By Dana Hall McCain
Around December 15th of last year, a mom at my kids’ school looked at me, with hollow eyes, and said, “It’s official: December is worse than May.” The jam-packed schedule of holiday school festivities, church events, neighborhood gatherings, and the ever-growing list of what it takes to make Christmas “special” for your family had sapped her of all its intended joy. For many families, December has turned into an endurance test, rather than a season of rest, reflection, and celebration.
Here’s the deal: You’re in charge of you. Period. Most of the crushing busyness of Christmas is made up of things we can simply say “no” to. How do I know? I’ve been doing it for a couple of years, and my family’s life is better for it.
Will someone occasionally do a double take when you’re bold enough to say, “Thank you, but we won’t be able to make it this year.” or “My child won’t be participating in the children’s choir holiday extravaganza.” (with its 15 rehearsals)? Maybe. Does it matter? Only if you value appearing to enjoy the celebration of the birth of Christ over actually enjoying the celebration of the birth of Christ. If they think you’re nuts, you’re probably doing something right.
Bottom line: We’ve all participated in the creation of this negative cultural phenomenon, and we’re the only ones who can turn it around.
1. Scale back the gift-giving this year.
Are you, like me, guilty of turning the practice of giving a token of Christmas generosity to loved ones into a time-consuming and expensive train wreck? Every extra gift on that list is one more thing to pay for, one more thing to drive to the store to pickup, and one more thing to wrap. Here are some ways you might scale back:
• A few years ago, I talked with my brothers and sisters-in-law about the challenge. I suggested that we let our children participate in a gift exchange by drawing a name out of a hat and buying one gift for that person, rather than each family buying something for every niece and nephew. The kids love it.
It also created a new Thanksgiving tradition — as that’s when they have the big drawing to see who will buy for whom! Gifts marked off my list: Four.
• Rather than receiving a litany of small and large gifts from “Santa,” our children receive three each year — no more, no less. When they were children, we explained that Santa brings three gifts to children to remind them of the wise men who brought gifts to Baby Jesus. Gifts marked off my list: An infinite number that mathematicians speak of with reverence.
• No matter how short or long your list, keep your gift budget in check. To download our Money-Saving Christmas Gift Planner, go to imom.com.
2. Scale back the decorating.
Confession: I’m a Christmas decor snob. I don’t like artificial greenery and much prefer to have wreaths and garland made from fresh material. The problem? Buying fresh greenery is expensive, unless you do lots of prep work yourself. I used to do this year-after-year and, all the while, my heart was shrinking to Grinch-like proportions under the weight of the task. One day, while sitting on my back porch surrounded with piles of evergreen branches and floral wire, whispering bad words under my breath, I had a moment of clarity: I don’t have to do this! Even if the garland is fake or doesn’t exist at all, Christmas will still come! I made a nice bonfire out of the remaining branches and watched my evergreen anxiety drift away like the sparks in the crisp December air.
3. Scale back the need to accept invitations.
Let’s revisit what an invitation is, shall we? It’s just a little piece of paper letting you know that if you’d like to attend an event, your company would be welcomed. You’re not obligated or required by law to go to any social gathering. Afraid of offending your host? Don’t be. Just practice the art of the very gracious decline. It sounds something like this: “Thank you so much for inviting us for dinner. It sounds like so much fun! Unfortunately, we have a conflict that evening and won’t be able to make it. I do hope we can do it another time. Thanks again for including us!” (If this seems like overkill, you should know that I’m Southern. Our communication and our tea are insanely sweet.) Besides, scheduled time on the sofa with your husband and kids is a legitimate conflict. Perhaps the most legitimate one you’ll ever have.
4. Don’t let the Church Ladies intimidate you.
I remember the first year I decided the “Children’s All-Star Christmas Extravaganza/Play/Concert With Live Goats in the Manger” at my church was more than we could really handle. When I emailed the children’s choir director to let her know (weeks in advance) that my grammar school daughter wouldn’t be able to participate, she was shocked. Disappointed. Saddened by our abject lack of love for Baby Jesus. For a time, I tried to explain that we really do love Baby Jesus, and that He was the reason we were trying to make our holiday more contemplative and less action-packed. But she didn’t want to hear it. In her mind, we didn’t care much for the Baby Jesus and held a chilling disregard for small farm animals. I knew in my heart that I do love Jesus and goats, and if she didn’t understand, it was fine. With the 15 extravaganza rehearsals off the books, we had time for some family Christmas devotions and more. It was…perfect.
5. Don’t pretend to be Martha if you’re not.
For some people, all things baking and crafty come very naturally. They love to scour Pinterest for neat ways to package Christmas treats for neighbors and happily hum eighteen verses of “Angels We Have Heard on High” while putting it all together. It’s their native language. But for those of us who speak other languages, let’s drop the need to pretend. Rather than stressing yourself out giving the kinds of gifts to friends and neighbors you think they expect, figure out what comes naturally to you. For instance, my neighbor, Rhoda, gives a small gift to the local food bank in our honor each year, and they provide her with a card to give us, making us aware of the contribution. We love it. I have another friend who writes a personal note to nearby families and includes a unique scripture chosen just for us in each one. Christmas cheer can look like many different ways, so don’t be afraid to get outside the box!
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