The holidays–Christmas, in particular–seem to be doomed for failure.
We’re sold this image of a happy, idyllic family decorating the house as only Martha Stewart can do. In the morning, the children wake up to a mountain of presents beneath the tree, and are delighted to find that they’ve received that toy they’ve been hoping for. At dinner time, all of the extended family comes over for a visit (or they’re spending multiple days!) and is treated to a lovely spread that took hours to prepare. And, most importantly, everybody gets along.
And we all know that this ain’t reality.
And so, in our frustration, we get grouchy and stressed. We become bitter, we complain, and we take up “causes” in an effort to change things. And in doing so, we miss out on the joy and fun that this season really does have to offer.
How can we bring the joy back to holidays without turning into a Scrooge? Here are some tips:
1. Let go of some of the expectations. You’re not going to do it all. So decide which traditions work for you, and create some low-stress traditions that work for your family. Accept that it’s not going to be the Christmas you had as a child–change is inevitable. We’ve ditched big dinners in lieu of pizza. We draw names for gifts, or give only homemade food items. We make our own crazy decorations and keep the focus on having fun.
2. Stick with the traditions that you LOVE. I’m crazy about Christmas music, pumpkin-flavored-everything, the smell of baking apples, and cheesy seasonal movies. So we do a lot of those things.
3. Plan for stress “hot spots.” You know what stresses you out every year. So plan a little extra self-care during those times. Focus on delegating, get enough sleep, drinking lots of water, and eating as healthy as you can. For example, the trip to visit our relatives in Michigan can be stressful for me (although I do enjoy seeing everyone!). So we stay at nice hotels on the way, make sure that there is a healthy choice at each meal, and make sure to focus on relaxing!
4. Be patient with the gift “issue.” We used to be greeted with a mountain of gifts at every Christmas gathering we went to. And a lot of these ended up eventually being donated. We gently explained our lifestyle choices to our families, and the gifts slowly decreased in number (or included more edibles!). Things improved even more as I began writing about minimalism (and we stuck with it for a couple years). Since we’ve made the move to Texas, people mainly give us money, memberships, and treats. Change takes awhile, so be patient. And remember that they are giving you the gifts because they care about you.
5. Be ready with gifts to suggest when they ask. Your loved ones aren’t going to give you “nothing.” So be ready with ideas. Do you live near a children’s museum or zoo? Would your child like a membership? Are there any restaurants you love? People want to give you something, so it’s up to you to provide them with some non-material options.
6. Accept that it is what it is. Christmas trees will come out in stores before Halloween. People will trample each other at Black Friday, and the sales will start on Thanksgiving. There is no need to get angry or stress over this. You get to choose whether to participate or not. I have to confess, I was kind of excited to see the Christmas trees, although we haven’t decorated yet. And Black Friday? We’re going to spend Thanksgiving at a state park, camping in a cabin. So I’ll probably be making s’mores.
7. Leave the politics behind. When people are stressed, they get angry about silly things. People celebrate for different reasons. For some, Christmas is a deeply religious time, with midnight mass and “Silent Night” taking center stage. For others, it has a more secular focus, with the emphasis on having fun with family and friends. Some families celebrate Chaunakah and other families have incorporated ancient traditions from Solstice celebration. It means different things to different people, and raising a fuss about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” isn’t going to “convert” anyone to your way of doing things. If there is anything that every faith can agree upon, it’s kindness. So let’s remember to use that as a starting point.
Begin with that retail worker who just wished you a happy holiday. They’re not thinking about how great they want your holiday to be. They are thinking about how stressed they are, at work during the most hectic season of the year. Buy them a chocolate when you go through their line.