Choose Less Stress (and More Joy!) this Christmas

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

“Christmas is coming . . . and I can’t get out of its way!”

The words of the comic strip made me groan and smile at the same time, because that’s exactly how I felt.

I had so much to do: so much to buy, so much to make, so much to wrap, so much to bake, so much to decorate, so many cards to write . . .

There were so many expectations.

And there was so much fear that if I didn’t do all of it, and do it well, people would think less of me. 

If I had asked Jesus what he thought about all I had to do (you know—to get ready to celebrate his birthday), he might have reminded me of this verse:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

But I didn’t ask him (though I did repeatedly, and desperately, ask him to help me get everything done!) and so I struggled for years with Christmas anxiety—each year enjoying the holiday a bit less.

The year I realized the sound of Christmas carols was making me feel emotionally upset and physically ill, I knew something had to change. 

I finally asked God to show me how to make Christmas better: to honor him, to provide a beautiful celebration for my family and myself, and to do it peacefully. 

Why hadn’t I thought to do this sooner?

All those years I’d been planning a birthday party, but never thinking to ask the guest of honor what kind of celebration he wanted. (As it turns out, Jesus’s tastes are pretty simple, and he doesn’t even mind that the other guests are the ones who get the gifts!)

He helped me realize that all those items on my holiday to-do list were OPTIONAL, and he gently showed me that by choosing to do them, I was not only stretching myself and my budget way too thin, I was setting my children up to do the same when they became adults. (Ouch!)

It became clear that I needed to refocus . . . to remember what I was meant to be celebrating . . . to remember WHO I was meant to be honoring . . . and to remember that stress and debt and frayed nerves are never his plan for me.     

And so I began the process of simplifying Christmas. It didn’t happen all at once. Learning to say “no” to things I’d always said “yes” to was not easy. I’m actually still working on it—making a bit more progress every year.

These are some things I’ve learned: advice I wish someone had given me way back when . . .

  • Make peace, joy and the creation of meaningful memories the goals for the season. Weigh every decision (about what to do or buy) against these. If something doesn’t add to the peace and joy of the season, and doesn’t help create meaningful memories, then skip it.
  • Be in the moment—be fully present. Limit the number of holiday photos you post on social media. If you’re trying to keep everything and everyone looking photo-ready, and trying to stage perfect shots, you’re adding stress and missing out on making memories.
  • Reevaluate traditions. If you’re keeping traditions out of a sense of obligation or loyalty to the past, let them go. And don’t feel guilty if you don’t keep every tradition every year—are there 8 events you like to experience at Christmastime? Pick 4 and save the rest for next year. Rotating outings, events and even the varieties of cookies you bake can make the holiday feel fresh and less overwhelming.
  • Be intentional about the example you set for your children. If your kids are small, they will only know Christmas as you present it to them. If they already have memories of Christmas, be honest with them about the need to simplify; ask them what the most important aspects of Christmas are for them (their answers may surprise you!); keep those and drop less meaningful ones.
  • Do unto others: by embracing a simpler Christmas you’ll help the people you love to do the same. Friends and family will likely be relieved when you suggest reducing or cutting out gift-giving. By choosing not to compete for the biggest, flashiest, most Facebook-worthy Christmas, you’ll indirectly reduce other people’s holiday pressure.

And the flip side of that . . .

  • Don’t worry about how anyone else is celebrating. Decide now that the traditions you keep will be traditions of joy, not traditions based on what anyone else does, or buys, or bakes, or puts under the tree.

And finally, if the idea of giving less and doing less this Christmas makes you worry that you’ll seem like a grinch, take a few minutes to Google the words SIMPLIFY CHRISTMAS. You’ll see that this is a movement that is gaining popularity because it actually enhances the holiday and makes people happier. You’ll find so many great ideas—especially about scaling back gift-giving and teaching children the importance of balance and gratitude.

Christmas is coming . . . May you enjoy every minute of it!

Photo by via Unsplash

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