with a stocking of gifts from your business to your customers. How are you helping your customers celebrate?