The Christmas season starts before the turkey and all the fixings are even put on the table and the true meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday becomes obscured as family gatherings are planned around when the Black Friday sales start. What pressure!
It is nearly impossible to escape getting caught up in all the holiday hype. Our usually skimpy newspapers are laden with sale flyers, mailboxes are stuffed with catalogs and stores take to the airwaves to get their products noticed.
Are you feeling holiday stress? Do you find it difficult to escape the commercialism? Or are you able to balance your family life even with all the holiday hoopla?
“I always think that the holidays end up being like the extreme of how we are throughout the year,” says Kerry Graham Shay, a licensed therapist based in Madison. “So anything that we are already struggling for balance in, at a time when there’s more pressure on it or we assume more pressure on it, then it only exacerbates the situation.”
Let’s face it; we all cope with a multitude of stresses on a daily basis. Some of these stresses are higher level than others, but they are present in our lives. In each family there are different, individual schedules to keep track of, work to do inside and outside the home, bills to pay and family harmony to consider. These responsibilities do not disappear because the holiday is upon us. The real challenge is to try to work the holiday into our daily lives without upsetting the balance too much.
“Decide what it is that you’re celebrating,” says Shay. “Really what are you doing it all for?”
No matter what holiday you are celebrating - Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanzaa - you need to really think about what the holiday means to you and your family.
“You have to really decide what your priorities are. You have to decide what it is that’s most important and what it is that you’re honoring,” says Shay.
Years ago I felt obligated to bake dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies. I would start right after Thanksgiving and bake right up until Christmas Eve. We even bought a stand-alone chest freezer to accommodate the thumbprint, crème de menthe, sugar, candy cane and lintzer torte cookies.
The baking was done in between sending out Christmas cards, decorating the house, buying and wrapping gifts AND spending quality time with the family. Over the years I realized I just could not do it all.
The result is that some traditions, like baking cookies, aren’t done every single year. Yet, surprise of all surprises, with or without tins full of cookies, Christmas still arrives and we all enjoy ourselves.
The girls are now old enough to really participate and enjoy the process of preparing for the holiday. The Advent calendars come down from the attic on December 1st, followed by the white window candles, the mantle decorations, the tree decorations and the Christmas books.
We all share the responsibility and in the process enjoy the time together planning for the big day!
What do you do as a family to prepare for the holiday? Do you find that preparing for the holiday is a family affair or does one person end up with the majority of the work?
If parents are stressing about the holiday – wondering how they are going to get everything done, how they are going to pay for everything and how they are going to fit in all the obligations – the children feel it and become stressed as well.
“I believe that when parents are stressed or not having time for themselves, much less their kids, that kids really notice that,” says Shay.
My family tries not to lose sight of what the true meaning of Christmas is, and while we are successful most of the time there are moments when our willpower is tested. Shay says this is not unusual.
“Absolutely what ends up getting out of people’s control is that when they just start getting bombarded - bombarded with not only things that you want to get done, but then all of a sudden somebody saying ‘There’s this party here! Did you remember the teacher gift?’” says Shay.
She suggests “setting reasonable expectations, setting some real priorities of what your most important things are to do and really having a foundation of what is your value of this time of year and how do you then actually live that.”
It is not always easy to stay the course and stick to your convictions with all the internal and external pressures upon us. “It’s something that you have to check in on every day and remind yourself,” Shay says. Checking in, says Shay, should not be reserved only for the holiday season. “I really think that we have to reflect every single day, throughout the year, on what it is that we are doing this all for.”
So, as we all immerse ourselves in this season of giving, let’s not forget what the true meaning of the holiday is all about.
“Giving doesn’t always mean making sure you’re getting each gift,” says Shay.
“Sometimes giving means spending time with somebody.”