Wishing You A Peaceful Yuletide
I wanted to make sure to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas before it’s too late, and maybe I should really have written this before Black Friday, but, with all the stress of the holidays…
I am kidding. I do not let the holidays stress me out anymore, and I haven’t for years.
The shopping will get done. Some decorations will go up. I’ll see most of my family members sometime over the course of two weeks roughly centered around December 25. But I haven’t started Christmas shopping or decorating because I just don’t feel like it yet.
I’m not a humbug guy. I enjoy a lot of things about Christmas. But I came to the conclusion that holiday stress was kind of like a monster that went away as soon as I stopped believing in it. That little trick allowed me to slough off the guilt that I believe so many people saddle themselves with in December.
I think a lot of the guilt is borne in the moral struggle with a multifaceted Christmas—unequal parts sacred, secular, traditional, and commercial. Add to that the politically correct concept that every municipality should be giving equal time to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, regardless of the respective community’s actual ethnic and religious composition, and it’s no wonder people feel so much guilt at this time of the year.
None of this is my fault, nor is it yours. As children, we didn’t get to pick and choose what we eventually came to acknowledge and experience as Christmas. It was cast upon us by well-meaning adults and an overly zealous free market society. Making gingerbread houses, sending Christmas cards, throwing caroling parties, gift-giving, and revering the Biblical origins of Christmas is all well and good until you feel that you must do all of it and do it now, because the days up to Christmas are literally ticking away.
Try This. With a cup of tea or glass of wine in hand, steal away to a room in your home where there is as of yet no sign of Christmas and have a seat. Take a deep breath and close your eyes and search your memory for not just the happiest, but your most peaceful memories of Christmas. Maybe it was watching the snow fall while you hear the fire crackle in the wood stove. Maybe it was taking in the shimmer of the Christmas tree lights and the glow of the window candles after the kids (or your parents) had gone to bed. Maybe it was the satisfaction of hearing a child relate the story of Jesus’ birth aloud for the first time. Wouldn’t you like to experience a lot more of that kind of serenity this Christmas?
Next allow yourself to recall the joyous moments of Christmases past, such as singing carols with your friends, sledding with your siblings, the look on your best friend’s face when he or she opens the thoughtful gift you bought or made, or simply enjoying tasty food and beverages with the people you love most. Let’s put those things on your Christmas to-do list also.
The subject of presents is tough to approach because the exchange of gifts at Christmastime means different things to different people. About the same time that I decided that Christmas wasn’t my fault, I stopped paring gifts with holidays, including birthdays. I now purchase token Christmas gifts for my family, as I’d rather surprise each of them, including the children, with a thoughtful gift or gesture when they least expect it. I’m especially hard to buy for because I want for so little. I’m blessed to be able to afford most of what I truly need, so I honestly can’t tell you what I want. One year, I handed out of list of charities to which family members could make a contribution in my name. This may not work for you, but think about what you can do to simplify the gift exchanges and share your feelings with others.
While it seems that we’ve barely covered the basics of Christmas so far, that list is already getting crowded, which is my point. Ultimately, you are the one who decides to add on Black Friday Christmas shopping, order family-photo Christmas cards, participate in the office gift swap, and load the kids into the car on Christmas morning immediately after they’ve opened their gifts and drive them across the state for Grandma’s Christmas Day dinner and another gift exchange. Any one of these holiday traditions is OK in and of itself, but each one also has a stress factor attached to it, and that stress can build and spread to the rest of the family.
Last but not least, picture the kind of Christmas that you would wish for everyone else, especially the generations that will follow us. This year’s Black Friday left a bad taste in a lot of mouths, and it left me more certain than ever that Christmas will soon become a holiday of dread rather than a celebration of enlightenment if each of us doesn’t make the effort to rein it in and redesign it.
If your plans for this year are set in stone, and you don’t feel that there is time to reboot your Christmas, it’s not your fault and you have nothing to feel guilty about. But, as you march through your rigorous holiday schedule, strike those elements from next year’s list that make you feel uncomfortable, anxious, or inadequate. Cherish the truly personal moments and any quiet moments that fall into your lap and make it part of your New Year’s resolutions to give yourself a break next year. Embark on a new plan for a more simple Christmas where you might inadvertently find time to bake Christmas cookies, even though it wasn’t on the list of things that you feel you have to do. You might even realize at the last minute that you have a few hours to join the volunteers at your church or social service club to feed Christmas dinner to those less fortunate than yourself.
This is my wish for you. I hope that each of our readers finds an inner peace this Christmas that they can latch onto and share with others and help the rest of the nation bring this wonderful, miraculous holiday into check.