I know it is Christmastime and I should be spreading Christmas cheer (loudly for all to hear), but I have a confession to make: I seem to have a deplorable lack of holiday spirit this year.
It’s December 8 and yet I haven’t unearthed the Christmas tree or decorations yet from their home for 11+ months/year in the crawl space under the house; I haven’t thought about sending any kind of Christmas cards or letters; I haven’t purchased a single gift, or roll of gift wrap, or festive bows/tags; Baking Christmas goodies, something I’ve done every year for more than 15 years, isn’t even on my radar screen.
Until about 5 years ago, I really didn’t “get” people who didn’t get into the whole holiday frame of mind. With a nod to Dickens, I quickly judged and labeled them “Scrooges” as I smugly went about my work of decorating the tree and house, addressing gift cards, baking dozens and dozens of cookies, and gleefully checking off names on my gift list as I added more festively colored packages under the tree, each with its own color-coordinated bow, naturally.
Over the past 5 years, holiday stress in my life has been as constant as the holidays themselves, seeming to grow stronger each year. It was a minor inconvenience at first; I just got too busy to deal with greeting cards, so that ritual was removed from the to-do list and hasn’t been resurrected.
The Christmas music that was once a constant in my home and car in the month leading up to Christmas was somehow forgotten. Looking at my iTunes playlist, it’s been years since I played any of my Christmas music. I don’t know why; I just haven’t.
Buying and wrapping gifts, something that once brought me joy as I sought the perfect gift for each person on my list all the while picturing their happiness when opening said perfect gift, began to seem like a mad race against the clock a few years ago. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I just felt drained rather than fulfilled by the act of giving. No longer feeling like I had the time or energy required to find the one, unique gift each recipient would cherish forever, I settled for whatever was on sale, or displayed prominently, or, if none of those seemed appropriate, that grand impersonal gift, the gift card.
Last year, the baking almost didn’t happen amidst the hustle and bustle of December’s craziness, but I managed to pull a really late night making the “Christmas Crack” cookies I’ve made for 15+ years now, to satisfy family who I’ve trained over the years to expect their soothing, sugary fix (and, let’s face it; I wanted my Christmas Crack Cookies fix too.)
Fast forward to today, when part of me wants to succumb to what feels inevitable this year, signing my name as “Ebenezer Scrooge” and practicing my “Bah Humbugs” to make sure they are delivered with the perfect inflection.
I long for the carefree days of being a child at Christmastime, and the wonder and joy that the holiday season brought each year. Instead of wonder and joy, I’m overwhelmed by stress.
Realizing this, I spent a few minutes today brainstorming ideas to try over the next couple of weeks, with the hope of regaining some of the holiday peace and enjoyment. Here’s what I came up with:
- Being thankful. This one is going to require a shift in my thinking. I used to consider myself an optimist, but more and more lately, I find myself dwelling on negatives. It’s so easy for me to come up with a list of all of the things my family and I “need”, and to tally up what I’ve labeled as bad luck over the past few months. But, perspective is so important; there are so many people living in poverty and without homes; others are living in war-torn regions and are dealing with tragedy and grief I cannot begin to imagine.
So, I started making a mental list today of the “haves” in my life, starting with the most basic:
- My family and I have a roof over our heads;
- We have faucets that dispense cold AND hot water, on demand, in 3 rooms of our house!
- We have clothing;
- We have food;
- Most importantly, we have extended family and friends.
You know what? That’s a pretty powerful list of things to be grateful for, in my book.
- Living more “In the moment.” This one is hard for me. I am a planner; I like to plan ahead and be prepared for things. I will also admit to spending way too much frittering away time on social media sites. For the next few weeks, I am going to be conscious about trying to be more present in my life.
- Spreading cheer to others. This one will admittedly be a challenge when I’m having trouble finding enough cheer for myself, but it’s my hope that brightening someone else’s day will also result in my outlook improving. I almost didn’t write this one down, my inner critic berating me with thoughts like “You don’t have TIME to volunteer!” and “You don’t have extra money to give away this month.” Be that as it may, there’s always time for a smile, or for sharing a compliment or even just a few kind words.
Will any of these strategies work for me, to successfully restore my holiday good cheer and remove the “Scrooge” label others have probably already unconsciously bestowed upon me? No idea. But, I’m going to try anyway. What strategies do you use to help rein in holiday stress? I invite you to share your ideas in the comments.