“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
How to Reduce Holiday Stress
Let me see. What are some of the headlines in my news feeds? – “Christmas tress decorating – you’re doing it all wrong (there is no wrong way to trim – unless you put the icicles on before you put the lights on); Health officials say tics could be hiding in your Christmas tree; (not to mention tocs who are the significant others of tics); Toronto Mall debuts younger, thinner ‘Fashion Santa’ (oh, sure, destroy the one last remaining icon for fat people); Pippa Middleton spills her strategy for filling Prince George’s stocking” (really, you need a “strategy” to fill a 2 year olds Christmas stocking?) Boy – the things that can stress us out! Good thing we have the internet so we can know what to be stressed over.
If you are reading this then it is probably too late. You are already stressed to the max, so just admit it, and join the thousands of others who every year at this time work themselves into a frenzy over what should be a time of peace and good will to all men.
But, in case you have one nerve left that isn’t totally frazzled, here are some tips on reducing the stress of the holiday season.
- Be a touch retrospective this year and look at the threads that have woven together all the Christmas pasts. I bet there is a theme running through all the stressful and unpleasant things that happened – not just once, but over and over and over. This means that you may have to “uninvite” someone who has created chaos every year – often alcohol fueled – but just as likely to be old patterns of behavior that include BMWC – bitching, moaning, whining and complaining.
“But”, you protest, “If we don’t ask Auntie Mabel over for Christmas dinner, she will be all alone”. Perhaps there is a reason for that. The truth of the matter is that unpleasant people continue to be unpleasant because no one calls them on their rude and inconsiderate behavior.
You can either stop asking her over, or you can have a little conversation with her prior to the invitation, or you can learn how to steer the conversation away from her usual complaints – a “let’s concentrate on all the good things that have happened over the last few months, shall we?” is sometimes enough to steer the conversation in a happier direction. What you can’t do is to suddenly expect Auntie Mabel to miraculously change without your having had a conversation about what must change. (She has seen the light, Hallelujah. Doesn’t work that way, unfortunately). Remember, we train people how to treat us.
Now, if you are afraid that Auntie Mabel will disinherit you from her millions I agree that this decision may be a difficult one indeed. In that case, consider the stress as pre-payment for the riches you will (eventually) receive if you live long enough.
Dealing with the alcoholic relative is more difficult, especially if everyone else drinks responsibly. You can’t banish alcohol if that is part of your tradition in the family, nor should you punish those who don’t drink to excess. It is even more difficult if the partner of the drunk is a lovely person who probably needs some sane interaction once in a while.
In this type of situation, you may have to change your tradition and instead of having them over for a big Christmas dinner, preceded by 2-3 hours of liquid preparation, tell the partner you are changing up your Christmas events this year so that you actually have time to sit and relax and talk with adults. Rather than trying to balance conversations, and gift opening and making Christmas dinner for everyone, you have decided to have quiet get-togethers with friends over the holidays for a couple of hours in the evening. If you have problems with people who either don’t know their limit or who habitually ignore it, then do NOT have an open bar where people just help themselves. Buck up, play the host, and pour drinks for people, and mind the amount of alcohol you put into a drink.
- Kids are probably not in touch with the economic stresses that frequently accompany gift buying, but you can be more sensible with adults. You need to begin with a budget – how much you can and will spend on everyone on your list. Instead of buying costly presents for other adults, give vouchers for something they could really use – 2 walk shovelings when it snows; 3 night’s babysitting so the adults can catch a movie; 5 dog walks in the park; one week nagging free (for your partner including gentle reminders, notes, and audible sighs when things don’t get done to your time line); 2 days complaining free (this includes ALL types of complaining including politics, kids and the younger generation, and about anyone who doesn’t fit your demographic profile).
A helpful observation is that of James Hamilton-Paterson who wrote: “Sometimes in the company of others I find a disagreeable spirit of competitiveness kicks in and each person is shamed into spending rather more than he would have wished. This is a historically established syndrome, of course. One Magus going to Bethlehem would probably have sprung for a box of After Eights. Three Magi on the same trip found themselves laden with gold, frankincense and myrrh and bitterly contemplating their overdrafts.”
Years ago I had friends who I think got it right. For Christmas they went to a ski resort (all were avid skiers even though they lived in the flat part of Saskatchewan), but this was everyone’s Christmas present. There was a small ski related gift Christmas morning for everyone, but the family realized that they couldn’t spend big on the gifts AND have a winter ski holiday.
- Leave work at work (unless you are on call). I know it is hard to believe but things WILL continue even if you are not hooked in to your office. The world will NOT come to a shuddering halt. Even, and this may be rank heresy, “forget” your laptop at the office. Don’t check your email on your smart phone.
- The time to engage in a flurry of cleaning is AFTER Christmas, not before. (if you really feel guilty about not having a house in Martha Stewart condition, then place a bunch of cards around the living room that say “Sorry you have been sick” and let people think that there is a good reason for the cat hair on the chair.) But After is when cleaning is needed and really counts, and you have the pine needles to show for it. And, everyone is still around to do his/her allotted share. I know people who spend days getting everything in perfect shape for visitors and then had to do the whole thing over again on Boxing Day. Will the insanity never stop? You think people might judge you if everything Is not gleaming when they come over? You need new friends.
- And finally, do not take responsibility for making anyone else happy. People will be happy or not over the holiday season independent of you. People will be happy with their presents or they won’t. They will be happy with a Christmas meal and what is served, or they won’t. As Abraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”