The dates are the same every year. Thanksgiving rolls around with changing temperatures, plans to meet family or friends for a meal and lots of talk of Black Friday shopping specials while the Christmas decorations go up earlier and earlier in the stores. Thanksgiving and Christmas come just one month apart. There are approximately 30 days to get to all of the school holiday concerts, work holiday parties, gift shopping done and food made for your family gatherings.
By the time you are reading this, Christmas day will be just around the corner and you are in the “thick” of what has become for many “the holiday push.” Dr. Walt Larimore says nearly 80% of American’s expect the holidays to add anxiety, exhaustion and debt. Instead of enjoying decorating, baking, music and gift shopping with your spouse/family it becomes more of a divide and conquer mission.
It’s an annual event so why do we let it stress us out? Who gets the brunt of our stress? The answer of course is our own spouse (and kids if you have them.) They get our snippy reply to questions about the schedule while you are franticly attempting to finish the Christmas letter and frozen pizza when you just don’t have time for anything else three days in a row. Meanwhile the phone or the door bell rings and the neighbor stops by with a loaf of Cranberry Bread to say Merry Christmas and your smile goes on instantly. I know, I’ve been there and so has most everyone around you. What can we do to take some of the stress of holiday activities and time with extended family so we don’t have to do a lot of relationship repair when it’s over? It’s not too late to make a few changes this year and think ahead for next year. Here are a few very practical, yet simple suggestions. Don’t let their simplicity fool you. They help. I know.
Sit down with your spouse and talk about what you both really want and need this holiday season. One of the biggest helps is knowing that your spouse has “got your back.” Maybe you need a little help when you are at your Mom’s so that you don’t get totally exhausted from caring for your parents and your kids at the same time. Let him know ahead of time what would be helpful. That could be help doing the dishes or organizing a board game with the kids to keep them busy while the final prep for the meal is happening. He can only help you effectively if you’ve communicated to him what you need. Be sure to hear what his needs are as well. One of the core strengths of relationships is communication.
Do the holiday activities together. Mark and I plan a time to Christmas shop together. We used to take a whole day to shop and eat lunch together. If we got done early we might even go to a movie. It was fun time to choose to bless our family with gifts together. We could keep each other accountable to our budget for gift giving and relieve potential stress by not overspending!
We also did Christmas baking as a family when the kids were home. There were several years we did gingerbread houses, one for each kid and displayed them proudly amongst our decorations. Frosting cut out cookies is much more fun done with others while the Christmas carols play in the background.
Schedule some time for yourself throughout the month of December, even during the week of Christmas and the week following while you may have kids or guests at home with you. Yes, I mean write it on your calendar. When will you sit with a cup of tea and ponder the wonder of Christ’s birth or record in your journal the special moments that have already happened? You won’t be so frazzled if you take a bit of time for yourself.
This one is really the key - rethink your priorities. What is really important to you? Is it being at every gathering for school, work and family or baking cookies with the kids to share with neighbors? Once you’ve decided, put those things on the calendar first. Only add other things if they won’t detract from your enjoyment of the top priority items. If you are thinking ahead for next year write your thoughts down in your journal and make a note on your 2015 calendar to remind yourself to read those notes in early November. It just might make next year’s holidays even better!