In years gone by you would have found me madly rushing around buying presents, baking gingerbread, mulling wine, decking the halls, recreating endless stuff I’d found on Pinterest in an attempt to make Christmas magical for my kids. I would have been advent calendar-ing and Elf-on-the-Shelfing with the best of them. And my teeth would be nearly ground to nubs from the sheer effort of trying to drag my family kicking and screaming into ‘the Christmas spirit’ whether they liked it or not. Whether they complained or not. Whether it killed me or not.
But these days I take a different (less-is-more) approach. It’s the only way to keep my sanity and have any chance of enjoying this special season. We take each day as it comes, make few plans, watch loads of Christmas movies and try to just be in the moment.
As I occasionally browse through Pinterest aimlessly pinning things I know I’ll never create, I wonder, “How’s everyone else doing out there?” Are you surviving the rush or wishing it was over already? Drowning in things to do or actually enjoying the season? Here’s how I’ve learned to survive (and even enjoy) Christmas, without too much stress.
1. Figure out what’s most important to you about Christmas (and then use that to reprioritise everything)
It sounds obvious, but sometimes we can get so caught up in the activity of the season that we forget to stop and think – what is this really all for?
- Who are the people we most want to spend time with this season? (Make time for them)
- What are the things we most enjoy doing as a family at this time of the year? (Make time for those)
- Take stock, take a breath and ditch everything that doesn’t add to the enjoyment (i.e. the peace and joy) of Christmas.
A little word about obligations
Sometimes the biggest stress comes from being pulled in too many directions by various obligations. Some of these we can’t avoid, but others we can free ourselves from, like Christmas cards. Personally I don’t write them. I used to, but then decided I didn’t need the stress and freed myself from that one.
Another thing I do to free myself from stress is limiting the number of people I buy gifts for to immediate family only, and thank you gifts for teachers. (The financial stress is big enough at Christmas without adding to it by trying to get a gift for every member of your son’s football team and all your great aunts).
Free yourself from obligations with a little word in the right ear, “The budget isn’t stretching to that this year, I’m sorry.” People understand. I refuse to stress myself out by loading myself down with obligations – I just do what I can and let the rest go.
2. Find a way to connect with the reason for the season
One of the biggest ways I stopped stressing and began actually enjoying the season was when I found a way to reconnect with the meaning of Christmas for me, i.e. the Christmas story. I keep that Christmas meaning alive and fresh in a number of other ways –
I download new Christmas songs each year from iTunes to help keep my Christmas music collection fresh. I have different playlists on iTunes and Spotify for each mood – moody Christmas carols for when I feel spiritual/sentimental, fun Christmas jingles for when it’s time to be merry.
We look forward to our church Nativity play each year, and try to get along to a few other local events where we can meet friends, relax and hang out. We purposely avoid the crush and the rush at the major city wide events and stay local.
Reading favourite Christmas stories is a great way to connect with the season. We have a collection of Christmas books that we add to each year.
We spend hours watching old favourites and discovering new ones. This time of year there are often Christmas films on TV and Netflix. There’s nothing better than snuggling up and watching a movie together, while munching on some Christmas treats.
We always try to find a way to bless others at Christmas, whether it’s wrapping up a gift for needy families to put under a Wishing Tree, or getting the kids involved in Christmas kindness. Blessing others at this time of the year helps offset greed and commercialism and always leads to great warm fuzzies (giving is the real magic of Christmas).
3. Put a lid on greed
One of the most disheartening things about this season is the way it can turn our kids into greedy spoilt brats if we’re not careful. Focusing on giving to others as a family is one of the best ways to offset this.
Another way is to put limits on the Christmas spending spree by setting expectations early. Most years we follow this rule for Christmas gifts, “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” The kids end up saying, “Mum, for my something to read I’d really love the latest Wimpy Kid book,” or, “Mum for my ‘something I need’, I really need a lunchbox, and socks – ’cause my brothers keep stealing mine!” This not only helps me focus on what to buy but lets the kids know not to expect a massive pile of loot under the tree. It also helps reduce financial pressure.
4. Don’t reinvent the wheel – take shortcuts
It is possible to have Christmas fun without all the stress. If you aren’t the type who enjoys baking, why tear your hair out over a made-from-scratch gingerbread house that won’t stick together? Get a cheap ready-made kit from Kmart instead and let the kids have fun lathering it in lollies. Use store-bought custard and sponge cake for the Christmas trifle, put cream on a Cowells pavlova, heat up an Aunt Betty’s Christmas pudding in the microwave. Don’t feel like you have to make/bake everything from scratch – give yourself a break and find a shortcut.
Here’s a tip that will save your Christmas Eve – wrap the presents as you buy them. Don’t wait until Christmas Eve to wrap them all at in one hit. This is a thankless back-breaking exercise which is sure to keep you up late wondering why you bought so much stuff. Wrap-as-you-go lets you just chill and enjoy Christmas Eve, when not a creature is stirring, just you with a glass of wine, (store-bought) Christmas mince tarts and candlelight.
5. Don’t compare
Whatever you do, don’t compare your Christmas efforts to others’. Fill your house with Christmas in your own way. The danger of social media is that we can start to compare our efforts to the picture-perfect awesomeness we see in our newsfeeds. Down this road of comparison lies discontent and dissatisfaction. Don’t go there.
Look for inspiration on the net, by all means, but don’t let it make you feel like your Christmas efforts are not ‘enough’. Instead fill your house with your own sense of the season: your special memories and things that mean Christmas to you. For us it’s decorating a real pine tree (for that instant Christmassy smell) with the decorations we’ve collected through the years and lighting candles and twinkle lights at night. On Christmas Eve we hang stockings, watch a Christmas movie and eat our store-bought, lolly-lathered gingerbread house.You do you.
If your Christmas to-do list is too long and you’re lying awake at night wondering how you’re going to do it all, it may be time to edit that list. So what if we’ve ticked off doing all the Christmas activities and traditions from our list but we’ve exhausted ourselves in the process and can’t wait until the whole jolly rigmarole is over? Sometimes less is more.
Simone Graham is mum to three Christmas-loving kids aged 15, 13 and 9, and a rescue dog named Santa-Clyde. She is yet to buy a single gift or put up her Tree. But is she stressed? No. Simone blogs at greatfun4kidsblog.com and has a whole section filled with easy DIY Christmas ideas, how-to’s and reflections.
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