It’s December–Don’t Panic

It’s been almost a month since my last post. I thought I would get to post before this, but my best laid plans didn’t go the way I thought they would. I’m okay with it, though.

I probably would have just said in a nutshell, don’t get stressed about Christmas. Don’t worry about getting things done yet, you’ve got plenty of time. Easier said than done, I know. But not stressing can be done–and it should be.

It’s December now, and I wonder how many of you are in full-on panic mode at this point. I hope none of you are, but probably you wouldn’t be on this list then.

So . . .

Think about what is making you most stressed. Here’s a good test to see if you should stress about it. Are you going to still care about it in 5 years? How about this time next year? For probably 95 percent of the things people stress about at Christmas, the answer is NO.

I still remember the year I told my husband I was not going to have time to bake cookies, and if he wanted them he would have to bake them himself. We had probably been married about 12 years, and I had always baked (and sometimes he had baked some cookies, too).

You know what he did? He baked. And he wasn’t the least bit stressed about it. He had fun, and the kids helped, and I did what I needed to do, without staying up half the night and getting myself sick over it.

Becoming Realistic

You are one person. Chances are, you have a job, maybe kids, and not a whole lot of extra time after you get everything done that you need to do on a daily basis.

You deserve to sleep. You deserve to do things YOU enjoy during the holidays (and other times). Christmas should be fun, not stressful.

It’s time to become more realistic about what you can accomplish at this time of year, and how much you can realistically expect to get done. Then, you need to let things go.

What can you let go? In previous years, I have let go of sending Christmas cards, I have not decorated as much, and I have comandeered my husband to wrap gifts (and trust me, it wasn’t very pretty, but it got done).

I went from being someone who spent weeks making homemade, craft fair-quality gifts to save money and sewing dresses for the girls and ties and vests for the guys every year to being able to let my husband do at least half of the shopping and some years, all of the baking. I haven’t even touched the sewing machine this year (although I might do so to help my daughter make some little gifts for her friends).

I decided at some point that if I as the mom wasn’t finding joy in Christmas, then my kids were probably going to be suffering for it and I was probably costing them joy and sending a very bad message about what Christmas was all about, too.

Was stress and losing sleep and being cranky worth it just to have everything be what I thought was perfect? I decided NO.

Beyond Simplicity

My current approach to Christmas goes beyond the concept of simplicity. That’s part of it, but just simplifying is not really the whole point of what I’m trying to do here. There’s a reason for the season, and it’s not the perfect cookie or the perfect gift or the perfect outfit.

Christmas celebrates Christ, and He surely doesn’t care about any of the stuff I just listed. I want my Christmas to be centered around the stuff He cares about–spending time with family, doing meaningful things together (including helping others), and celebrating together.

So wherever you are on completing your to-do list, I hope you can take a little time to evaluate how you’re feeling and doing this season, and if you are feeling mainly stressed, that you can take some time to think about what you can let go to make your schedule more realistic–and ultimately bring some joy into the season for yourself and your loved ones.

Although it may seem even more stressful at first to make changes and do things differently, if your experience is like mine it will lead to a much Merrier Christmas when it’s all said and done.

Feel free to write me a comment if this post resonated with you and, if you feel comfortable, let me know how you have tamed Christmas.

tree pic

Decorating the tree together with ornaments collected for over 40 years.

Are You Ready to Tame Christmas?

This is my first post on this blog in two years. I didn’t post once last year. More about that later. Two years ago I posted in October and then lost track of things.

Here’s what happened. I started getting paid to write, and that kind of overshadowed my labor of love here, unfortunately. In September, I stopped teaching after 8 years to focus on writing, including blogging, but I wasn’t ready to post about Christmas yet because–well, that defeats the whole purpose of what I’m trying to do here. And, it’s not compatible with how I do Christmas any more either.

I noticed over the past few months that I’ve gotten a lot of new subscribers, so I want to welcome you here. Please share your thoughts in the comments and make any suggestions on topics you would like to see covered.

