Most people I knew are somewhat busy. If you’re not retired, you’re working. If you’re retired, you’re working even more. Children and pets and homes and yards and bills that have to be paid and laundry that has to get done… well, you get the picture.
Then along comes the Christmas season, and on top of all of the everyday things you have to add shopping, cooking and baking, sending cards, decorating, parties, special events… well, you get the picture.
It’s no wonder that many people find themselves greeting Christmas morning with illness. There’s a lot of stress mixed in with those holiday greetings.
Here’s a few tips for dealing with the stress of too much to do and not enough time for doing.
1. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. You really cannot make a quilt in three days. You cannot make personalized ornaments for each child in both of your children’s classes at the same time that you have a major project due at work. You cannot perfectly replicate Martha Stewart’s Christmas decorations and menu. I know you like to think you’re the exception, but you’re not. Just let it go.
2. Do triage. If you’ve ever been to the Emergency Room, you’ve been seen by a triage nurse. Triage nurses decide who is most critical and must be seen first.
Do triage for your holiday commitments. For example, I love receiving and sending Christmas cards. What I really love is connecting and catching up with old friends. One year sending out cards didn’t make it to the top of the list, so I sent out a New Year’s letter instead. Have you always done something because you’ve loved it or because you’ve always done it?
I know a pastor who told his congregation that if he and his wife attended every Sunday School class Christmas party they would have no evenings at home with their own family. So they started a rotation system. Maybe you need one as well. One year you’ll go see “The Nutcracker” and the next year you’ll see “A Christmas Carol.”
3. Have a plan. Do you need to ship presents to out-of-town family members? Put the needed shipping date on your calendar. Then a week or two before that date add a note about buying the presents. Sit down and look at your calendar and figure out when you can decorate or cook ahead. Fill in the special events you want to attend. Look at the month as a whole.
4. Abandon your plan. Stuff happens. Roll with it. One of the greatest stresses people create for themselves is when they insist that things have to go a certain way and that everything is ruined if that doesn’t happen.
So you forgot to put the sweet potatoes out. You can have them later. So the cat knocked over the Christmas tree. You can put it back up. One year my brother and his wife were unable to make it for Christmas because of a snowstorm that grounded flights. We had a wonderful visit a week later when they were able to get to our house. Stuff happens, and most of the time it’s really not a tragedy.
5. Decide what’s important to you and honor that. It’s kind of a triage on a deeper level. If you do indeed believe that the real meaning of Christmas is to celebrate God’s gift to us, then make room for honoring that. Make room for your spirit. Many years I make it a ritual to find time each week to listen to Christmas music while sitting by my tree or by the fire. This year I’m going to the Candle Tea in Old Salem. In addition to coffee and sugercake (which is not small things in itself!), I know I’ll be able to sing Christmas carols by the old organ. And it will be a good thing for my spirit.
Next time: Day Three: Present-Day decisions