One December evening I was watching my neighbors put up a dazzling display of lights on their home. Judging by the wattage being consumed, they had more Christmas spirit than anyone around. Suddenly I heard a barrage of angry shouts from the mother. The lights were malfunctioning and she was upset. I said to myself, "Something is definitely wrong with this picture." Although Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace, joy, and love, all too often we spend it angry, stressed, and blue. Why does this happen and how can we avoid it?
The primary reason for holiday stress is unrealistic expectations. From the time we are children, we start to build up expectations of what Christmas should be. In the media we see perfect images of family, friends, food, parties, and gifts. What we fail to see is that these are only staged scenes. We may all aspire to be Martha Stewart, but the reality will probably be closer to Erma Bombeck. What we have to realize is that there's nothing wrong with falling short of perfect.
Some tips to help you keep your expectations reasonable:
- Don't judge the value of a gift by its price tag. The best gifts come from the sincere desire to make a person happy. If you give from the heart, your gift will never be too small.
- You don't have to do everything that's asked of you. Learn to assert yourself and say no if you really don't have time to do something. Delegate responsibility to your children and spouse. Learn time management skills.
- Share with someone less fortunate, for example, by volunteering at a homeless shelter for a day. If you have kids, this is a great way to show them the true meaning of Christmas.
- Remember, your family is a real family, not a TV family. There will be arguments and rivalries among siblings. If Mom has always criticized you, she still will. These things don't have to ruin your holiday. You may not be in control of other people's actions, but you can certainly control your reaction to them. Take this year as an opportunity to learn forgiveness and acceptance. If all else fails, take a time out with a spouse or other sympathetic listener and vent your frustrations.
- Remember that things will occasionally go wrong. Your kids will get dirty and make noise. You will forget to buy batteries, thaw the turkey, or take the cookies out of the oven. Planes will be delayed, relatives will get tied up with other responsibilities, and dogs will jump on your favorite party dress with muddy paws. If you can learn to face these little setbacks with style and grace you'll find yourself having a better holiday than if everything had turned out perfect because now you're more relaxed.
- Can't be with someone you love because of a divorce, military commitments or finances? Find a creative way to make the holiday special. For example, send cookies, gifts, and a special videotaped greeting to a far away relative. Or arrange to spend another day together as "Christmas". Be creative. The feelings of sharing and caring that Christmas engenders can be had any day of the year. Don't limit yourself to what it says on a calendar. In fact, if you think about what's really important like love, sharing, and togetherness, you begin to realize December 25 is only one day out 365 that you have to spread peace and good will.