Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Happy -- Not Stressful -- Christmas

We all look forward to the holiday season from Thanksiving Day through New's Year Day. (That's in the U.S. In other countries the holiday season opens with a different holiday). This can be a happy time to reflect on our blessings, to give extra thought and apprecation for the birth of Jesus, to catch up with old friends, to reach out to neighbors, to spend fun time with family, to give gifts to those we love, and to express our creativity through decorating and cooking. But, it can also be a stressful time . We can tire ourselves out with unrealistic expectations, we deviate from our normal healthful schedule, we are exposed to more gold germs, we are invited to participate in more activities than we can handle, and if we are separated from our families for some reason, we miss them more than ever.

Here are some thoughts I have on keeping our holidays on the merry and bright side:

1) Don't let worldly expectations drive your holiday season. Christmas is one of the most important holidays in our culture, and it is a wonderful time to appreciate Jesus' birth. However, as much as I love Christmas, I try to remember that there is no command in the Bible about how or when to celebrate Christmas or even that we must celebrate it at all. Nothing horrible is going to happen if you don't keep up with Martha Stewart or even with the family- next-door. The fall holiday season can be as simple or as elaborate as you and your family wish it to be.
2) Evaluate your own holiday expectations. We all carry around in our heads a picture of the "ideal Christmas." We create this picture from many ingredients, not the least of which are strong media images. Wanting to make the holidays meaningful for our families is a good thing. But, if we put too much stress on ourselves and on our family members to live up to our personal ideal image, we can suck the joy out of the holiday for everyone around us. It's best to remind ourselves that people and things don't have to fit our perfect image in order for the holidays to be meaningful and special.
3) Keep in perspective that people are more important than things. Proverbs tells us that it's better to enjoy a simple meal with love than a house full of feasting with strife. I find that when I'm stressing myself out about the holidays, I'm usually concentrating too much on the preparations and not focusing enough on just enjoying the people I love. Better to take on a few holiday projects and do them well, than to over-extend yourself.
4) Discuss with your husband and even with older children what your family's expectations for the holiday season are. Decide which family traditions are especially important to you and which activities are nice, but expendable. For example, in past years, my husband has greatly enjoyed stringing festive outside lights on our house. This year, for various reasons, we decided to skip the outside lights. Instead, I put a simple wreath on the front door. We have decorated inside as we usually do. Also, we have decided in advance to send our holiday cards in time for New Year's Day, rather than trying to get them out by Christmas.
5) It's important to plan early and to do a little bit each day to prepare for the holiday season. But, it's equally important to be flexible. God's plans may be different than ours. It seems that for us, unforseen events often pop up in November and December. But, even os, we always have a happy holiday. And, whatever needed to get done has always gotten done.
6) A tip I heard on the news the other day is to keep a gratitude journal through the season. I started a new one immediately. The person who suggested this tip reccommended spending at least two minutes a day thinking of all the things you're grateful for. This sets the mind to be happy, rather than stressed.
7) Reach out to people you know who may not have any family or whose family may be far away. You can brighten what might otherwise be a depressing time for them. And, in the process, you'll acquire extra Christmas cheer yourself. While I love Christmas, I have a friend for whom this is a difficult time. She has some family sorrows and also personal illness to contend with. She suffers with these problems most accutely around the holidays, when everyone else is celebrating in a way that she cannot. She also is affected by the season's short days and longer nights. So, she is greatly cheered whenever someone sets aside time to get her out of the house and to spend some fun time with her.



Heather said...

Thank you for taking the time to share your words of wisdom! We have continued to strive for a peaceful and simplified Christmas season for our family, rather than getting caught up in the ideal 'magazine perfect holiday'. We use a simple celebration of Advent to keep our hearts focused on the coming of Christ, and that helps a great deal.
Thank you for your kind comments on Mrs. U's blog concerning my Quiet Bag idea. It has been helpful to us in training the children to sit quietly and keep themselves occupied. It is a tool we use an not a substitute for teaching the children to be quiet.

Belle-ah said...

We had a wonderful, stress-less day today. All 3 children joined me in the kitchen baking and making candies. We listen to Christmas music, sang, "Happy Birthday, Jesus" and just had a super day. Merry Christmas to you and yours.