With the end of Thanksgiving, the “Holiday Season” is in full swing. In addition to the everyday grind, there is all this extra stuff to do to get ready for the holidays: shopping, baking, planning reunions, planning parties, wrapping, decorating, putting Christmas trees in stands, getting hunters out of tree stands, and numerous other tasks. Why do we put ourselves through this every year? The Scrooges and Grinches of the world see it as a waste of time, all this pointless effort for one frenzied day of consumerism. Those who love Christmastime hold this time as a special time of togetherness with family and friends.
Many parents strive to rekindle a spirit of the Christmas from their childhood. The trouble is that childhood Christmas memories are mixed with nostalgic fantasies and emotions tied to repeated exposure to stories like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas.” As kids, we didn’t see all the preparation and work that went into making Christmastime “the most wonderful time of the year.” It really is a lot of work. There are plenty of adults who strive to make their holiday time just like something out of a Christmas movie or song. The trouble with that is those are ideals, and can’t possibly be pulled off without Martha Stewart and her entire set-up and tear-down crew. Faced with this, many parents give up the Christmas spirit and say “Well, Christmas is for kids” and decide Christmas is just “humbug”.
The result of striving for Christmas perfection is often stress and emotional burnout which prevents our enjoyment of the holiday time. We set ourselves up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations of continuous holiday mirth and jollity. Christmas definitely has the potential to be merry, but it equally has the potential to be miserable. “Stress” can be defined as the physical, mental, and emotional response to a perception of too many demands with not enough resources (time, money, energy, health) to cope with those demands. When you think about the demands of the holiday season, it’s no wonder the incidence of depression and domestic violence increases during the holidays!
So with that in mind, maybe the following tips will help de-stress your holiday season so you can take back Christmas:
- Work for “good enough” instead of expecting the perfectly clean and decorated house, perfect party, family reunion and perfect gift for every person. Put excess clutter and piles of papers in trash bags and boxes and resolve to get organized after the holidays. Give up competing with your “Clark Griswold” neighbor on having the best decorated house.
- Prioritize your tasks. Focus on the important and don’t get sidetracked by the urgent yet less important tasks. Delegate when possible. Hire out housecleaning and laundry, buy the deli cookies, have the family dinner at a restaurant if it helps reduce your stress.
- Prioritize which family traditions and rituals are most important. It’s hard to fit it all in, so make sure you focus on what’s most meaningful for your family.
- Don’t expect to magically get along with family members or in-laws just because “it’s that time of year.” Keep interactions positive and avoid drudging up unresolved issues. Don’t avoid in-laws or relatives entirely. Maybe you can’t perceive handling an entire day with a certain family member. If that’s the case, set a goal of handling them for an hour or two and then reward yourself with a break.
- Remember you still only have 24 hours in a day. Get your needed amount of rest, nutrition, exercise and alone time.
- Set boundaries. It’s OK to say no when you are overbooked. Doing things out of guilt only breeds resentment. If you do commit to an event or activity, give it your best and enjoy it.
- Forget the consumerism and commercialism of Christmas, and remember the reason for the season.
- Make gifts meaningful, not extravagant. Most kids will actually choose to make a gift for someone rather than have you buy it. Additionally, giving kids everything they want isn’t known to be a character builder and it’s a poor substitute for real time and attention from parents.
- Create a real Christmas spirit by loving those around you. Spread Christmas cheer to those who are lonely or in need this winter. Send a care package to someone in the military deployed overseas. Thousands of those in the armed services will be away from home this holiday. Operation Shoebox (http://www.operationshoebox.com) is one way to support our troops. As Bing Crosby said; “Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it ‘white’.”
Hopefully, some of these tips will help you have a truly enjoyable holiday season. May we all find this Christmas to be a time of “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”