Being Present Means More than Presents – How to Absolutely Delight in Holiday Moments

Every year around this time, I re-read Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season. I first came across the book 30 years ago when I gave speeches on how to manage holiday stress.

In the book, Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli focused on four main themes:

  • Prioritize gift-giving to those who truly need your gifts
  • Engage in activities (across a well-paced holiday season – not just a day) that connect with your deepest personal values
  • Seek to be a peacemaker among friends and family
  • Commit to spiritual growth

Over time, I’ve come to believe we don’t need to and quite frankly can’t “Unplug the Christmas Machine” – that machine will run even if you or I were to find a way to unplug it.

I suspect our efforts are better spent focusing on how to create humanity-rich experiences this time of year. To that end, each year, I offer thoughts that I’ll lovingly call “gifts” for the season. These gifts can be given to:

  • Customers
  • Team Members
  • Family and Friends

Customer Gifts

  • Smile – During the holiday crunch, a smile and genuine graciousness stand out and comfort customers.
  • See Their Unique Humanity – When the pace picks up, it’s easy to get into a groove where people blur into transactions. You may be doing your 50th identical sale of the day, but that interaction involves a person, and for that person, this is likely their only contact with you. Honor people – their visits and their business.

Team Member Gifts

  • Drive Positive Energy  My friend Johnny Yokoyama (the former owner of the Pike Place Fish Market) notes that what “shows up” in the workplace reflects what leaders create. Joyful workplaces begin with joyful, energetic, and caring leaders. There is never a more critical time for positive joyfulness than in this high-stress/high-volume period of the year.
  • Serve, Don’t Sell – If you focus on serving your people and keeping them focused on serving others – your sales follow.

Family and Friends Gifts

  • Focus on the Memorable – With very few exceptions, the most memorable aspects of the season are not the tangible presents but the experiences shared with people we love.
  • Be Present NOW – Aging and unexpected life circumstances have helped me realize that we just don’t know how or if we will experience the holiday surrounded by the people assembled this year. Since there is no rewind button, mulligan, or do-overs, THIS IS the season to savor!

Thanks for being a part of my musings this year, and may you have the best holiday of your life.

From my faith tradition, I wish you a Merry Christmas and extend that wish to say Happy Hanukkah and a Joyous Kwanzaa!


After the new year, let’s engage in a conversation about the gifts you gave and received this holiday season, I can be reached here.

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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