Merry & Bright — Finding Joy During the Holidays

joyHere we are again, it’s December.  I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was restful and wonderful, a time to relax, connect with family and friends, and reflect on your blessings.

But chances are high that you have felt significant stress as well.  Stress which may be increasing with the approach of Christmas.  In fact for some, December is the hardest time of the year!  Anxiety often runs high right up to Christmas day.   And depression often hits hard when holiday expectations are not met.

Why is this?  What can you and I do to help us avoid anxiety and depression, and to instead make the Christmas season merry and bright?

One significant obstacle to Christmas joy and peace is that we impose upon ourselves unrealistic expectations of what we ought to be and do during the Christmas season.  Our hopes are often high – – –

  • have a cozy, calm tree-decoration event as a family, without any fights or hurt feelings
  • have the perfectly decorated home, inside and out, without making 5 trips to Home Depot and without falling off the roof in the process
  • attend 15 different holiday events inside of 30 days, remaining sociable and pleasant throughout
  • distribute small neighbor gifts to 500 different homes (so we don’t hurt any feelings) without breaking a sweat
  • buy perfect surprise Christmas gifts for 100 different family and friends without going into debt
  • provide plenty of delicious goodies for loved ones without developing a likeness to “the Chubby Little Fellow” himself
  • and make this the “Best Christmas Ever” for our children without having a nervous breakdown before New Year’s

Ok, so that list might have been a bit exaggerated.  🙂  But still not too far off, right?

What can we do to prevent such Christmas chaos?  Here are a few ideas, all of which can be used by individuals or couples:

  1. Don’t procrastinate.  Procrastination is both the cause and the result of stress.   We often procrastinate because the list of to-do’s ahead seems so overwhelming.  Sometimes we don’t know where to start (suggestion:  start with #2 below).  If this sounds familiar, try making a list – in any order – of the first 10 things to be done.  Then give your tasks an approximate order.  Lastly, start with the #1 task and pace yourself.  If we force ourselves to start early with our Christmas preparations and do a little at a time, we will decrease our “Bah Humbug” and increase our “Merry and Bright!”
  2. Envision Success.  We sometimes create our holidays (or lives) by default; that is, we let impulses and outside pressures make the decisions for us.   Christmas party to attend?    Kids want double-chocolate cookies for breakfast?  Ok.  Johnny wants a motorcycle?  Got it.  After all, it is Christmas!  And we wouldn’t want to be a Scrooge!

Problem is, what is expected is not always helpful!

 An alternative is to brainstorm on paper.  First use a values list to assist you and ask yourself, “What values are most important to me at Christmas?”  Identify only 3 to 5 values from the list that you consider vital.  Secondly, write each value on a piece of paper.  For each value (i.e. faith), ask yourself, What really has helped further this value during past holiday seasons?  What would I change?  Next to the value, write your answers.  I.e. “Faith:  we will strengthen faith by reflecting upon our blessings, sharing and serving, engaging in sacred and meaningful traditions, and doing special activities together.”  Do this for each value.  The object here is not to create unrealistic expectations, but to move a little closer to your ideal.

Immediately after the holidays, it is extremely helpful to ask similar questions:   How closely did our Christmas season fit with my most cherished values?  What might I do differently next year?  Write these down and keep them.   Then use them to make next year even better!

  1. Say No to the Less, so you can say Yes to the Best!  Based on what is most important to you, now look at the obstacles.  Decide what you are NOT going to do this Christmas season.   What is likely to keep you from the values, i.e. (faith, peace, togetherness) that  you want this season?  10 different holiday events?  Nah, make it 3 or 4.  Surprise gifts for 50 different extended family or friends?  Not realistic, we’ll limit it to simple gifts to siblings and grandparents only, then send greeting cards to selected others.  200 neighbor gifts?  We’ll bake cookies for 3-5 close friends, then say Thank You and wish a heartfelt Merry Christmas to all the others!
  2. Plan your Priorities. After you have identified the elements that you believe will most likely contribute to a joyous and peace-filled Christmas, plan them into your schedule.  You can do some of this up front.  Then have a weekly planning session – so you can stay in control of your schedule, instead of being driven by demands flying in your direction.   Be sure to use your already-identified values to guide your planning.
  3. Focus on the Intangibles. Much unnecessary stress is caused by “shoulds” and “oughts” pertaining to material gifts and stale traditions.   As we all know, Christmas is really about love.   The love of our Heavenly Father in sending His Son.  The love of His Son in living and dying for each of us.  And the love we can now express for our Father, for His Son, and for all God’s children.

Do our gift-giving and other traditions reflect this?  When this Christmas season is over, will we and our loved ones be more blessed by harried gift-giving and obligatory rituals?  Or by our loving presence, whole-hearted service, and genuine expressions of appreciation?

Wishing you Joy and Peace!


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