Life is too Short for Holiday Stress

Two years ago, one of my friends was talking about all the stress involved in the holiday season.  It was the usual family drama, the over-booking, and the anger over having to do too much, to give too much.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob's brother and his wife, on Sunday.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob’s brother and his wife, on Sunday.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Christmas is a bucket of stress.”


And I was right.  It WAS a bucket of stress.  First, I had to shop and buy presents that we could not afford.  We went so far overboard, because we wanted to make sure that our presents “matched” everyone else’s, that they gave to us.


Then, I bought “evening up” gifts, so that one person’s gift wasn’t “bigger” than the next.  I kept some extra gifts on hand, in case someone gave us something unexpectedly.


It was stressful, and it took all of the joy out of giving.


Then, there was the food.  I gave everyone “food gifts” as well, because I thought they were sweet and fun.  But I went overboard, making orange cordial, breadsticks, biscotti, carmel corn, and spiced nuts for everyone on my list.  Not only did it get expensive, but it also kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to do the activities I wanted to do around our house.


And now let’s talk about the parties.


I worked up until December 23, at my old job, so we had one day to get ready.  We would do our Christmas, with the mountain of presents, filled stockings, and a large home-made gift for the Bean.  That same day, we would head to one of our parents’ homes to celebrate with them, before Beanie got a chance to play with her toys.  Then, within the week, we would see my parents, both of my grandmas, both of Rob’s sets of aunts, uncles, and cousins (one set living 3 hours south of us), and celebrate with Rob’s family at their home on Thunder Bay (3 hours north of us).


We wanted to be easy to work with, so we told people any date would do.  So, once year, that had us celebrating with my grandma an hour away from us, driving 3 hours north to celebrate with Rob’s family up there, then driving back 3 hours the next day to celebrate with his aunt and uncle who lived near us.

Notice the traditional cranberry goo....

Notice the traditional cranberry goo….

And keep in mind that we had a child with GERD and autism in tow.


While I tried to have “safe” food for Beanie with me (and “safe” food for me–too much sugar makes me feel really bad!), she inevitably got into the goodies.  Which led to misbehaving, tantrums, and screaming at night.


We didn’t enjoy the holidays.  In fact, we were so relieved when Christmas break was over.


Why didn’t we say anything?  Why didn’t we speak up, even a little bit?  Well…


  • We love these people.  We honestly enjoyed spending time with every single one of them.
  • We didn’t want to cause drama.  We thought that everybody would be angry at us, if we said, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that.”


We actually thought our solution was to buy a motor home, so that we could have a “home base” during the holidays, where we could have some consistency for the Bean, cook our meals, etc.  And that would have helped, but it became unnecessary.


Why?  Because some difficult events in our family, led us to change our celebrations.  And everyone became more comfortable speaking up, as to what worked for them and what didn’t.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Now, all of our celebrations are in the same town.  (Well, except for the ones in Texas!)  Sometimes we have pizza, instead of a fancy meal.  And some relatives, we visit at other times during the year, such as our “Christmas in July.”


The result: I’m actually looking forward to Christmas!  We’re going to have some time to ourselves during our visit back to Michigan, and I’m enjoying the preparations.

We are enjoying the season this year.  Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

We are enjoying the season this year. Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

Are the holidays stressful for you?  Here are some tips that might help tame down your activities:


  • See gifts for what they are.  Gifts are not an economic exchange.  They are an expression of love and caring.  It’s perfectly all right for gifts not to match, or for someone to give you a gift, without you having anything to reciprocate.  Just be grateful.
  • Start small.  If you want to give food gifts, then choose one thing to make for everyone.  Then, if time and money allow, make something else, to add to it.


  • Remember that they are your family, and they love you.  They just want to spend time with you.  Keeping this in mind will help when you need to set limits or make changes.
  • Say, “I’m sorry, that won’t work for us,” if it won’t.  If it causes drama, remember that the drama isn’t about you.  There is nothing wrong with refusing to run yourself ragged.  What you’re seeing is everyone else’s insecurities.  Figure out why they feel insecure, or better yet, help them to figure it out.


  • Say, “Can we get together at another time?”  Start a new tradition, such as Christmas in July.  Really, everyone just wants to see you, and they will probably appreciate the less-hectic venue.
  • Suggest ways to pare down.  Maybe you want to draw names for the gift exchange, or do a white elephant auction.  Maybe you’d prefer pizza to a fancy dinner, or perhaps you would like to just do appetizers.


The purpose behind all the get-togethers is for friends and family to enjoy each other.  So let that be your purpose!   Life is far too short for this time of the year to bring stress.

 Take some baby-steps now, and you will be grateful later.

Note: There is still time to buy my Advent Calendar.  In anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, I am reducing the price to $0.99.  Come and join us for a less stressful, more joyful holiday season!

11 thoughts on “Life is too Short for Holiday Stress

  1. This is REALLY good advice Bethany! It took me years and years before I finally did what you are suggesting…and stopped doing everything that was stressful. Lucky you (and your family) that you learned it so early on in life. It does take some courage because no one wants to rock the boat…but the rewards are so very worth it. Hopefully many many people will read this post and be inspired! ~Kathy

    • Unfortunately, life rocked the boat for us, in a big way, which led to us no longer fearing change, and talking about things we would like to do differently. But people should not be afraid to speak up, because there are probably other people who feel the same way.

  2. Wonderful advice Bethany. My holidays are so easy now. I do what I can and let the rest go. We are having Thanksgiving with my niece since I want to be home on Christmas. We will visit another day to take gifts to the children. It will be very simple since that’s all I can manage. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Hugs, M

  3. Great advice Bethany. In the past, I made the decisions for what was best for my family. I liked staying home with my boys and would invite everyone to spend time with us. Of course I often over did it, but I learned and moved forward. This year I was informed by my daughter-in-law that she would rather stay home on Christmas and see me another time, or have me come down to their house for Christmas.

    Guess what? I did the grown up thing. 🙂 While she was waiting for me to be upset, I told her I perfectly understood her wanting to have Christmas at home so her daughter could enjoy waking up in her own bed and would enjoy their family traditions. Can you even imagine always having to be away from home on Christmas with children? We agreed that at least for this year New Year’s would be a good time to get together where they will visit me. It will change year by year based on my son’s work schedule, but you are so right, I just want to spend time with them. It doesn’t matter which day it is on.

    • Good for your daughter-in-law! 🙂 I like having lots of get-togethers after Christmas. Otherwise, it’s this big build-up, and then nothing. It’s a lot less depressing when we stretch it out. In fact, we’ve decided that Santa is coming to our apartment on New Year’s Day.

      • Nice, Santa gets a nap then will have the energy to leave a wonderful present or two.

        I was so happy my daughter-in-law is comfortable enough to tell me openly what she wants without fearing it will disrupt our relationship. I know she was a bit apprehensive but only that she would hurt my feelings. She didn’t.

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