28 November 2022 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
Why is Christmas never as relaxed and enjoyable as it is portrayed in the movies and sung about in popular songs?
I was introduced to family Christmas when dating my now-husband.
I quickly learned that the preparations are stressful, and the tension rises. The family dinner seems to be about everyone stuffing themselves with favorite foods, not necessarily sharing with those in need. Gift giving is awkward—you’re not sure if you have given the right thing. (Really, I have everything I need and, I believe, so do the others.)
How can I look forward to a joyous Christmas with all these expectations on me?
Signed, Tired Just Thinking About It
Aunt Sevvy remembers when she transitioned from the magical joy of a childhood Christmas to the stress of an adult Christmas.
Part of the problem is that we hold such unrealistically high expectations for the holidays—partially because of those movies and songs. Most of us are already extremely busy in our daily lives, but we want to make the holiday perfect, so we buy and wrap gifts even for those who are not easy to select gifts for. We clean the whole house, and invite family, friends, neighbors, and sometimes those in need over. We cook an enormous meal, from scratch, and serve it. We make Christmas cookies, build gingerbread houses, and hang holly and mistletoe. We set up a tree, decorate the house, sing Christmas carols, participate in the church Christmas musical program, join in the Christmas basket drive, and participate in the program to pack a shoebox with things for disadvantaged children.
Add to that: many of us travel during the holidays, which means more coordination and organization.
And that’s not to even mention the kind of emotional work to interact with people whom you don’t see often. (It’s not easy to listen to Uncle Joe ramble on about the dangers of 5G and the evils of gay people during what is supposed to be an enjoyable bonding time.)
None of those things are intrinsically bad! Aunty enjoys them (except for Uncle Joe). But all of them together, at once, while also working and taking care of a family is a lot. And it can add a lot of extra stress.
The only way to manage this kind of stress is to manage your (and your family’s) expectations. Here are some tips:
- Do a potluck dinner instead of one person doing all the cooking.
- Do a “secret santa” gift exchange, where you only buy gifts for one person instead of every single adult at your Christmas get-together.
- Or, give up on the “delightful surprise” gift idea—at least for adults—and just ask people what they want, and even help them pick it out!
- Simplify your dinner. You don’t actually need 15 dishes to enjoy a meal. Scale back and everyone will still be satisfied.
- Prioritize. You don’t need to do everything! Perhaps you don’t need to hang Christmas lights on the house. Or you don’t need to do both the Christmas food baskets and the Christmas musical program. It’s okay to say no.
- Get a smaller tree, or get a fake tree. Don’t hate on fake trees—they’re just as festive as live ones, plus they save money if you use them for many years, they reduce mess and work, and they save a real growing tree from being cut down and ending up in the landfill.
- It is okay to buy cookies and pies instead of making them from scratch.
- And maybe sometimes you just need a vacation from big holiday celebrations. Turn down invitations. Don’t decorate. Give the family a choice of places to buy gifts after Christmas. Then stay home, eat soup and sandwiches, and put together a puzzle. You’ll be surprised at how relaxing it is!
The point of Christmas is to reflect on the generosity of Jesus coming to earth to live with humanity. So let’s demonstrate some generosity to ourselves. We are meant to bond with family and enjoy the company of those we don’t often get to see. Nobody’s Christmas will be ruined if we eat store-bought gingerbread cookies.
Good luck and a peaceful holiday season to all of you, with love,
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.