Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching (Tomorrow! Can you believe that?), and Christmas will be right behind it.
Anticipation is mounting, but — for many of us — stress levels are climbing, too.
Far too often, December flies by like a whirlwind, and we come to the end of it exhausted, over-spent, and feeling like we’ve failed to make meaningful connections with family in friends in our rush to pack as many memories as possible into four short weeks.
Don’t allow endless “to do” lists to steal your joy this holiday season. Don’t let all the commercialism eclipse the real meaning of Christmas. Even amid all the hustle-bustle and hype, you can find a little peace and tranquillity if you know where to look.
Here are six strategies I use to ward off the holiday rush and maintain my sanity this time of year:
A little advanced planning can do wonders for your mindset. The more you can accomplish before the holidays hit, the more you can relax and enjoy them once they arrive.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to start stockpiling gifts in January or have a full freezer by fall to benefit from this step. Just pull out your calendar and make note of any commitments you have in the coming month, then think through what each commitment will require and make additional notes about what will need to be done when for it all to go smoothly.
For instance, we have a lot of family coming to spend Thanksgiving with us this year, and most of them are planning to run a 5K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. This means I’ll need to have tables set and most of the cooking done in advance if I want to run with them and still have dinner ready by noon.
Our older kids also requested that we stuff Christmas letters together while they’re home for Thanksgiving. For that to happen, I’ll have to finish writing the letter today, make copies, and buy stamps and envelopes so that we can set up our assembly line on Friday and finish the job before they have to drive back to school on Saturday.
I’ve had to accept the fact that I can’t do everything — I’ll run myself (and, even more importantly, my family) ragged if I try. So instead of trying to squeeze activity into every waking moment, I intentionally leave a little white space on our calendar, especially during this season of the year.
These empty squares represent the quiet evenings we’ll spend at home reading in front of a crackling fire or working a puzzle around the kitchen table or listening to Christmas music while we decorate the tree or watching It’s a Wonderful Life or some other of our favorite holiday video for the umpteenth time.
Pick & Choose
The important thing is that you spend the holidays doing the things that are most meaningful to you and your family. Don’t feel pressured to do anything just because everybody else is doing it. You may even want to gather the kids together and take a poll. Ask them which traditions, old or new, they’d like to observe and which they’re willing to let go.
We did this several years ago and generated this list. Now we print it off every year and check off various activities as time allows. We don’t try to do them all, just the ones that sound good to us at the time and fit our schedules. There is a printable version of our list, but I would encourage you to make your own. Some of the things we do will not appeal to you, and vice versa.
Not only have I realized I can’t do everything, but I’ve learned I shouldn’t try to do everything myself. It’s okay to ask for help. That’s why, any time the family gathers at our house for a holiday dinner, everybody pitches in with the food prep. I usually order the turkey or ham from a local cafeteria instead of cooking it myself, those coming from out of town bring dishes with them, and I enlist the help of children still at home in cooking and cleaning to make our time together go more smoothly.
It’s amazing how little pressure you feel to overspend when you aren’t exposed to all the malls and television commercials. I avoid getting out on Black Friday like the plague, preferring instead to shop online in the privacy of my own home. And by using Ebates, I earn cash back on every purchase, plus it’s all delivered straight to my door.
Even when you scale back and plan ahead and preserve margin and invest only in those holiday activities that are most meaningful to your family, life will sometimes throw you a curve. Like the year we got chicken pox at Thanksgiving and had to be quarantined until New Year’s. Another Christmas, it was a stomach virus that took us out of commission. And once, an ice storm knocked out our electricity for three days. You can’t let stuff like that derail you or dampen your joy. None of those things were much fun at the time, but they were certainly memorable. We made adjustments and still had wonderful, Christ-focused celebrations. Though we had to miss many of our traditional activities those years, we just appreciated them all the more the next Christmas when things were a little more “normal”. Attitude makes all the difference.
What do you do to de-stress during the holidays? I’d love for you to share your strategies in the comments below! In the meantime, have a blessed Thanksgiving and a calm, Christ-centered Christmas season…