So how were your holidays? Were they enjoyable? Meaningful? Special? Or were they (as Peggy called hers in a comment on another post) a “tightly-choreographed death march”? Did you and your family end up stressed, sick or burned out? Were you so busy doing the things you felt obligated to do that you didn’t do the things that truly mean the most?
Holidays often take on a life of their own. If there is any time of year that ramps up the obligation train, it is Christmas. But it can also be true of other holidays:
- Children’s birthdays
- Valentine’s Day
For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on Christmas in this post since it tends to be the most challenging one. But much of what we discuss here will carry over to other holidays.
Holiday Expectations and Making Changes
The holidays can bring out all kinds of expectations amongst friends, relatives, school, church and other organizations. If you don’t have a firm grip on it, it can quickly spiral out of control.
The good news is it is definitely possible to make changes.
The bad news is your holidays will probably look a lot like your life the other eleven months of the year. If your life is too full and lacks margin, so will your holidays.
The good news is that you have ten months to start implementing changes.
The bad news is if you wait until Christmas approaches in October or November it will be too late. You’ll risk rebellion and meltdowns from people who don’t want to change.
So let’s consider how to go about changing your holidays starting today so you can say “no” to holiday pressures and “yes” to what would truly mean the most. I realize that some of this is going to sound radical, especially if you live the standard American no-margin life the rest of the year, but it really does take some significant choices to go against the strong tide.
Your First Obligation
Your first obligation is to your own family. It isn’t to your child’s school, the extended family you rarely see, or even your church. Your first obligation is to care for the members of your family.
I remember a co-worker telling me years ago that he and his wife decided that little boys needed to be in their own beds on Christmas Eve. That meant he and his wife were at home away from their own families for Christmas Eve and Christmas. They celebrated with the grandparents and others on different days. Might this be a difficult choice to make? Yes. But they did what they felt was best for their own family.
When making decisions about the holidays, think of what your children truly need. Do they need to attend seven Christmas parties in five days? How can you change things to make this a better situation for your entire family?
Stress and Sickness at Christmas
It is the rare family that avoids stress and its twin sister, sickness, during the holidays. But stress and sickness do not have to be a part of holidays.
There are three factors to consider here.
- One, how much sleep is your family getting?
- Two, how much sugar and garbage are they eating that is suppressing their immune system?
- Third, how much time are you spending around large groups of people where germs abound?
While no one can guarantee escaping all sickness during the holidays, you can greatly reduce the chance of it by making sure you are all getting enough sleep, eating as well as possible, and avoiding groups of people unless absolutely necessary.
Decide What Truly Matters
I wrote about 3 Ways to Keep Christ in Christmas (Without Driving Yourself Crazy) for Bright Ideas Press in which I described some of the ways we keep our Christmas simple and Christ-centered.
Our Christmas is really quiet and simple. It’s an outgrowth of the life we choose to live on a daily basis.
Do I sometimes wish we had more parties to go to, more family to celebrate with and so on? Yes, sometimes. But would I change it? No, I honestly wouldn’t. The things that bring us the most joy during Christmas are the simple, homey activities that cost very little but bring lots of delight. The same things that matter to us every day of the year are the same things that matter at Christmas. Because we’ve spent time making big changes to our lives over the past several years, it is much easier to celebrate a Christmas season that reflects the same values.
Holiday Pressures and Regular Life Pressures
When it comes down to it, holiday pressures are basically regular life pressures dressed up in paper and ribbons.
By that I mean that your holidays will reflect the life you choose to live the rest of the year. If you find yourself increasingly unhappy with the holiday pressures you are succumbing to each year, it will probably be helpful to look at your everyday life first. If you can get a handle on the pressures of regular life, handling holiday pressures will be that much easier.
Starting the Conversation
Now is a great time to start the conversation. Ask your family what they liked about this past Christmas. Ask them what they didn’t enjoy. Ask them what they would change or what they wish would happen. Ask them what they would think if your family decided to (insert some significant change here). You might be surprised by the answers you get.
By starting the conversation now you can draw on the recent events while they are still fairly fresh in everyone’s mind. At the same time, the holidays are just far enough past that the emotional attachment to them isn’t as strong at the moment. Tell your family why you want to talk about these things and what your goals are in making the changes. By starting now, you can bring up the subject every few months and by the summer you can decide as a family what changes you will make. Then you have a few months for everyone to adapt to the idea before the actual holidays arrive.
That also gives you time to break the news to anyone outside your immediate family who is impacted by your decision. This is courteous in that it allows them time to adjust their own expectations and plans for the next holiday season.
The important thing is to start today.
This post is part of my 5 Days of Saying “No” series.