The holidays will seem cozy and magical for some, while smothering and excessive to others. And odds are, both perspectives will be staying under the same roof.
A little stress is inevitable in a season that creates lots of together time, but an ancient personality tool called the Enneagram can serve as a guide to alleviate tension and help us understand not just how but why we behave the way we do around the holidays.
Sarajane Case, author of The Honest Enneagram and the expert behind the wildly popular Instagram account @EnneagramandCoffee, describes our Enneagram type as what we learned as children that we had to be in order to survive, get attention or earn love.
“It’s the tactics we chose in order to get our way,” Sarajane says. “When we go home for the holidays and we are around our families of origin for any extended period of time, [our number] becomes more vivid and amplified.”
Once we know to look for it, the pattern of behavior we turn to when we aren’t getting what we want is easy to spot in ourselves because we’ve spent a lifetime perfecting it. Whether that behavior means taking over or fading into the background, constantly trying to serve others or winning at all costs, picking a fight or shutting down, the strategies we rely on are the ones that we sometimes unknowingly use when our needs clash with the demands of the people around us.
“Recognize that this is a tactic,” Sarajane says. “Then recognize that everyone else is doing the same.”
This is the reason why some relatives seem to constantly press our buttons or why it’s confusing that friends don’t respond to connection or conflict in the way we think they should. All of us are clinging to the lifeboats we built as children, just trying to get what we need to survive. When we can see these often-irritating tactics for what they are—a signal that the person is feeling unsafe or unloved—we can look beyond their actions and move to a place of compassion.
“Own your part in it,” Sarajane says. “If we say, ‘This is my stuff and I’m working on it,’ it creates more safety for the people around us to do the same. If we are aware of our own patterns, other people don’t have to hold them for us.”
In these moments of holiday friction when we’re feeling trapped, unheard or simply want to get our way, Enneagram knowledge can help us muster the compassion and sometimes awkward vulnerability necessary to prevent small differences from escalating into relational damage.
“If I, as a Seven, expect to be happy and optimistic all the time, I will push that onto other people in my life,” Sarajane says. “The Enneagram really shows us how we expect other people to think just like we do. Our needs, when we’re not communicating them, seem confusing to the people around us.”
This holiday season, the gift of the Enneagram is language to clearly communicate with the ones we love what we need to feel happy, safe and steady, while offering them the space to do the same.
Read on to discover what your number brings to the season and how you can honor the peculiar differences you see in yourself and others as you gather around the Christmas tree this year.
New to the Enneagram? Click here to read Part 1 of our Enneagram series and identify your Enneagram number.
Type One – The Perfectionist
Ones know how to turn the hurry of the holidays into a structured, easy-to-follow schedule, complete with breaks for photo ops and hot cocoa. They’re the uncles who create spreadsheets on their iPhones to tally points during family game night, the cousins who keep all of the family heirloom recipes digitized, and the sisters who post a printed map to show guests how to properly load the dishwasher. Their attention to detail is impeccable, and their longing to do the right thing admirable, but their focus on how to improve the world can sometimes come across as being a little too “particular.”
A One’s unique gift: Creating order amid chaos
Best gift to give a One: Release control and let them take charge of the things that matter to them
Type Two – The Helper
Christmas morning includes personalized gifts, guest rooms with fluffy pillows and everyone’s favorite foods already on hand when Twos are hosting the holidays. Twos are naturals at sensing the needs of others and can feel it is their duty to meet them, even if it requires sacrificing their own energy. This makes them hospitable and warm hosts and houseguests, but it can quickly drain them if they don’t communicate their own needs.
A Two’s unique gift: Sensing the needs of others
Best gift to give a Two: Notice their efforts and say thank you
Type Three – The Achiever
When Threes come home for the holidays, they’re often pulling new matching luggage behind them and carrying the biggest gift to place under the tree. It’s not that Threes are materialistic, but that they truly care about the way others perceive them and are constantly striving to improve themselves. If you’re celebrating with a Three, look forward to what will likely be a next-level holiday experience, but understand that it can sometimes come with unrealistic expectations for everyone involved, including the moment itself.
