My first Christmas, I came home with a 14-foot live tree hitched to the top of my Chevy Blazer. Having grown up Jewish, I didn’t know what to do with the lights, so I left that for my Presbyterian husband while I concentrated on very meticulously hanging an ornament from each bough. It wasn’t until my husband came home that I learned you’re supposed to put the lights on first. Whoops. That was my Christmas 101.

The holiday season is a very special time of year, albeit a busy time: Thanksgiving, my son’s birthday on December 14th, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years, and finally capping it off with my daughter’s birthday in early January. Nowadays, despite the frenzy, I always have a smile plastered on my face. But it wasn’t always that way.

In reality, the holiday season can be a stressful period, and it’s not made any less stressful by the fact that we each feel like a failure if the holidays in our family don’t look a Norman Rockwell painting. When you’re alone — or when you feel alone, even if you’re surrounded by people – the holidays are difficult. But when things get stressful this holiday season, it’s important to remember that you create your own holiday spirit.

Leave the anxiety and the baggage outside the door and let go of your expectations of what a holiday is “supposed” to be. Understand that the best gifts cost absolutely no money, so concentrate on being festive by being generous with your time and attention and love, instead of with your wallet.

When the clock strikes 2012, it will mark a new beginning for all of us. Let’s support the people who are there for us in our communities and show our appreciation for the little things they do for us. Let’s all smile and believe that the happiness we see on all those Christmas shows is achievable and that we are deserving of it. And most importantly, let’s all remember that the holiday season is not about the gifts; it’s about the heart that gives them.


Susanne Veder Berger hid her face for more than 50 years. Now, an amazing surgical procedure has allowed this courageous resident of New York City to show her “true face.” Susanne calls it “Getting Naked.” She’s embarking on a new journey and invites you to join her in confronting challenges, “getting real” and stepping into a fresh, more empowered life.