I’m serious. Watching football with my husband Scott, I noticed that he wasn’t experiencing much “good cheer” as the Christmas commercials played during this year’s Gators/FSU game. The Gators were losing. In an effort to shift his focus, I asked, “Honey, wonder what would happen if Christmas commercials were really about the birth of the Christ child?”
He responded without even looking at me. “Right.”
“Right, what,” I thought. But I understood him not giving me his full attention, because nothing else really matters when your team is losing to your cross-state rival. As I contemplated the commercialism of Christmas, it is paradoxical that the celebration of the Prince of Peace continues to be the afterthought of the festivities and the most stressful time of the year. “Right.”
What a wonderful world this could be if Christmas commercials really focused on, what we say is the reason for the season? However, that would be the equivalent of putting a lump of coal in the stocking for America’s retailors. Why is it true that this alleged time of creating Peace on Earth and goodwill toward humans, birth so much stress and anxiety? “Right.”
The number one task that I detest about this holiday is the pressure to go shopping for gifts. Amazon has not solved that problem for me either. I would rather prepare a feast for the cross-country Olympics team than go shopping. For the past few Christmas Seasons, I have told Scott and my son Brennan that I am not shopping for gifts this year...and don’t get me anything either. But guess what? Every year I feel pressured to rush out at the last minute and buy gifts, because it is a tradition. Even though my parents had 13 children, they always managed to have something under the tree for all of us. I truly don’t know how they did it. So, in addition to preparing a feast, which I love and enjoy doing, I buy and wrap gifts. I think it’s because I like to use the gifts to decorate underneath the tree.
If you are like me, as the holiday season approaches, your stress level probably starts to rise. In addition to your typical schedule of work, home and children, you've got more shopping to do, menus to plan, and food to prepare. The good news is, even with all the extra activities and preparations, believe it or not, it is possible to reduce our holiday stressors.
Choose Peace of Mind Over Tradition
It’s hard to write this but…I’m not going to put up Christmas trees this year. WHEW!!!! My palms are starting to feel clammy. Okay, I think I can do this.
If you have ever visited my home, you know why this is causing me some uncomfortableness for breaking from this visually pleasing timeless tradition. There have been times when I have had three full size Christmas trees plus smaller trees in bathrooms, the kitchen and always trees in our bedrooms. I love to decorate for Christmas, but it stresses me out. Plus, you have to take everything down and put it away before Easter. I could be using this tree decorating time preparing our culinary experience for the season. I love being in the kitchen for the holidays, flipping through cookbooks. Then deciding, “It’s probably best not to try any new dishes for the Holiday meal. Stick with the tried-and-true favorites.
So, I’m telling myself, “Pamela, do what you love to do and don’t put up all those decorations.” Whew… Okay… Now, I also have to tell myself to take some mediative, inhales and exhales.
“Pamela, slowly inhale… Hold your inhale to the count 1 – 2 – 3. Slowly exhale… Hold your exhale to the count of 1 – 2 – 3. Repeat until you completely release the wave of uncomfortableness.
The more we embrace the activities that bring us Peace the more comfortable we will become with saying “No” to the traditions that create stress in our lives during the holidays and the other 364 days of the year.
Here are some proven strategies to help you decrease your stress.
1. Acknowledge that everything doesn't need to be perfect. The commercials and movies on television during the holidays really miss the mark when it comes to realistic portrayals of family holidays. “Lights… camera… action.” Remember these are paid actors and actresses in the commercials and the movies. You have the power to decide to be your own light and you create the actions that bring you Peace.
2. During COVID, the isolation really gave us an appreciation for just being able to see and touch each other. As we gather responsibly, enjoy hearing the same stories over again and accepting the beauty of get-togethers whether you can find your favorite dinner napkins or not.
* Personal note. Purchase cranberry sauce during the off season so you will never stress about not having this must have for the stuffing. Because you will never come to my table and not find cranberry sauce. Now, that I have learned to make homemade cranberry sauce, I might try my cranberry sauce on the coleslaw with my annual hotdog for the Fourth of July. It’s delicious.
3. Start holiday planning and preparations earlier. Every year when I cook for Thanksgiving, I prepare enough stuffing for both meals. I cook half for Thanksgiving and put the other half, of uncooked stuffing, in the freezer for Christmas. I also bake two of every pie that I’m serving. You guessed it. I used one for Thanksgiving and wrap the other one and freeze it for Christmas. This year my second pecan pie is not going to make it to the Christmas meal. It is so good; it’s already half eaten. But that’s okay, because tomorrow is not promised so I’m enjoying each moment and another slice of pecan pie.
4. Can you imagine how much less stressed you'd feel if you had all your gift shopping and wrapping done in October? Or just tell your family that we are each other’s gifts. I will let you know how this works for me this Christmas Season. LOL Keep it simple.
5. Shall I repeat. Keep your holiday plans simple. As adults we sometimes have an overly idealistic view of the holidays that springs from our childhood experiences or what we wished was our childhood experience. Scaling down your plans involves letting go of your "perfect dream" for the holidays. It’s already perfect because we are still breathing. That’s perrrrfect.
* Ascribe to the theory that, "It's the thought that counts." Most people will never remember the cool thing you got for them that one year. But they will have warm memories of the time you spent together as a family laughing and just having fun. Seriously, just have fun.
6. Take shortcuts to save time. Keep it simple: If you know that baking is not your gift, rather than baking the pies, order them from a nearby restaurant that's known for its delicious baked goods.
7. Choose what you want to do. Ponder what the holidays truly mean to you and then express that meaning in your celebrations. Avoid getting caught up in the commercialism that has taken over the entire holiday season. Remember, it’s a commercial. The people in the commercials are getting paid to smile. You can smile with authentic gratefulness for the joy of knowing that you are a gift and so are your family members and friends.
Let go of feeling required to plan and carry out elaborate, lavish celebrations. Maybe you'd rather have smaller, more intimate gatherings with friends spread out over a few weeks, rather than a big whoop-de-doo that makes it difficult to really connect with your guests.
This year, make the decision to KISS Christmas. Reduce your holiday stress by shedding the urge to be perfect. Plus, by beginning holiday planning earlier, scaling down expectations, and using shortcuts to save time, you'll be creating a new tradition of accepting the blessings of each moment free of stress and weighty expectations.
Think about what you really want the holidays to mean to you and your family. Then, you can let go of expectations based on the past and really cherish your time together. You can do it. It really is your choice. No one is going to call the “Christmas Tradition Police” on you. Seriously.