… Or any of the major family holidays.
This post is for suggestions on how to reduce the stress that many of us feel around this time of year, and perhaps re-capture an appreciation of the things that are good about it. I’m using Christmas in my examples, but feel free to apply this to other holidays which cause you or someone you know stress. If you have more solutions, please post them as comments.
1) Christmas is not a calendar date.
We were being really dragged down by the amount of traveling we were doing on what is ostensibly a day of celebration and enjoyment. One of the best solutions we have found is to make the day AFTER Christmas (Boxing Day) the day for visiting family. We don’t have to rush out the door, the child[ren] get to play with their toys or just play and be with immediate family.
We did not opt for the day before, because our daughter needs her sleep, which is hard enough on Christmas Eve without adding in hours in the car and getting excited by playing with cousins all day.
2) Spread out the presents
This is for families with children.
Some families have a rule about presents only being opened on Christmas morning, others allow one present to be opened on CHristmas Eve. My suggestion is to spread the presents out, particularly if you have lots of adult relatives mailing in kids’ gifts. If you are a parent, or around small children, you have probably witnessed Present Shock, the sensory overload that comes from opening too many presents too fast. Tags get mixed up, the child only remembers the last present opened, and then is faced with too many choices about what to do next. For a week before and a week after (or some other time period) open a present a day. Make a little ritual of it, doing it at the same time of day if possible.
The child gets to really appreciate the gift, and if you have them write a thank you card the same day, that task is spread out as well, and the child does not have to be reminded who gave them what.
Save the big family or Santa present(s) for Christmas morning (you know, the bicycle or video game system or what have you), as well as the stocking. But that board game from Uncle Max might actually be played and a cogent thank you note written if that is the only present for the day. Even the smallest present gets appreciated.
This may not be for everyone, but it helped in our house growing up. Stockings are kid-distractors for parents who want to sleep late or cook breakfast before the morning rituals. A stocking is a “gift from Santa” whether your family embraces the tradition as “real” or not. Parents do not need to be present. Put in toys, puzzles, dexterity games, Rubik’s cubes, etc. in there to give you time to have a leisurely morning.
Do your shopping early, throughout the year if possible, or on-line even. Unless going to the mall and listening to Muzak Christmas carols and seeing Christmas displays is what you need to get your Christmas Spirit moving.
Mail out Seasonal cards. If you do this early enough, and regularly, far-flung relatives will realize that you are not getting them an expensive gift, and they don’t need to get you one. Christmas presents are for kids, really. Adults can buy the things they want. Closer family members can get simple gifts. Communicate this honestly and early and you might be able to reduce a sense of dreaded obligation. Hopefully, you don’t have a Christmas Zealot in your family to deal with, but coordinated action from the rest of the family might be able to reduce even this.
5) Married couples: Compromise
Be understanding that your spouse is different from you inside and probably has a different list of what they need to make the holiday enjoyable. Give them space if they need it, or follow them on some of their Christmas rituals. Give and take, and be honest with each other. Don’t make ultimatums or use guilt as a weapon. If you have a strong marriage, you probably already know this one, however.
6) Reducing the Gimme instinct in children
Organize some sort of community-benefiting activity. Helping with a charity drive, donating old toys and books, helping at church, anything that isn’t about getting. Make it just as normal, regular and important as the rest of the Christmas traditions. With any luck, regular exposure to this sort of attitude will instill good habits in later life and build a new young person with a good civic attitude. At the very least, you’ll be helping some folks who don’t have all the opportunities for happiness that you do.