If there’s one thing I love, it’s movie watching, especially the cheesy Christmas movies on TV this time of year while snuggled under a cozy blanket and eating just-baked cookies. They’re an easy watch, but also a great reminder of overly simplified ideals. Obviously, life is not a Hallmark movie, but this is still great advice on how to be our best selves this season and avoid being the villain.
1. Don’t turn the historic Christmas tree farm into a parking lot.
If you attempt to do this, chances are you have not thought about others in a while. Your big corner office filled with windows has probably blinded you from understanding that the tree farm is important to so many people even if it’s used only for the holidays. People will fight back to remind you that landmarks and memories have their own value and worth.
2. Don’t turn the family lodge into a for-profit medical research center.
If you are being asked by your boss to go to your own hometown and buy your family lodge where families have gathered for years and turn it into a blah medical facility, run. It’s a test and you will fail. Your high school sweetheart works there now and is probably going to fight you and she will win. She will remind you that you’ve strayed too far to remember what family feels like, and she is right.
3. Don’t avoid your family for years because of a riff that happened in the past.
Remember that time you and your mom/dad got into it years ago and everyone was mad and then everyone became hard-headed and hard-hearted and vowed to never speak to each other again? And then Christmas traditions vanished, no one celebrated like they used to and you insisted on staying away from anything holiday-related? Well, it’s time to let that go. All of it. It’s time to soften heads and hearts and work things out no matter how hard. It can all end with a batch of warm cookies, promise.
4. Don’t make your entire staff work on Christmas Eve/Day.
You’re probably doing this because you’re avoiding the holidays and your bottom line and deadlines are more important to you. But you exist because of your staff and their families need them home. Full homes and full hearts make for happy people. If you keep your staff happy, they will keep you happy. Make your staff feel appreciated and special.
5. Don’t treat people poorly because of your own issues.
We get it, we all endured something growing up — some far worse than others — but if you’re lashing out, keeping people away, sleeping the day away or just plain rude to others, it’s time to pause and take care of yourself. The holidays can be heavy for people suffering a loss, trauma or depression. Give yourself permission to get the tools you need to be who you want to be. Whether seeking time with a therapist, counseling or medication, we all should encourage each other to fill our emotional toolbox with the right tools to succeed.
7. Don’t put work before family.
Every plot we’ve ever seen shows us how much we miss out on while focusing too much on work. Our friends move on, kids grow up, people pass away and moments are forever lost. In a world where we’re not given much leeway into creating a healthy work/life balance, sometimes we have to carve out our own boundaries. If your firm is preventing you from attending your children’s first-ever holiday pageant, Hallmark shows us this is probably not the right firm for you in the long run.
8. Don’t enact vigilante justice.
If you somehow are in the possession of Santa’s Naughty/Nice List, don’t carry out your own version of justice. What we often lack is perspective and understanding of the other side of the story. By judging others — no matter how well-intentioned you are — you leave a gaping hole of misunderstanding in your story. Let’s be kind even if someone has been deemed "naughty." A little grace never hurt anyone.
9. Don’t ignore the homeless man. He's probably Santa.
In the movies, that old homeless man watching you from afar is almost always Santa and he’s watching to see if you’ll be kind. We care because Santa is a real someone! In real life, people who have found themselves in such a predicament are always someone. They know who helps them, whether one-on-one or with an organization that gets people what they need and back on their feet. The moral of the story is to not forget others while we go about our own busy days.
10. Don’t focus too much on money.
Money is good, isn’t it? We get the things we need and want and get to do amazingly fun things. But if a lifetime full of movies has taught me anything, it’s that you will almost always lose something much more important if you put money at the top of your list. And while we're on the topic, don’t overspend this holiday season. The most important things in life cannot be bought, of course. But if we must buy things, it should be within our means, something that others truly desire, need or will add joy to their lives. Plus, buying things for the sake of buying is a quick way to end up in a financial bind.
11. Don’t forget to reach out to friends and family.
One of the best ways to not be a Christmas movie villain is to make sure to reach out to others. We’re almost always too busy with work and family and other obligations, but a five-minute call, a handwritten letter or a quick text when you’re thinking of someone is a beautiful way to make others feel loved and cared for. All the grandmothers in these movies make time for a handwritten card and they seem pretty happy. (I’m OK modeling my life after a content Christmas grandma.)
So there you have it, a playful but honest reminder to slow down that we all need from time to time. While you’re at it, here’s a great cookie recipe that you can enjoy at your next festive gathering or while you watch one of the many holiday movies this season. Love to all!
Zara Abbasi is the pastry chef and recipe developer for Zara Made It and author of the "From Z to A with Zara Abbasi" series on LittleRockSoiree.com. Follow her food adventures on Instagram at @zaramadeit.