As you can tell from the title of the site and ebook, this blog will be different from others related to Christmas. Instead of overwhelming you with the most efficient or glorious ways to do all the endless tasks we have come to associate with Christmas and encouraging you to do more-more-more, this blog aims to strip Christmas down to A) What it is really supposed to be, a holiday celebrating God’s entrance into the world through the person of Jesus, and B) A celebration that is manageable and doesn’t cause panic attacks, high blood pressure, or any other adverse health symptoms.

Here, we try to remember that Christmas is one day of the year–two, if you count Christmas Eve (and I typically do). People–and I’m talking here about moms or whoever takes responsibility for planning and executing the celebration for the immediate or extended family–typically spend dozens or even hundreds of hours in November and December (sometimes October and even before) on Christmas-related tasks. All to celebrate for a day or two!

Some years ago now, I decided that Christmas, as lovely and wonderful as it is, had gotten out of hand. It had to be simplified, pared down, and de-stressed so that it resembled something more proportionate to its actual importance, and so I could enjoy it the way the rest of my family and friends seemed to do (at least, the ones who weren’t stressed out from planning and coordinating everything).

So I haven’t posted until now–and that may be driving some of you crazy! But it was by design that I’ve waited until this point, and will be doing so in future years as well. You don’t really need to be thinking about Christmas yet. Even now, my advice to you is to enjoy Halloween and Thanksgiving, and keep thoughts of Christmas and Christmas tasks to a minimum.

Here is a to-don’t list I made up a few weeks ago for the month of October. I was going to post it earlier, but I really haven’t given it–or Christmas–much thought since then. But you can use the list to see how you did this month and as a glimpse of where you could be when you have Christmas tamed in the future.

Your October Christmas Don’t-Do List

Please don’t take this list as law; if not doing one of these things is causing you stress, then by all means, do whatever you need to do. This list is intended to give you freedom to go about your life and enjoy fall without feeling the need to plan for, prepare for or otherwise stress about Christmas yet.

1. Don’t look at any Holiday catalogs.

Yes, I have already received multiple holiday sale catalogs, one of which arrived before October 1st. More are sure to arrive, but don’t feel obligated to look at them yet unless you are really ready or have some pressing need. Sometimes those catalogs just make us feel pressured and end up putting us into a bad mood (the exact opposite of what they intend), so just throw them out or put them aside until you are ready to see them happily.

2. Don’t plan a menu for family Christmas dinner.

You’re just going to change your mind 7 times until Christmas, so what’s the point of making decisions now that you will end up changing? Just tell your Type A, overplanning family member (you know the one I mean) to check back with you after Thanksgiving because you aren’t ready to think about Christmas yet. They may not like it, but they will survive, trust me.

3. Don’t shop for decorations.

You will see Christmas decorations popping up everywhere during the month of October (some were already out long before that). But trust me, unless there’s something you know you will have to have, that you think will sell out early, you will get much better sale prices if you wait until at least late November to make your purchases. Better yet, wait until you unpack your boxes of decorations before deciding if you really need any more decorations (or have room for them).

4. Don’t shop for gifts.

I will qualify this statement a little bit. If you come across a gift that is just perfect for someone you know you will be buying a gift for, with no additional effort on your part, then by all means, buy it. Especially if you don’t think you’ll come across it again or if it’s a great bargain. When I say don’t shop for gifts, I mean don’t make a special effort or start making lists yet. You can usually get much better prices closer to Christmas and save a lot more money, as well as being better able to keep track of what you have so you don’t overbuy.

5. Don’t listen to Christmas music.

Unless you are the type of person who doesn’t get tired of repetitive things, you don’t want to start listening to holiday tunes in October if you want to be full of the Christmas spirit come December 24th and 25th. In my experience, the earlier I start listening to Christmas music, the earlier I find myself not wanting to hear it anymore. I have actually delayed the onslaught of Christmas tunes until a week or two before the big date, just so I’m not completely sick of them by the day after.

6. Don’t make Christmas cookies.

Okay, if you really want some Christmas cookies, go ahead and make them. But don’t expect them to last until Christmas, and don’t eat so many that you are already sick of them when the holidays do roll around.

