Making Christmas A Celebration Not An Obligation: The essentials for reducing holiday stress
If the advertisements, TV special and store decorations aren’t enough of an indication – the holidays are here! And so begins the preparation and the stress that often accompanies this time of year. I have never begun decorating before Thanksgiving and only once did I give in to Black Friday shopping (and believe me that was enough), but this year I feel the most organized and prepared as I ever have been. The decorations are up, the Christmas cards are ready to be mailed and the holiday cheer has definitely set in. It’s not because I’ve had any more time than in years’ past – in fact, I’ve likely had less. It’s because I’m starting to identify the key factors that allow for the holidays to be less frantic and more fun. They’re common sense really, but as soon as we see that first television commercial our brains seem to fill with eggnog and we tailspin into full Christmas chaos. Here are just a few ways in which I have and hope to continue to make Christmas a celebration, not an obligation:
It’s meant to be a team effort.
Our house is small and our decorations are just enough to give a warm feel of the holidays. But preparing our house for Christmas still would have been a daunting task for one person if it wasn’t for a second set of hands. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, when family had gone home and the dust (and dirt and crumbs) had settled, we dedicated our day to organizing, cleaning and then finally decorating. Amidst his incredibly busy work and travel schedule, my husband had a very rare free day in which to help me. He actually suggested this is how we spend our day together which set the tone that this wasn’t so much a chore as it was a memory. I planned for a full day of dusting and decorating, but once we put on some Christmas music and divided and conquered the tasks, we were done in just several hours. I know that had I tried to tackle this on my own, we still wouldn’t be decorated for the Christmas and the nooks and crannies behind the couch certainly wouldn’t be as clean. What this experience taught me was that Christmas traditions are meant to be shared and in doing so they transform from a to-do into a want-to-do. We look forward to the warm glow of our Christmas lights every evening and this shared enjoyment is what makes decorating fun not frantic.
It doesn’t “sneak up” on you.
I hear this phrase a lot. “Wow, the holidays really snuck up on us this year, huh?” Not really. Christmas is very predictable. It’s the same date of the same month every year. If anything, the decorations in the mall and commercials on TV should give us even more time to prepare as they seem to start earlier and earlier each year. Yet no matter how stressful last year’s holiday preparations were, we fail to take action to prevent it from happening again…and again. If you mailed your Christmas cards on December 24th last year, why not set a reminder in your phone to begin the process earlier next year? Writing Christmas cards, picking out a tree and buying gifts should be a loving and thoughtful experience. Any stress that comes along with it is unintended or misplaced. If you’ve made an effort to be more proactive and organized but are still left with a time deficit, then chances are you’re simply trying to do too much. So….
The holidays are made for tradition, but they should not take up so much of your time that you’re left with no time to actually enjoy everything for which they stand. The most important traditions should be carried on, but there are many that should also be let go. Determine what’s giving you the best return on investment (ROI) for your time. Sugar cookies made from scratch, hand painted Christmas ornaments and self-stamped wrapping paper are fun activities and beautiful memories, but don’t feel like you have to do all of them every single year. Enjoy the act of preparing for the holidays, but also remember to enjoy time with family and friends. Also, don’t be afraid to lower the bar. I imagine almost every other person you know is feeling a degree of stress and overwhelm as well. Simplify this Christmas with fewer, but more meaningful presents. Do a secret Santa or eliminate the pressure of presents altogether. Hopefully The Grinch that Stole Christmas has helped us to realize that it’s the time you spend with those you love (and the great food) that make the holidays special. Presents, cards and decorations are all just extra.
It’s a process.
So often I hear people boast that they’ve been decorated since Thanksgiving or their Christmas shopping was completely done by mid September and my inner response is, “Was it a race?” Preparing for the holidays is part of the celebration – it’s a process and balance. Rushing to get everything done and out of the way as soon as possible makes Christmas like any other task on your to-do list. I also can’t imagine you feel the same holiday cheer when shopping next to bathing suits and beach balls. Scrambling to buy that last present on Christmas Eve also makes the act of gift giving feel more like an obligation than a thoughtful gesture. Find a balance between the two, take time to sip the eggnog and when all else fails…simplify!
If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Finally and most importantly, you should be able to look back on your preparation for the holidays and smile while remembering some fond and funny moments. Even in the coldest and gloomiest months, you should feel warmer, brighter and friendlier. If you find that the holidays bring out the worst in you or your family, make you fight, feel angry or stressed, then something’s gotta give. Somewhere you’re missing the mark for what Christmas is truly all about. And once the holidays have come and gone, you shouldn’t be left feeling even worse—looking at the mounds of decorations that need put away or the heaping credit card debt. All of these are signs that a change needs to be made. Get back to the basics of what makes Christmas fun and special for you!
This holiday season be merry, be bright and….don’t be stressed!