A few years ago on September 25, I gleefully reminded family and friends we had exactly three months until Christmas. There were a few positive reactions, but the first person I told responded, “Don’t remind me!” Other responses included “Ugh!”, “Oh, nooooo!”, anxiety, “Where’s my Xanax?” and “Money—will we have enough?” An internet search for “holiday stress” yields 18 million articles! Clearly, there is an issue here! WHY IS THAT? Does it have to be like that?
It should be a joyous time of celebration with family and friends, but unfortunately, the season of joy and peace has, for so many, turned into a season of guilt, stress, debt, discord, fatigue, selfishness and materialism. How sad that Christmas has become a time some of us dread instead of anticipate? So what can be done? How can we get back to truly embracing this beautiful season?
Begin with intentionality. Even today, you can have a discussion with your family about the upcoming celebrations and determine what is really important. What really matters to you during the holidays? (This article addresses Christmas, but the suggestions apply to whatever holiday you might be celebrating!). Think about your past Christmas times and evaluate what you might want to change. Get everyone’s input and develop a plan to make Christmas different this year.
Here are some choices our family is making:
Choose family. What is better than making special memories with family, whether it’s your immediate or extended family? Perhaps it’s everyone’s going on an outing to a living nativity or a festively decorated mall. Maybe it’s sharing pictures of Christmases past. Perhaps you want to do some kind of service project together, like bell ringing for the Salvation Army, making cards for soldiers or caroling at a nursing home. Perhaps it’s just sitting around the Christmas tree reading Christmas stories together. Maybe it’s baking and decorating sugar cookies. It is easy to become so wrapped up in the busyness of all the Christmas activities that we actually have very little quality time with those we love the most. Especially with the incessant cell phone use these days, it is imperative that we focus on intentional family time. And when you’re with family, why not actually be there? When we’re having a family gathering and someone is engrossed in a cell phone, I jokingly comment, “Too bad so-and-so couldn’t be here with us today.” Our time on earth is relatively short. We must use it wisely. Don’t miss out on amazing family time this Christmas.
Choose financial peace. As my man Dave Ramsey says, “Christmas is not an emergency. It comes on Dec. 25 every year.” A 2014 Gallup survey found that U.S. adults projected they would spend an average of $720 on gifts, with nearly 25 percent planning to spend $1,000 or more. Certified financial planner Kurt Rossi says, “Big spending can lead to big problems after the holidays. The sad reality is that excessive spending, finance costs and interest expenses can cause many consumers to end up paying for 2014 holiday expenses for years to come.” It is unwise and—dare I say—completely foolish to run up our credit cards for Christmas. If you haven’t done it yet, make a budget—quick! If you spend only what money you actually have, you will have so much more peace during and after the holidays. You do NOT have to go into debt this Christmas. You will not regret cutting back, and if you do make that choice, it just might be your best Christmas yet. (I feel like pretty much everyone in the worlds knows about Dave Ramsey’s principles for helping people live in financial, but if you haven’t checked him out you, the perfect resource is Total Money Makeover ).
Choose generosity. Christmas is a wonderful time to focus on others, to instill in your children the trait of generosity. Most of you reading this article, probably don’t actually NEED many, if any, Christmas gifts, right? I know that if I really need something, I pretty much just go and buy it. (Thankfully, I don’t have extravagant tastes!) And really, how much do our kiddos need? I know I am tripping over toys and stuffed animals in our home. What if we taught our children—and actually practiced the idea—that Christmas is about others, about giving? What if our children and others were more excited about what they are giving, instead of what they’re getting? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Some relatives of mine are going to go shopping for children in need instead of buying presents for each other. What a great idea! There are numerous organizations that can use food, supplies, hands-on assistance and support. Focusing on others will be a tremendous blessing to your holiday celebration! (In addition, I’ll bet there are at least a few people in your realm of influence who are dreading a very sad and lonely Christmas. YOU can change that by inviting them to join your family). Having a generous Christmas will create amazing, lifelong memories.
Choose simplicity. If you’re already feeling stressed about Christmas, why not purposefully SIMPLIFY?! Which of the things we do to celebrate the holidays are really crucial? Do we really need to spend hours and hours shopping? Do we have to make six side dishes or would just two or three suffice? Are three Christmas trees really necessary, and would just one work this year? With the ease of social media, is it essential to send “snail mail” Christmas cards to people we haven’t seen in decades? Is the annual cookie exchange we host something we can skip this year? Do we have to attend every holiday event to which we’re invited? I’m sure we all have different answers for these questions, and that’s okay. This year I didn’t open the box of carolers (a whole display in itself) or the box of snowmen; I didn’t get out my special Christmas dishes; we’re not putting up outside lights…and it’s okay! The gold-themed tree is lovely; the nativity set display on the mantle is beautiful; and no one but my family knows that anything is missing.
There is nothing wrong with simplifying our Christmas; you can’t even imagine the peace it might bring. And, I’m really hoping to simplify our lives and things throughout the year. Real Simplicity (see above) is a fantastic book that I have read and re-read that is helping me with that notion. I highly recommend it, if you want to simplify your time and life in the new year.
I just encourage us to take some time to think about how we can find rest within this season, so we feel like we have been able to enjoy Christmas, not just survive it. Do those things that you love about Christmas, but let the things go that are not really that important. Allow yourself to take a deep breath! Choose simplicity to allow some time for rest this season.
Sometimes I get to January and feel like I kind of missed Christmas. I mean, I was there, but I was so busy and stressed that I didn’t really have any time to rest and relax and enjoy it. This is so sad! (For tips on de-stressing the holidays and regular, every day life, check out SUBTRACTING STRESS).
In The Year Without a Purchase, Scott Dannemiller details his family’s search to discover and embrace what really matters. He says, “So our prayer is that we learn enough to avoid the lure of stuff and have the wisdom and willpower to find the value in what is right in front of us.” What a great goal for this Christmas (and all year long)!
My family will strive to recognize the value of each other, of giving and serving generously, of living within our means and of embracing simplicity. How about you?
From my family to yours, we wish you a different kind of Christmas!
P.S. If you happen to click on one of these books and purchase it, I will get a tiny bit of money to support my blog. This article was published originally in KC Parent magazine and has been amended for choosingwell.blog. Merry Christmas!