It is finally here. The Christmas tree is up, the presents are wrapped (yes, still in plastic, on the shelf, at WalMart because I haven’t bought them yet but don’t judge me), and Jingle Bells is on the radio.
It is so easy to get caught up in the all the things surrounding Christmas that we get completely stressed out. Why do we do this? We spend all year looking forward to this month, enjoy the first week, and spend the next two weeks overworked, overtired, and overstressed.
I think part of the problem lies in the messages we receive and dwell upon. Consider all the commercials during this time of year. We are told we need to have a 12-foot radius around the perfectly decorated Christmas tree filled with gifts stacked three boxes high. We are told we need to host at least one Christmas party complete with a juicy, golden-brown turkey.
But that does not include all the Christmas festivities you must attend, especially if you are a couple with young children. Everyone on both sides wants to see the grandkids, cousins, and you (if you can make it; but just send the kids if not).
And, for Christians, there are things you attempt to do to keep your family’s heart focusing on Christ such as a Jesse Tree or Advent. If I’m honest, I love this season, but it is one of the hardest times of the year.
So what do we do? How can we cope with all the demands, whether perceived from external sources or desires that come from within?
Pick one thing and do it well
When I was in college I was too poor to afford a cable bill. To pass the time, and just to have some background noise, I saved up and bought the entire series of M.A.S.H. on DVD. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched all 11 seasons.
But in one particular episode, Major Charles Emerson Winchester III is introduced. He is a new surgeon to the outfit and is moving too slow during surgery. In his defense he made a statement that has stuck with me.
“I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, then I move on.”
He learned that does not work very well in what the show called “meatball surgery,” but it is applicable to life, especially during this season.
The reason we get so stressed is because we try to fit everything into three or four weeks. We get behind on one thing, like hanging Christmas lights outside, devote extra time to that later which gets us behind on wrapping gifts, we devote extra time to that which gets us behind on two other things. It is a death spiral.
Instead of trying to do everything, choose one thing, do it well, do it slow, and enjoy doing it.
Know why you are doing it
So many things in our lives are done because it is what people have done before us or because we know it is expected of us. Throw both of those out and decide for yourself what you want to do.
This season is filled to overflowing with tradition. Some are great and bring family members together. Some are terrible and always cause a fight. Ask the question no one else wants to ask: “Why are we doing this?”
If a tradition stresses you out, it probably stresses everyone else out too. Ask them why they think it is important. Chances are, there is another tradition that can be started that will be just as memorable, but for the joy, rather than conflict, it brings.
Decide what is important
Not every Christmas event, tradition, or gift is equally important. You have to decide for your family what is most important and refuse to budge. Do you want your children to decorate a Jesse Tree? Focus on that instead of hanging Christmas lights. Can you do both? If you have time and energy, go for it. But if one thing has to suffer, decide beforehand which one it will be.
When the voices of dissent from neighbors, friends, family, or even your own mind begin speaking, consider again why you decided to make this the most important thing. That is the only defense you need. You have chosen to do one thing, to do it very well, and then move on.
If you are taking the time to enjoy this season, trust me, you kids will enjoy it all the more. Removing things from the Christmas season is not going to remove any of the Christmas magic from the eyes of your children, it will actually add to it. Don’t listen to all the messages sent to you from every commercial, billboard, and window display.
Christmas is supposed to be the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus. Choose the things that help focus the mind and heart of your family on that. If things need to go to the wayside to help gain focus, do it.
That is the best Christmas gift you can give.
(This post originally appeared on EngageMagazine.net)