Ack, can you believe it?! Wreaths, reindeer, and Christmas yard decorations are springing up everywhere. Excuse me, but are we not still in mid-November? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were carving pumpkins and buying Halloween candy? What happened to the Christmas kick-off happening the day after Thanksgiving, which is still a week and a half away, thank you very much.
Ugh, I can feel my blood pressure rising already. I figure I’m not the only one who can already feel the holiday stress creeping up on me. Maybe it’s the economic situation and businesses are trying to extend the season in the hopes they can salvage something from what promises to be the worst holiday season for retailers in a long time.
I have no control over that; however, I do have control over most if not all my own activities at this time of year and if I don’t manage my stress levels, who will? Here is a little personal story that I hope will give you some hope that you too can reach escape velocity when it comes to holiday stress.
My family is very tradition bound. We burn the same candles, use the same ornaments, and serve the same dishes at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The most significant of those traditions used to be that until a few years ago, our family hosted my Dad’s brothers and sisters, and their kids, and their kids’ kids for Christmas dinner every year. Every year for about thirty years. Think about that … that means for thirty years, we had to rush madly through our own Christmas morning, and then fall into a frenzy of preparations for hosting anywhere from fifteen to twenty people for Christmas dinner at 2 p.m. And my Mom does nothing halfway. We are talking linen tablecloths, silver, china, centerpieces (even for the kids’ table), wrapped gifts for the little kiddies, etc.
I mean, really, my sister and I would drive up to Dallas the day before Christmas Eve and then put in 14-hour days trying to make Christmas special for everyone else. By the time it was over, we were utterly exhausted. Don’t even ask if we enjoyed ourselves. We suggested stopping the madness occasionally, but my Dad especially resisted the idea. And my Mom has a hard time once she’s in a groove like that, breaking out and doing something differently.
About four years ago, I began lobbying seriously to change traditions. Enough already. It took me a few years—and it helped that my sister and brother’s work schedules became such that they didn’t have time off at Christmas to be driving all over creation—of strongly suggesting we just stop, but finally, last year, Mom and Dad came down to Austin and it was just our family. Ahh, the relief!
We had decided in the beginning that we were not buying lots of gifts, that our gift to ourselves would be the gift of a leisurely day to enjoy one another. We had some fun little stocking items and then one gift each.
We had a leisurely Christmas Eve, went to church and actually enjoyed the service, we woke up when we felt like it on Christmas morning, and drank mimosas while we slowly and deliciously opened the few presents we had. We played Charlie Brown Christmas music. We had made the decision to cut back on the number of dishes we prepared, so we took our time cooking. We ate dinner at about 3 p.m. and my mom was almost paralyzed by wonder at the fact that at 4:15 p.m. on Christmas Day, she was sitting out on the porch with a mug of eggnog reading the book she had gotten instead of facing a mountain of dirty dishes that had to be washed by hand.
And you know what? The rest of the family did not ostracize us, get angry or huffy (heck they were probably enjoying the fact they could stay put), the world did not collapse, no one missed the presents they didn’t get, no one had to go back home with a sack full of stuff they didn’t really need (or really want to be honest). In fact, nothing earth-shattering happened except that we enjoyed the heck out of our Christmas.
My point is, you too can break out of the holiday stress hamster wheel if you start now. What do I think are the important lessons from my family’s experience?
- Imagine the perfect holiday for you and your family, not for the expectations others may have.
- Set that vision as an intention for what you want your holiday to be.
- Simplify what you do—shopping, activities, cooking. The truth is, the “necessity” of doing many holiday things is mostly in our heads. Most of us have too much. And going on the debt levels most of us carry, we can’t really afford what we do for the holidays anyway. And we do much of it from some imaginary sense of obligation rather than genuinely from the heart.
- Give yourself the most valuable gift of all—the time to enjoy the season and each other.
Be brave. Start now.