Tuesday, December 12

Give Yourself Permission to Simplify The Holidays, Part Ii: Christmas

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Does it bother you to see Christmas promotions before Halloween? Are you burned out by December 26th?

The Christmas holiday, especially for women, invites more tasks and expectations than a person with normal energy levels and commitments can effectively achieve. These include planning, shopping, gift-wrapping, decorating (inside and out), baking, hosting and entertaining, attending parties and events, donating to charities, volunteering, composing year-end reviews for holiday letters, doing holiday crafts with kids and generally mounting a full-scale production that rivals the Metropolitan Opera season.

For the few Martha Stewarts out there blessed with superhuman (i.e. compulsive) energy, the Christmas season is probably a blast, and certainly for those with lots of paid help, it’s do-able. But for the rest of us mere mortals — the average Joes and Janes — it can be overwhelming. I can attest to having been overwhelmed for too many Decembers, the result of which has inspired an effort to simplify, minimize, de-stress and recreate the entire season.

 For more in-depth resources on philosophy and practical steps toward living simpler and more intentionally, and understanding traditions, see the short list at the end of my article.

Throughout its 2000-year history, Christmas has undergone many changes, from a single event in the first century, to practicing spiritual disciplines like fasting and prayer in the Dark Ages, to keeping Medieval cultural celebrations like toasting the wassail bowl and burning the Yule log (Christianized pagan traditions), to the well-known, proverbial Victorian Christmas of feasting and modest gift exchanges, to the modern, commercial behemoth it has become. What’s up with this? When did we lose the focus…and just continue circling down that spiral? Did Jesus want this?

My Jewish and Muslim friends don’t envy us (Christians) at this time of year, and who can blame them?


Okay, we’re in recovery. Step One – I am powerless over Christmas and my life has become unmanageable.

Zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture of just what a freakin’ monster Christmas has become in our society, then zoom slowly back in to your world for a closer look.

 Let’s break it down to reasonable steps.

 Give Yourself Permission To:

Not Accept the Status Quo. Examine whatever has become a worn-out tradition, a meaningless ritual, an exhausting exercise, or a dreaded task. Make a list and be brutally honest.

Examples: Feeling obligated to give gifts to every living family member and nearly breaking the bank; fighting through hostile Christmas traffic and mall parking to shop with other harried consumers; attending holiday parties and other social or volunteer commitments which sends you in to overload. Once you’ve completed your list, prioritize your grievances from most to least. No this is not Festivus; we will not air them in public (see video link though at end for laughs).

 Give Yourself Permission To:

Be Honest and Do A Reality Check.Assess your situation with respect to your budget, time limitations, energy levels, and expectations. If you’re someone with a lower threshold for chaos, adding in extras is probably not a good idea; some of us whose schedules are already full, may need to cut the fat down to the muscle in order to stay sane during the holidays. Extroverts may really enjoy the lively facets of the holiday but feel taken advantage of due to their game attitudes.

Examples: Hosting a Christmas Eve party and relatives for a week when, in reality, you find it stressful and brings out the worst in you; everyone wants a piece of you (or your checkbook) so you try to be all things to all people large and small. Acknowledge these truths about yourself and work on the fabulous art of saying no or delegate portions of tasks to others. Do you have to dress your children to be camera-ready for that card photo? Must the tree and house be decorated by the time the last Thanksgiving plate is in the dishwasher?

 Give Yourself Permission To:

Rewrite the Script. Brainstorm a new list of what you want Christmas to look like, all things being equal. Disregard family politics just for now – no one will see your list. This may seem extreme and perhaps unrealistic but at least you’re exploring the possibilities. Want to focus less on Santa Claus? Tired of the constant replay of cheesy holiday films and hearing every pop recording artist’s Christmas remake or second-rate original song?  Want to return to the reason for the season? It is about celebrating the birth of Christ, the Light in the darkness, Immanuel: God with us, a reminder that we’re all part of the larger story of redemption, peace and reconciliation. You can definitely shift the balance in a different and hopefully better, healthier direction.

Examples:Running ragged by attending lots of holiday parties and events; standing in line with your tired, hungry toddler for a photo with Santa. Instead, accept a very few invitations and regret the rest. Skip the Santa photo (your toddler really doesn’t care). Enjoy hot cider by the fire with your family listening to Christmas carols or Handel’s “Messiah” and read the Christmas story in the book of Luke. Hang an Advent calendar, light candles on the Advent wreath, or decorate a Jesse Tree to redirect the compass from commercial Christmas back to spiritual Advent. Email your season’s greetings and save trees, fuel, time, and money. Have your children donate a portion of their allowances to the purchase of gifts for needy children with handwritten notes. If you love to cook, bake your gifts; forget shopping. Start new traditions, but be intentional about your celebration.

 Give Yourself Permission To:

Be The Grownup; Draw Your Boundaries. But plan for the Revolution. Don’t expect everyone to do back handsprings over your changes. Some people like things to be done the way they’ve always been done and there maybe be pushback. It’s okay, they don’t have to like it. But we’re adults and we’re only responsible for our own feelings and actions not those of others, so stand your ground … but do it gently. The goal of course is not to destroy relationships rather to understand where you end and someone else begins.

Examples:Traveling elsewhere each Christmas; always being at your parents’ or in-laws even though you are an adult with children of your own; hearing your kids’ sense of entitlement with the litany of gifts they deserve. Graciously thank the friend or family member for their invitation and kindly state you’ll be simplifying this year by staying home or hosting them the day after Christmas – maybe you just want to keep the day sacred and simple. Perhaps what you love most is spirited fellowship with loved ones rather than extra work and PTA events and (seeming) obligations. You’re doing what is right for you, today. As for the kids, unfortunately we can’t parachute them into Haiti or other developing countries to illustrate how many of the world’s children live in poverty while ours are so privileged. But we can expose them to misfortune at our back door and spend a day at a local women’s and children’s shelter. Tell the children they can expect 3 – 5 presents this year and give an additional one away – they WILL survive without an obscene pile of gifts under the tree. Even watching a film of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a great and poetic way to bring perspective. One day they’ll understand that Mommy is much nicer when she’s not stretched to breaking point.

 Give Yourself Permission To:

Keep What You’ve Learned; Write It Down While It’s Fresh.After Christmas, take some time to journal your thoughts and evaluate what worked and what could be improved next December. This will save you time a year from now so you’ll have notes to which you can refer.  

Examples:You can do this as part of a family meeting, with your spouse or by yourself. Also, check the many blogs in which people pour out great ideas and appraisals of past mistakes and more effective means of observing the holiday.

 Let’s join in a grassroots movement to rightsize this celebration. A blessed Advent and merry Christmas!


“Boundaries, When To Say Yes, When To say No, To Take Control of Your Life”, Henry Cloud, John Townsend

“Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God”, Bobby Gross

“Simplify Your Christmas” Elaine St. James

“Unplug the Christmas Machine”, Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli



Festivus:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8g4Ztf7hIM


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