Embracing our unique sensory needs this festive season

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By Marieta du Toit, Director, Sensory Coach, Workshop Facilitator at Sensory Intelligence Consulting

It’s that magical time of year again. Christmas trees, larger than life, have sprung up in shopping malls. The familiar red Santa suits are out of storage, and the airwaves are filled with songs about Rudolph and his famous red nose. And let’s not forget the little ones, desperately trying to be on their best behaviour in hopes of a special delivery from Santa and his helpers on Christmas Eve.

Can you believe it? In just a few days, it’ll be Christmas!

We often see the holidays portrayed as a time for big family gatherings. The preparations for Christmas lunches start weeks in advance. Table decorations become a riot of colour, and stores are lined with mistletoe-themed serviettes, candles, and wrapping paper covered in golden, glittery stars.

At this time of the year, our world becomes brighter, louder, and busier.

If you take a moment to observe and listen, you’ll notice a subtle divide in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Some are brimming with excitement for the upcoming festivities, while others are dreading it.

We’re all wonderfully different, and thankfully so! We don’t all enjoy the same things.

To make sense of these differences in preferences and personal choices, let’s delve into sensory processing and how individual sensory thresholds influence our reactions to the environment.

For someone with high sensory thresholds, the holiday season is an opportunity to soak in a variety of sensory experiences. Their ideal Christmas might include:

  • A week-long Christmas gathering with extended family.
  • Everyone staying under one roof.
  • Christmas music playing throughout the day.
  • A brightly decorated, oversized Christmas tree with colourful flashing lights.
  • Scented candles lit every evening.
  • Family game nights with activities like charades, Pictionary, or 30 Seconds.
  • A well-rehearsed Christmas concert by the younger family members.
  • Carol singing, possibly accompanied by musical instruments.
  • A lavish Christmas lunch with a spread of cold meats, salads, and wine around a big table.

And after all that, the excitement starts again planning for New Year’s Eve!

On the other end of the spectrum, individuals with low sensory thresholds prefer a more subdued experience. Their ideal holiday might include:

  • A Christmas getaway with close family.
  • Opting for private accommodation if extended family is involved and the family group gets too big.
  • A location close to nature, with calming sounds like ocean waves or birdsong.
  • Spending more time outdoors and less in crowded shopping malls.
  • Relaxing with quiet activities like reading, paddling, or trail walks.
  • Minimalist Christmas decorations with fewer colours.
  • Mono-coloured fairy lights on the Christmas tree.
  • Christmas carols playing softly in the background.
  • A peaceful, quiet Christmas lunch in a spacious, airy setting with close friends or family.

This would then be followed by a period of hibernation, with phones switched off until New Year’s Eve.

So, let’s be sensible this holiday season and celebrate Christmas in a way that suits our individual needs and allow our loved ones to do the same.

If you’re curious about your sensory thresholds you can discover more by completing a Sensory Matrix available from Sensory Intelligence. This will help you understand and maximise your sensory wiring.