I read a statistic recently that 88 percent of people experience stress leading up to the holidays.
That honestly doesn’t surprise me at all. According to When Less Becomes More by Emily Ley, people feel more fatigued, burned out, and overwhelmed as the digital world spins faster with more alerts binging on our smartphones than ever.
Christmas comes with a lot of expectations, and I remember first feeling the pressure to have a “perfect Christmas” after I was planning the season not only for myself but for my kids. I wanted Thanksgiving and Christmas to be meaningful and fun, and also picture-perfect.
That desire led to several holiday seasons of trying to do all the Christmas activities, trying to establish too many holiday traditions, making too many goodies, spending too much money, and being too stressed about it all. By the time Christmas actually arrived, I was just happy the season was over.
I knew this wasn’t right. As a Christian, I knew I didn’t want Christmas to be a frenzy of meaningless activities. I wanted time, energy, and “Christmas spirit” enough to focus on what the holidays are really about – giving thanks to God for His provision and blessings, and most importantly for the gift of Jesus’s birth.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve finally started to learn how to truly enjoy the Christmas season as a mom, and provide a calm and meaningful holiday season for my family too. It didn’t involve magically finding the ability to do all the things. It involved a lot of evaluation and reflection and simplifying. These are a few of the strategies that have helped me make the most of our holiday season.
Start Thinking About Christmas Early
I know the no-Christmas-music-until-after-Thanksgiving crowd is going to cringe at this one, but hear me out. One major source of holiday stress is a lack of time – and that can potentially be remedied by starting early. Thinking about the holidays well in advance allows you to iron out the schedule and decide what is really important.
The year I was pregnant with my last daughter, who was due at the very start of the holiday season, I started planning our Christmas earlier since I didn’t want a lot on my to-do list right after having a baby. That was one of the smoothest holiday seasons we have had. I credit it, at least in part, to getting a head start.
There are also statistics that show that people who decorate for Christmas early are happier. I think there is something to that. Stretching the Christmas season by starting early allows more time to get things done, and more space to enjoy it.
Save And Budget
One of the most stressful parts of Christmas to me is feeling like we are spending too much money, and I know I’m not alone in that. There are so many activities to do, presents to get, cards to send, etc., and the money can add up fast. The best way to combat this financial stress is with a budget.
If possible, save money throughout the year for the Christmas season – it’s so much less of a financial burden to save in advance, as opposed to spending the first part of the new year paying off last Christmas. Think through which Christmas festivities you really need to participate in, and make a budget for those must-do’s. Then stick to the budget as much as possible. Understand that more money does not equal a more magical Christmas. You can have a wonderful (and less stressful) holiday season on a budget.
Purposely Leave Gaps On The Calendar
In our family, the December calendar starts filling up in October. It got to the point where every spare moment was filled, and I had no time to relax or reflect on the meaning of the season.
I’ve learned to start reserving one or two weekends leading up to Christmas as days with nothing on the calendar. This gives our family time free of any Christmas obligations so we can do the things we really want to do, or try something new.
Consider A Social Media Break
According to one set of statistics, 49 percent of moms put pressure on themselves to have the “perfect” Christmas, and they work too hard to achieve it. I can’t help but wonder what role social media plays in that pressure to have the perfect holiday season. I know that at times I’ve seen one of my friends doing something festive on social media and have felt that I should be doing something similar with my kids. Theodore Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy”, and I think that certainly applies to Christmas joy too.
If social media is adding to your personal Christmas pressure, consider taking a break leading up to Christmas. I did this last year and it was a beautiful thing for my heart. Less time keeping up with what everyone else is doing made more time for me to enjoy the time I had with my own family.
Narrow Down What Traditions Are Really Important
When deciding what your family traditions are going to be, you have to realize that you can’t possibly do every tradition option. You can try, but it will likely lead to Christmas burnout. When you are too busy keeping up with too many traditions, some of the fun is going to be lost.
Try to narrow down which traditions are really important for your family – and don’t merely go off of what you think the answer is, ask your kids! Hold a family meeting. Tell them that you only have room on the calendar for a certain amount of activities and you want to do the things that are most meaningful for them. They might surprise you with which traditions stand out, and which ones everyone is willing to let go.
Learn That It’s Okay To Say No
It’s not only okay to say no to things during the holidays, but it’s also necessary to say no if any of these other strategies I’m discussing here are going to work. You might have to say no to making five different Christmas cookies so you have time for that gingerbread house with your kids. Or say no to the Christmas parade so you can say yes to the Nutcracker with your daughter. Christmas cards might not happen this year in order to leave more room to breathe and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. You get the idea. Saying no is important because without some “no’s” you may not be able to say “yes” to the things that really matter to you.
When all else fails, consider celebrating during Christmastide! I was first introduced to Christmastide a few years ago when I read about it in a book. Historically, this season was established by the church in 567 AD as an extension of the celebration of Jesus’s birth. I have never been a part of a denomination where this is practiced, but I love the idea of using time after Christmas for reflecting, and including a few festivities that we may have missed. Who says we have to stop celebrating and pack up shop on the 26th anyway?
Prepare Your Heart
Christmas should be about remembering the miracle of God becoming a man in Jesus Christ. Remembering that He was born to one day die for us while we are still sinners. Remembering that He now lives so that we may live and have hope for Heaven when we repent and trust in Christ to save us.
If you believe this, but you are so swamped with activities and obligations that you don’t have any time to reflect on the beauty of this most important Gift – then you are too busy. As Christians, this is what matters most about Christmas. We must make time for turning our hearts to the Lord, and impressing the true meaning of Christmas upon our children.