I love the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of my favorites. For many people the holidays are a joyous time to be around family and friends, however, for some individuals it is a time of stress and turmoil. For the perfectionist, unrealistic expectations of the perfect house, perfect gifts, and perfect entertainments can take a toll. For the lonely and those who have recently lost loved ones, the holidays can accentuate their very aloneness. For others, the thought of being with certain family members makes them cringe. The reasons for holiday stress are many and varied, but most of us experience it to some degree.
One of the hardest things I have learned is to Let Go of Unreasonable Expectations. Here are some expectations that contribute to stress during the holidays.
Expectation #1—The house must look perfect
If you are hosting a holiday get together, let go of the expectation that it must be perfect. As a perfectionist (a trait I learned from my dear mother), I have had to learn that no one else cares if there is dust on my ceiling fan, my baseboards have not been cleaned in two months (or two years as may be the case), and the oven has overflown pie filling in the bottom of it. If you have the means to do so, hire someone to come and clean your house the week before the holiday you are hosting. And if you don’t have the means, just do a surface clean in the areas where people gather. What most people remember about a holiday is the fun they had (or not) and the time spent together—not how clean your house is.
Expectation #2–The need to attend every event
Your boss is having a Christmas party, your children have school plays, the church has a Christmas concert, the neighbors are having an open house . . . and the list goes on. Determine which events are REALLY important in the scheme of things. It is okay to kindly, and firmly, say no to the ones you cannot attend. This is especially important if you are going to be stressed out trying to make everyone happy by attending their events. Five years from now when you look back at your holidays if all you can remember is being stressed, then you are taking on too many things. Learn how to find a balance in what you choose to participate in during the holidays. And yes, someone may be offended because you did not choose to attend their event. But remember, that is their issue and not yours. (I know—easier said than done.)
Expectation #3–The perfect (and expensive) presents for everyone
I have to be honest. I frequently go overboard on Christmas gifts simply because my love language enjoys giving and getting gifts. But they do not have to break the bank. Be realistic in what you can afford to spend. Set a budget and stick to it and do not go into debt buying gifts. If Junior is unhappy with the fact that he did not get the latest and most expensive video system–well, most likely he will be on to the next new thing within weeks. Try making presents. The things I loved the most were ones that someone put time and effort into making just for me. Sometimes the gift of your time with a loved one is the best. I received a coupon book from one of my children once that had special things for us to do together in the future. I LOVED it and used my coupons within the first couple of months.
Expectation #4–All the traditions need to remain the same
For years at Christmas time I fixed a full meal with all the trimmings. Then one Christmas I decided I was going to simplify and just serve homemade soup and dessert. Wow! What a difference it made. Not one of my children complained because we didn’t have a full meal. It left more time for me to enjoy the day and a lot less clean-up was involved! When I was growing up each year we received a Lifesaver Christmas book, a tradition that I continued with my children. In all honesty, once they were grown they would forget to take theirs home and so I decided to quit doing it. The next year there were no Lifesaver books. Oh, man! That will never happen again. All of them commented on the lack of Lifesavers. Traditions are important and give a sense of continuity, but decide which ones can stay and which ones can go. Do not be afraid to start new traditions.
Put It in Perspective
Put your holidays in perspective trying to remember why they are holidays in the first place. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas all have historical roots. For Christians, living with a sense of thankfulness throughout the year should be important. Take time to remember why and what we celebrate and learn to leave some of the unrealistic expectations behind.
Colossians 3:17 New American Standard Bible (NASB) “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord and Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”