7. Don’t skip over fall in your rush to Christmas.

The changing of the leaves. Pumpkin spice everything. Apple picking. That first cup of hot cocoa. Trick-or-treating. Turkey and dressing. There are so many things to enjoy about fall, and you owe it to yourself to be present and enjoy them, rather than letting yourself be preoccupied with Christmas. Believe me, it will wait.

Now if you are reading this and want to sputter, “But . . . but,” and tell me why you just have to do something on this list, go back and read the first paragraph. I’m not your boss. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just suggesting things. I’m offering you the freedom to take back your fall and let Christmas be until it’s Christmas’s turn to be in the spotlight. That’s all. You do what you want . . . as if you need my permission.

I have a lot of interesting posts planned for this year, so stick around and I should have something new up at least every couple of days for you. Meanwhile, take a deep breath and let go of any stress you may already be feeling about Christmas. This year, you can rediscover the true joy of the holiday by doing less, not more. It is really possible–you’ll see.

DJ and me

This is me enjoying fall–at parent’s weekend with my son, who is a freshman at Penn State. 

Stopping Christmas Stress in Its Tracks

Well, as promised, it has been a l-o-o-o-ng time since you have heard from me. I don’t know if you were thinking about Christmas in January as you tried to keep New Year’s Resolutions or in April as the flowers started to bloom or in September as the new school year started. I can honestly tell you that I haven’t bought any gifts yet except for a few stocking stuffers, and I’ve been ignoring my few Facebook friends who like to occasionally taunt me with memes like this:

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Wow, do we really not have anything better to do than think about Christmas almost 4 months ahead of time? Besides the fact that half of those memes are not accurate about how many more days or weeks there are. They get posted, then shared for a few weeks, and people don’t bother to check their calendars. If Facebook says it’s 15 weeks until Christmas, then it must be true, right?

To tell you the truth, a few years ago, I would have been panicking about the fact that it is now only about 9 weeks until Christmas. In previous years, I have been mostly finished shopping by Halloween. Some years I was writing out my card list and getting ready to start wrapping gifts at this point. But when I really thought about it, I realized that Christmas is one day! And no one day, no matter how special, is worth 3 or 4 months of preparation. I had to simplify.

I still think October is too early to get overly concerned about Christmas. It’s on my radar, but barely. Women’s ministry at church had to set a date for the cookie swap and luncheon. I took a peek at when the last day of school was and what Christmas vacation looked like. There are some things that it makes sense to do in October. My next post will go into some detail about what those are and why it makes sense to wait to do some other things.

I know most of the retail world is not on board with my simplified Christmas, but that is nothing new. I decided a long time ago that stores were not going to dictate my shopping habits to me. Last week, I walked into Bon Ton and saw this:

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Does the sight of Christmas decorations in October make you break out in a cold sweat? Does it make you feel behind in your planning and shopping? Take a breath. You are the one who decides when it’s time to start thinking about Christmas. It’s a process. It takes time to change habits and ingrained patterns of thinking.

If Christmas gives you joy and you enjoy decorating, shopping, planning and thinking about it for months every year, I’m not here to tell you there’s anything wrong with that. You don’t need this site, though. There are lots of sites out there for you!  If Christmas mostly stresses you out and you dread it, though, I encourage you to set firm limits on how much of your time and energy it consumes. You are the people this site aims to encourage, to support, and to help find a better way.

It’s not going to harm anyone if you send a Christmas email instead of cards this year. It may actually benefit your family if you sit them down and explain that you need to stay sane this holiday season, so you won’t be doing some of the things you’ve done in the past. More about that later. The point is, sometimes we feel trapped by the things we think are necessary to the Christmas experience of those we care about. If we don’t bake the cookies, our family will suffer. If we don’t send out fancy cards, our friends will think we won’t care.

In fact, if you courageously draw a line and refuse to do the things that stress you out, you will be pleasantly surprised at how little the people around you actually care. And if they do react initially, you will be surprised at how quickly they adjust to the new normal. In many cases, we overestimate the importance of having to do everything the same way every year. It’s okay to change things up and say no to being over-busy and stressed.

