The Stress of Christmas

It is that magical time of year again, when we put up the tree and bake cookies, we go caroling, write cards filled with thoughtful wishes to those dear to us, ponder on thoughtful gifts for our loved ones. It’s a time for family and traditions.
Doesn’t that sound all beautiful and dreamy? Until we wake up to reality, and we realize that we have run out of space on our to do lists, the calendar is about to fall off the wall, from the weight of all the events on it, our bank accounts are running dry, and everyone is so stressed out, that you could cut the tension with a knife.
I adore everything about Christmas. I love the carols, the trimming of the tree, the baking, the family time, the gifts, the mulled wine. I can get lost staring at Christmas cards with winter scenes, or burning fireplaces, imagining myself there, in the perfectly peaceful world. The reality, however, is that it is becoming harder and harder to find that peace. Everyone feels the need to squeeze some kind of event into these 23 days leading up to Christmas. Schools have to have a winter concert, although, out of fear of offending anyone, the kids end up singing songs about the rain. (Could they not just schedule it for January instead?) Workplaces have Christmas parties and food bank volunteering; yet they spend the next eleven months of the year without any celebrations, other than work and deadlines. Dance studios have performances, soccer and hockey clubs have tournaments, and the list just goes on. Why does all this have to happen now? How about January and February, when everything is so quiet around, that you would think entire humanity has perished from the surface of the earth?
Besides all this, we have our own expectations too. We have to have the tree and house decorated to look like a picture from Martha Stewart magazine. We have to have the perfect photo Christmas cards to send to people we don’t even talk to the rest of the year, nor do we care too much about. We have to have our traditional five course Christmas dinners, home baked desserts, which of course will result in hours of work, at midnight, after the school Christmas concert. Oh, and did I mention all the Christmas obligations? Christmas Eve at mom’s place, Christmas day brunch at Aunt Zelda’s, followed by dinner at the in-laws. And then early rising on the 26th, to do some obligatory shopping on Boxing Day. The end result of all this? Exhaustion, grumpiness (to say the least), an overall apathy for the Holidays.
What is the average answer you get when you ask people about their holidays? “Busy”. Isn’t that sad? Shouldn’t’ the answer be “lovely”, or “restful” or “beautiful”?
Glynis, from “The Joy of Cooking (for Little Assholes)” inspired me to write all this, when she posted about why she will not do Elf on the Shelf.(see her post here ).To sum up her view on it, another beautiful dream, that quickly turns into a chore. All the events happening at this time of year started as beautiful dreams, and with time, they became duties that overshadowed the joy of Christmas.
I spent last December being resentful about all the traditions we didn’t have time for, all the dreamy holiday activities we didn’t get to do. This year I can see myself going down that slippery slope again, and I have decided to make a change. I can’t change much about the schedule, so far at least, but I can change my attitude towards it. I will get whatever I get, and I will enjoy it. We couldn’t go to the Santa Parade, that’s ok. Maybe we will go for a walk in our neighbourhood and admire the pretty lights instead. We didn’t get together with our friends to do our Christmassy craft. That’s fine. We will get together after the Holidays, and we’ll find another activity to add to our memory books. And since we will be spending an entire weekend backstage at the theatre, during our daughter’s shows, we will just have to make that special in any way we can. Grab some dinner in between, or just be and enjoy the entire stage production experience.
The point to all this ranting is, that we have to be flexible, enjoy the little things we are able to fit into our pre-Christmas busy schedules, and give up on the illusion of perfect Christmas. Maybe we will still have a smile on our faces come Christmas morning. We also have to learn to say no to some invitations, or to have that difficult conversation with our family, where we come to a compromise of maybe taking turns hosting Christmas dinner each year, which would leave some time to spend cuddling up on the couch with our kids, reading stories, playing board games, or just watching the sparkle of the Christmas tree.

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