A Three’s unique gift: Crafting unforgettable experiences
Best gift to give a Three: Verbally express the ways their efforts succeeded
Type Four – The Individualist
The holidays can be an emotional and magical time for a Four. With a penchant for nostalgia and a flair for the dramatic, they can often be found watching from the fringes, gazing wistfully as though every moment is being stored away like a sepia-toned Polaroid. Being around family or in their childhood home can stir warm memories of holidays past, but it can also serve as a reminder of all the things a Four believes they lack or have yet to become.
A Four’s unique gift: Creating emotional experiences to share
Best gift to give a Four: Don’t ask about their five-year plan
Type Five – The Thinker
If you want to know the history of Saint Nick or the origin of the Christmas tree tradition, the Five in your group is a good first stop. Fives serve as the family encyclopedia and their eagerness to learn and have thoughtful discussions is endearing. While Fives genuinely enjoy being around people, their energy levels are limited, so it’s common for them to disappear from the group for an hour or two each day. It’s important to remember that this sudden disengagement is not a rejection of you, but rather a strategy of self-care.
A Five’s unique gift: Boldly setting boundaries around their energy and time
Best gift to give a Five: Remind them that their presence is important, but don’t take it personally if they need alone time
Type Six – The Guardian
Sixes tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves around the holidays. As hosts, they have backup dinners planned, extra shampoo in the bathroom and have already filled up with gas in case someone needs a ride to urgent care. As the most loyal of the nine types, they want to be there for their friends, family and partners without letting anyone down—which is, of course, impossible—but when they allow themselves to be present, they can cast off their stress and become the witty and warm individuals we know and love.
A Six’s unique gift: Preparing for every holiday crisis
Best gift to give a Six: Don’t downplay their anxieties or concerns
Type Seven – The Enthusiast
Sevens are easy to spot at a holiday party. Fashionably late and never the last to leave, Sevens show up when fun is at its peak and leave before the boring cleanup process begins. At a family holiday gathering, Sevens are the aunts who bring fireworks to Christmas, the grandmothers who serve ice cream for dinner and the brothers who declare a spontaneous outdoor scavenger hunt in the snow. Sevens bring the fun, but when they can’t gamify the drab or still moments of a gathering, they can lash out or become restless.
A Seven’s unique gift: Only looking at the bright side
Best gift to give a Seven: Allow them to seek entertainment, even if it means stepping away from the group
Type Eight – The Boss
A lack of leadership is painful for an Eight, and they will take over out of a sense of duty to the group if they sense a weakness in this area. Eights might announce a family activity without discussion or decide on a meal plan without input because they don’t feel they need a committee’s help to make the holidays run like clockwork. Celebrating with an Eight can be comforting, since everything is taken care of for you, but it can also leave family members chafing against the commanding rule of their beloved Eight.
An Eight’s unique gift: Comfortable making rapid-fire decisions for the group
Best gift to give an Eight: Communicate that you have a plan and are capable of handling the situation so they can relax
Type Nine – The Peacemaker
Nines are prone to piddling, so it’s common to find them nibbling on cookies near the sink, flipping through an old photo album they found on the coffee table and hovering leisurely over a puzzle for a few days before announcing on Christmas Eve that they still haven’t wrapped presents. Low stress is the holiday vibe a Nine wants, and if other family members try to hurry them, they can withdraw or become passive aggressive. When the rest of the group is willing to slow down, they’ll witness how deeply aware the Nine is of how other people are feeling and experiencing the events around them.
A Nine’s unique gift: Intuiting the feelings of others
Best gift to give a Nine: Pay attention when they speak
Just as we can feel stifled or misunderstood at the holidays, so too others can feel overrun or overlooked by our misconceptions of who they truly are. Our personality’s preferences are not always in line with the needs of others, and unless we dig deeper to understand the motivations and desires of the ones we spend the holidays with, we’ll unknowingly create a tinderbox of tension waiting for ignition. Thankfully, the remedy is simple: Ask questions.
“I think the best gift you can give people in your life is compassionate curiosity,” Sarajane says. “If you can show up to give no answers, but bring lots of questions, you will do so much healing in those dynamics and you will create a safe, loving environment for them to be able to show you who they are right now in this season of life.”
Photo by @JulieK/Twenty20.com