So right here, right now, banish Christmas stress this year. Just don’t allow it to come into your life. When it knocks at your door or tries to climb in the window or sneaks in through the back door and tries to sit right on your chest, you just come visit this site again, maybe take a read of my ebook “Taming the Christmas Monster,” and tell yourself that Christmas is about faith first, family second, and showing love to others third. There is simply no room for stress!

The Home Stretch

It’s a busy time. Just 8 days left until Christmas, and if you’re like me, you have a  long list of things to do. As much as I’ve relaxed and managed not to be stressed up until this point, it’s very difficult not to feel it now. My advice: just take it one day at a time. I have a list–several lists, actually–but if I get too caught up in looking at the whole picture of what I have left to do, I get easily overwhelmed, which doesn’t help me keep moving and get things done. If I focus primarily on today’s tasks, my productivity stays high and I’m pleased with what I can accomplish each day.

Today I am getting together my little token gifts to all my students (I teach in a small school, so there are only 17 of them), and for my daughter’s teachers. The class parties are tomorrow, and it’s a good time to hand everything out. I also ordered some Christmas cards, which will hopefully be done tomorrow so I can pick them up and give them out to my colleagues on the teaching staff. This was a last minute decision, which happens when you don’t obsessively plan. Sometimes it makes things a little busier, but I’ll take that trade-off, because obsessively planning just stresses me out. Things never work exactly according to my plan, and when they don’t, I stress. For me, it’s better to stay flexible and deal with the problems of being last minute.

I’m going to keep this post short, because I know you probably have a lot to do, as I do. Keep going, take as much time as you can to enjoy these days. and check back for a few more posts as the big day draws closer. Feel free to share your experiences of this last week before Christmas in the comments below.

What’s Behind the Stress?

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Photo credit: Flickr

On Mondays until Christmas, I’ve decided to write about the stress we can experience surrounding Christmas and what we can do about it. In this post, part one of the series, we will recognize what is behind the stress we are feeling.

There are 23 days until Christmas. Does that statement make your heart skip a beat or your stomach lurch? For years, my strongest feeling about Christmas was something like panic. Sure, I had some joyful moments, and I recognized the significance of the season, but the anxiety I felt overshadowed it all and crowded out far to much of my enjoyment.

Behind my near-panic were some fears I had to deal with in order to really enjoy Christmas again. Identifying these fears and changing the thoughts behind them is the key to defeating them. How many of these fears can you identify with?

1) The fear of not getting everything done. I used to think of Christmas as the mother of all deadlines, looming over my head. My huge to-do list had an end point, and it was December 25th. This led me to look at parties and Christmas-related events as obstacles to my to-do list, making them impossible to enjoy. Instead of looking toward Christmas with anticipation, I dreaded it.

What changed: A combination of prioritizing (read: shortening) my to-do list and realizing that my Christmas-loving husband was just waiting to help me get it all done led me to see that my fears were unfounded. Who in your life will help you with the necessary tasks?

2) The fear of forgetting something. Many nights in December, I would drift off to sleep only to wake up shortly after, heart racing. Something I needed to do or at least write down had stolen my rest yet again. No wonder I ended up sick or even further behind because I was too tired to keep up the pace that Christmas seemed to require.

What changed: Keeping a notepad (or in my case, my phone has a notes app) next to the bed helps immensely with remembering things, but I notice that I don’t even typically wake up needing to write things down anymore. I guess I just realized that I will remember the important things and the rest, I have just let go.

3) The fear of disappointing someone. This is a big one for a lot of people. By nature, we want to make other people happy, and the prospect of disappointing our loved ones by not doing everything we’ve done in the past or not making Christmas special enough is a scary one.

What changed: Realizing I couldn’t make people happy, they had to make themselves happy. Even if I did disappoint someone, they would most likely forgive me and love me anyway. And that I was probably disappointing people much more by being stressed and grumpy than by not getting every little thing on my list done.

Recognizing the fears that are causing us stress and anxiety at Christmas is the first step to overcoming them. What fears are causing you stress this Christmas? Post them in the comments below. Chances are, you aren’t alone. Now go enjoy Christmas!

Next post: Christmas Priorities