Of all the holidays celebrated in North America, Christmas (even for those who not celebrate the event) is quite possibly the most stressful period of the year. The reasons for this are threefold: First, the media hype accompanying this holiday; second, unrealistic expectations about family and relationships; third, self-centered excess.
We cannot avoid media hype, unfortunately, unless your only contact with the world is NPR. Our airwaves are filled with ads for all sorts of bargains for stuff we didn’t even know existed let alone needed; our viewwaves with innumerable scenes of children tearing into wrapped gifts from beneath trees that took professional decorators three days to design and build; music that calls itself Christmas music only because it has some reference to the season in its title, blares from speakers with lyrics indecipherable because of the pounding bass. “Peace on earth” has gone by the wayside. Note to musicians and producers: Rock and Roll, despite its appeal to many and position as a legitimate art form is NOT peaceful! I recently heard a rock and roll version of Silent Night. At least that is what the announcer said it was at the conclusion of the yelling.
The second major stressor, family relationships, means that we make conscious decisions to spend time with people simply because of blood (the kind that makes you kin, not the kind that you shed!). These are people who have, perhaps, behaved badly in the past (and have a high likelihood of doing so in the future); have personal addictive behaviours that they are unwilling or unable to shed; can’t have a conversation about anything without starting a fight; or who spend their time sniping, and criticizing you and your family. Not only is the day ruined, but the three weeks leading up to the day are spent worrying about what will happen. If you have a happy family that can spend the day together without a lot of drama, then lucky you, but that’s not the reality for many.
The final major stressor includes all the excesses that we face and to which we fall prey. We spend too much money, eat too much rich food, drink too much, stay up too late and sleep too little
So, what to do? Let’s begin with the last one because that one is probably the easiest one to manage. We may loathe baking, but spend too many hours trying to produce the perfect cookie. Now if baking cookies is something you love to do as it gives you some “me” time, or provides an opportunity for you and the kids to do something together, fine. But suppose you hate baking? Support your local community bakery shop. Buy a plate of cookies from a Church bazaar.
You really do need to start with a budget – not how much do you want to spend, but how much can you afford to spend on gifts – and for whom? Who do you buy gifts for, and why? Is there some sort of gift exchange at the office? Be the first to suggest that the money that would have been spent on gifts be donated to a charitable cause instead. Have everyone put their donation in an envelope, and put it in a box. In the box are slips of paper with the numbers 1-100 on it. Everyone who donates gets to draw a number – the highest number gets to select the charitable recipient.
Cull your gift recipients’ list. Too much time and money is spent on trying to find gifts for people whom you almost never see, don’t like much, and who don’t acknowledge what you do send. If you feel you must, send a note along with a card to let them know that in the spirit of Christmas you are making a donation to a worthy cause. If you have younger children, have them design and draw the Christmas card.
Coping with dysfunctional relatives over the holidays is probably the hardest thing to change, not the least because of the guilt we experience. Guilt and dread – great Christmas ambience, eh? You really have only three choices: set some firm limits on what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour; do not invite them or do not attend a gathering where they may be invited; or third, go and continue to feel miserable, angry and stressed. If you are unwilling or think that you are unable to tell uncle Charlie that he is not welcome because he can’t keep his hands to himself, because he uses ugly and abusive language toward minorities, because he drinks too much, then why on earth would you expect him to change his behaviour?
The third stressor, media hype which creates unrealistic expectations is the hardest to manage because we are all so wired in to radio, television, and social media. Kids are encouraged to want, want, want, when the whole purpose of the event is to give. So, while you probably can’t turn off everything, combat the Wanting of the Season by focusing on the Giving of the Season. Take your kids over to help at a local food bank. Help with serving Christmas dinner to the homeless at any number of charitable organizations who establish this for the poor. Read some great Christmas stories to your kids instead of watching commercial t.v. that is simply pushing consumerism.
We can’t get rid of all the stressors that surround the Christmas Season, but we can plan so that they are severely reduced.
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