The Christmas season is coming. There’s no denying that. For most children, Christmas is a time of wonder, magic and enchantment. For grown-ups, it can be a time of great joy, but also a time for great stress. For some, the stress of the season is so great that it nearly masks the joy altogether. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are seven tips I’ve come up with to help you have a “low-stress Christmas.”
1. Be realistic. A lot of the stress people feel comes from the images we see in the movies and on TV. You know what I mean. No matter what troubles come about, everything works out perfectly in the end and every Christmas Eve has a loving family gathered around a roaring fire as snowflakes lightly fall outside. Ah, if only life really worked like that.
No, in reality, we sometimes have Christmases that are warm and sunny. Perhaps the family can’t get all together this year. Suppose the turkey is dry or the cookies get burnt. That’s reality and we have to roll with the punches. Remember, “perfect Christmases” only exist in fiction. The trick is to make the most out the situation we really have.
Also, don’t expect to be happy and light all of the time. Christmas is a time of joy, but it is also a time of remembrance. I know that my heart strings get tugged a little bit when I think of the many loved ones who have left this world in recent years. I miss them most of all at Christmas. Of course, you could let this sadness ruin your holiday, or you could cherish the fond memories you have as a blessed part of the season.
2. Concentrate on the reason for the season. With all of the hustle and bustle of the season, we sometimes forget just why we are doing this and exactly what we are celebrating. Keep the true meaning of Christmas in the front of your mind. If you are a Christian, remember the baby in the manger who went on to be the savior of the world. Whether you’re a Christian or not, concentrate on the fundamental themes of the holiday: family, friends, love and peace. After all, those are the real “gifts” we have in this life.
3. Do things to make good, lasting memories. Much of the stress people feel at Christmas comes from the desire to obtain just the perfect gift for as many people as is possible. If Christmas were a meal, our culture has made presents the main course when, at most, presents should be just a side dish or maybe dessert.
Instead of expensive gifts, concentrate on doing things that will create fond memories. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, some of the best Christmas memories are of things that didn’t cost a cent. It could be going to a local craft show, or packing the kids in the car and driving around looking at Christmas lights. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Believe me, a year or two from now, people may not remember the gift you gave them, but the will remember the good times you had together.
4. Avoid debt this Christmas. Make it a “cash Christmas.” People love to really “go all out” at Christmas, but sometimes the money just isn’t there. That’s when they turn to their old friends Mr. Visa and Mrs. MasterCard. People build up sizable debt at Christmas and stress about it for the rest of the year. That’s not smart and it’s definitely not a Christian thing to do. Instead, this year, resolve to have a “cash Christmas.”
You may be thinking that this is “easier said than done,” but I assure you that it is possible. Here are some tips.
- Cut back. As we discussed earlier, gifts should not be the centerpiece of your Christmas celebration. Give gifts that will be meaningful to the recipient. Don’t give a gift just to give a gift. Most of us have too much stuff to keep up with anyway.
- Make gifts whenever possible. If you can’t afford to buy that perfect gift, make one instead. Everyone has a talent or two. If yours is baking, make some cookies. That’s an awesome gift. Write a letter telling someone how much they mean to you. Great gifts need not be expensive.
- Make a list and a budget and STICK TO IT. Impulse buying is the biggest culprit in Christmas debt. People see things and buy them on impulse. Before they know it, they’ve spent a lot more than they ever intended. By making a list and a budget, you are able to plan out exactly what you have to work with.
- Use Layaway. This was a wildly popular option in the 70s and 80s, but it fell out of favor in the 90s. Fortunately, it’s back. With a little planning, you can put your gifts on layaway and pay for them over several weeks. It’s kind of like credit, but without the nasty finance charges.
- Start saving money NOW. When I was a little boy, my mom used to save money, all year, just for Christmas. She put it in a Christmas Club account. Well, it may be too late for that now, but you can still start putting money aside. Don’t wait until the last paycheck or two to start Christmas shopping.
- Buy gifts throughout the year. Whenever you see a bargain on something you would like to give as a gift, jump on it. Put the gift away and bring it out at Christmas time. The trick here is to remember where you put it.
- Earn some extra money. If the above tips aren’t doing it for you, you may need to earn some extra money. You can have a yard sale, sell unwanted items on e-Bay, start a home-based business or do any variety of things to make some extra money. In this day and age, it’s never been easier.
5. Don’t do everything yourself. Get help. Too often, people try to do everything themselves. They try to do all of the decorating, shopping, cooking, planning, etc. When they eventually burn out, and they will, these folks often wonder why. Don’t try to be super-human. If you need help, ask for it.
6. Take some quiet time. Sure, there are a lot of things to do during the Christmas season. There are school plays, Christmas parties, shopping trips, recitals, family dinners, etc. We haven’t even mentioned wrapping, packing and shipping duties yet. Whew! A body can get tired out with all of this.
While these events are important, quiet time is also vital. For me, this means turning off the lights and sitting by the Christmas tree. Usually, I have a glass of eggnog in hand and Christmas music playing softly in the background. This really is one of the best parts of Christmas. That may not be right for you, and that’s OK. Find what quiet things you like and make sure to work them into the mix of holiday activities.
7. Celebrate the season, not just the day. There’s way too much stuff to do at Christmas to cram it all in to one 24-hour block. That’s why you need to spread it out over several weeks. Around here, we celebrate Christmas all year long, but especially between Thanksgiving and January. Our decorations go up the weekend after Thanksgiving and don’t comedown until a week past New Years. That way, we get to experience a whole season of fun.
Well, I could go on for a while and, if pressed, probably come up with several more tips, but I think we’ll stop here for now. I hope that you have been able to pick up something that you can use. I wish you all the joy, peace and love that the Christmas season contains. God bless.