It’s December. Even the greenest of grinches will agree that it’s ok to talk about Christmas now. So here we go …. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music (even the cheesy stuff) and Christmas decorations (even the tacky stuff) and Christmas traditions. (Except rock-hard, waste-of-rum fruitcake – that stuff can be tossed straight into the dustbin of history, with all the other things no one likes anymore. Marmalade and gerkins, I’m looking at you guys.) For me, Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Yet it seems that, for many people, it’s anything but. Every day since the beginning of November I’ve seen at least one holiday de-stress guide. They have titles like “how to survive the holidays” and “how to handle Christmas stress” and “avoid your annual Christmas meltdown”. One author bitterly said “no wonder my mother got sick every January”, listed all the things she hates about Christmas, and claimed that this year she is toying with cancelling the holiday in her home. Why all the fuss? How has Christmas become something to panic and rant about, rather than a sweet celebration bringing us all together during the darkest days of the year?
I have a family, and a job (sadly, it’s not writing this blog or testing wine batches). I have a house and car that need regular maintenance and repairs. I have bills to pay. I have problems to work around, and bad days. In other words, I’m as stressed and tired as anyone else. But I refuse to let the trappings of Christmas make me crazy. I love it too much to let that happen. Because I know what’s best for everyone (yes, I do – that’s one of my reasons for blogging), I decided to create a list of ways to help you stay sane, too. Or, what passes for sane. That’s my standard, at least ….
Don’t buy in. One of the complaints I hear multiple times every Christmas is how expensive it is. What few people seem to consider is why. Why do we need expensive decorations? Want a dash of sparkle? Every dollar store currently contains aisle after aisle of trinkets, and enough red bows to brighten an entire city. Want old-fashioned charm? Make paper chains, or strings of popcorn and dried cranberries. Hand your children a stack of paper and a package of markers, and let them create Christmassy scenes for your walls. Why do we need to empty our wallets buying piles of presents? Ask a roomful of people their favourite thing from their childhood Christmases, and few – if any – will say it was the gifts. If you want to give gifts, keep it reasonable. Think of one or two meaningful things for each person on your list, and buy those things. If your budget doesn’t stretch to gifts, how about time? Offer to do something for your loved ones – or, better yet, something with them.
Love what you love (or don’t). Many people’s holiday complaints seem to be about Christmas-themed annoyances (again, trappings). They hate the dopey Christmas songs that seem to be on repeat in every store and restaurant. They hate the obnoxious commercials. They hate the schmaltzy TV specials. They hate the Elf on the Shelf (so do I – that smug little bugger needs to take an “accidental” tumble into the fireplace). But nobody’s forcing anyone to put up with any of this stuff! Christmas music isn’t your thing? Wear ear buds that stream your tunes straight into your head. And a little perspective might be helpful, too – it’s not as if establishments play only your faves all the rest of the year. And commercials are annoying all year long …. It’s not Jesus’ fault that morons in marketing decided to use his birthday to make everyone want fur coats and the latest electronics and Starbucks gift cards. Not a fan of Christmas programming? Just don’t watch it. None of these things are Christmas – they are just people’s response to Christmas. If you don’t like them, craft your own response and enjoy that.
Don’t exhaust yourself. You don’t have to decorate like Martha, even if you’re hosting. Uncle Pullmyfinger is going to be just as happy in his turkey-coma on your old couch as he would be on a new one. Nobody is going to inspect your place with white gloves – in fact, wait til after the holidays to clean up. January is a long and boring month. I love writing and posting Christmas cards. I do dozens of them every year. They’re beautiful. I treasure the ones I receive. Many people don’t enjoy doing cards. If you’re one of them, don’t do them. Think about who might really appreciate a card, and then give that person a call instead. Great Aunt Grouchy would probably rather pour out her complaints to you in person anyway, instead of dashing off a line in her card about how she never sees you anymore. You don’t like baking? Buy cookies. You can’t cook? Buy boxes of wings and breaded shrimp and sausage rolls. Or order several pizzas. Or hire a caterer. This is not a culinary competition – it’s supposed to be fun. Too many social events crowding your calendar? Say no. I love parties. But if I didn’t, I wouldn’t drag myself from festivity to festivity like Eeyore searching for my tail. I’d stay home, throw on my flannel pyjamas, and curl up with a cup of peppermint tea and a good book – and I wouldn’t feel the tiniest sliver of guilt about it. If I thought my presence would be badly missed, I’d put in about thirty minutes of face-time, and then explain that I need a quiet evening to myself. People who really care about you will understand. People who don’t understand aren’t worth your free time anyway.
Downsize. You don’t have to do all the things, every year. Make a list of the things you consider Christmas obligations, and play with it. Put a star next to the ones you love. Then, look at what’s left, and put a star next to anything that is precious to your nearest and dearest. Your good friends enjoy a Christmassy trip to the mall? Your husband loves your homemade shortbread cookies? Your son’s Christmas is not complete without singing a few carols next to the fire? Do those things. Everything else, cross off. The things that are left will become more precious, and you won’t miss the things you were doing only because you felt like you had to.
Come together. The more, the merrier – especially when it comes to celebrating Christmas. I like to make chocolates at Christmas – vast quantities of them. This wasn’t much fun when I did it all by myself. So I taught some girlfriends how to do it, too. Now it’s a yearly event, with laughter and great food and wine. At the end of the evening, we divvy up the chocolates, and start talking about improvements for next year’s session. Shop with your sister. Decorate your home and wrap presents with your significant other. Recruit your kids to bake goodies with you, or arrange a cookie exchange. Encourage your co-workers to take on a charity with you. Christmas is a time to reach out to those around you, and give of yourself – and receive what is offered by others. Simple togetherness can be a lovely Christmas gift.
Disclaimer: This list is meant to help people who like Christmas but find it frustrating and stressful at times. If you don’t like Christmas, full stop, this post isn’t for you – try Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, or (if you’ve no time to read a novel) rum garnished with a cinnamon stick.