Dealing with holiday stress

Christmas has always been a special time. During my childhood there were special art projects to do at school, yummy cookies to help decorate and eat, music programs, special church services, presents, fun with my cousins, and, of course, vacation from school. That's always a plus.

As I grew older, I became increasingly aware of the drama that surrounded the Christmas season. I didn't notice it so much in college, but when I got married and moved away from home, I realized how hectic it could be, especially since we did not have money. Before that, I had never realized that Christmas could be such a pain between the ears.

It's a good thing that I did not realize the stress surrounding Christmas before adulthood. I credit my parents for that. It is because of this that I have sought an answer to bringing the fun and peace of the holidays back into my life.

This has not been easy at all. The stress of the holidays can make you crazy. For years, I have struggled under the belief that I had to do everything people wanted me to do, give gifts, baked goods and/or cards to relatives, friends and acquaintances; participate in every church activity and make my children happy to boot. It was a terrible burden - one that I did not really become aware of until a few years ago. I just thought that being dog tired and cranky was part of the holiday season for adults. Do you feel that way this time of year?

This year I've rebelled against all of that. I'm really tired of allowing the world's expectations of what makes a good holiday to hijack my celebration of Christ's birth. You'll recall that I wrote a post earlier this year about not shopping in stores on Black Friday. Later on this season, I realized that this decision was a culmination of many things that the Lord has taught me over the last few years in order to bring Christmas to my heart in a more refreshing way.

So far, it seems to be working. And, it's a shock.

So, what is the difference?

1. Our family bought an Advent wreath. This turned our focus upward. Every Sunday we've gathered around the candles and have prayed a prayer asking the Lord to come.

2. I'm praying the Advent liturgy of the church every day and night. This is not to say that I'm ultra pure because of this. I really need this to center my focus. This liturgy is found in the book of "Christian Prayer" on Amazon.

3. We did not shop in stores on Black Friday. What more terrible way to start off the Christmas season is there than fighting - sometimes quite literally - your fellow human beings at stores for senseless merchandise at ungodly hours of the day and night? Staying at home and making gifts and shopping online a little bit at normal hours made the start of the season much more relaxing.

4We have changed our idea of gifting. We are only buying gifts for people who are close to us. Everyone else gets a hearty Merry Christmas. We may send cards to far away friends and family who, again, are close, but for the others we can always greet them on Facebook.  One thing I need to do is spread out making homemade gifts throughout the year. I've got three crochet projects still in the yarn stage that I really want to get done by Christmas, but there's no pressure! That will have to change next season even though I am enjoying myself.

5. We are not participating in a lot of outside activities. In order for us to participate in an activity, such as a Christmas program, the activity has to involve our family members, preferably in home-centered activities. Many of our activities are in fact centered at home, and we are finding that this works out much better. We've had a tree decorating get together and we plan to decorate cookies as a family.

6. We are going to give cookies, or perhaps bread, to our neighbors. Although we live in a very small town, more of a village than a 'town,' we really don't know the people who live around us very well. Nonetheless, they are all good neighbors, and I want our family to do something nice for them to show that we appreciate this.

I hope my words have helped you today. Maybe you feel frazzled. Maybe you have some other suggestions that will help us this season. I'd love to hear what you have to say.