Christmas is not for wimps.
At no other time of the year expectations are so high and are disappointed so easily. Media and advertisements dazzle us with pictures of peace and bliss: In soft candle light a big family is sitting happily around a big table and exchanges gifts that everybody is crazy about. (You can read this article in German here.)
Even though I am very much aware of these manipulations I still catch myself succumbing to them.
How plausible is it that a big group of people, who don´t meet very often will understand each other blindly?
Reality-Check: Are you clear about your expectations for Christmas?
My own experiences
When I was a child there was always stress and conflict on Christmas. My mother, left alone with all the preparations was totally exhausted by Christmas Eve. My father did not feel responsible for either household chores or Christmas arrangements.
We 4 kids were so excited that we were probably quite a handful. I was the oldest and I felt responsible for keeping the peace, which was more than I could handle, of course. This was probably the reason for my growing apprehension. When I moved out I avoided spending Christmas at home.
Since then I have been working on making Christmas less stressful for me.
I have known my husband for almost 30 years now and we have had children for 18 years. This means that I had lots of time to practise. It was a long learning process.
Here I share 6 tips for a more tranquil Christmas:
1. Be mindful in the pre-Christmas period
It is not a good idea to exhaust yourself by the Christmas preparations. When I have a busy work schedule I bake less Christmas cookies and our house is less orderly. Every year I used to pack 24 little gifts for the advent calendar of my three children. This year we agreed on pre-manufactured ones and this saved lots of time and energy.
I also cut back on volunteering in December. I do not stop everything, but I don´t feel responsible for baking at the school any more, for example. I see this as a good investment for me in a more relaxed Christmas season.
2. Less presents can be a good idea
I have very good experiences with cutting back on presents for friends and my extended family. The adults in our families – my husband and I have 3 siblings – have been skipping presents for a long time. Before we had children we rented a house in Denmark instead, which was very relaxing.
Since I don´t like to go shopping I have a list with ideas for Christmas presents that I add to during the year. Last minute Christmas shopping is nothing for me and I try to avoid that.
3. Communication, communication, communication
The most important thing for me is to get to know the individual expectations of everybody who participates in my Christmas: Children, parents, grandparents, siblings or friends.
Who expects what and which expectations do we want to meet? It is not as easy as one might think to uncover the true expectations of everybody involved. Often you will get vague answers: “Oh, you know…” but this is not helpful. To express oneself clearly helps both the listener and the talker.
When people don´t communicate openly and say: “I am okay with everything” even though this is not true, there will be problems. My mother-in-law always had a hard time to clearly state her wishes and this way she was sometimes disappointed.
Achieving transparency about the individual expectations is a process that takes time. But it is very much worth it. In my experience the more transparency we generate the less conflicts we have at Christmas.
When we have children it is particularly important to be as clear as possible about our own wishes. Here are some questions that can help:
- Which values do we have and which ones do we want to live?
- What are our goals this Christmas and what do we want to avoid?
- What did we enjoy in previous years and what do we want to repeat?
- What are Christmas rituals that are important to us and do they still fit?
- Set clear priorities: What is most important for us? (For me it is stress-reduction.)
Recognising and getting rid of obsolete automatisms
Especially at Christmas time we tend to stick to traditions because we somehow feel as if our Christmas would die when we change something. This is nonsense of course; there are much more possibilities than we are aware of.
In Germany we have a Christmas tradition to eat goose on Christmas day. Just like the Thanksgiving turkey in the States the preparations are time-consuming. Luckily there are alternatives to cooking your own goose now: They can either eat out or order goose-to-go.
To have creative ideas and new solutions we have to be open for new possibilities. We need to be aware that we are running on autopilot mode even more at Christmas time than on other occasions.
When I am feeling stressed about something I do creative sessions with my husband where we evaluate alternative ways to reach my goal together.
My Christmas holidays profit from structure. The more persons are involved the more a plan can help. This plan should include lots of free spaces and breathing room to prevent pressure building up because of a tight schedule.
Free space in the Christmas plan is most important.
How detailed you plan for the holidays depends on you. Here are some ideas:
- Prepare a rough approximate timetable (make sure to include enough breathing space).
- Create a general overview: Who is where when?
- Make a meal-plan: Who is responsible for what and what can be prepared ahead of time? This food-plan relaxes me a lot.
- Include time for individual or joint breaks: Watch a film, go for a walk or play together.
I have learned that Christmas is not the right time for experiments. Things we are used to doing feel comfortable to us. Playing board games when you never do this is not a good idea.
Children need breathing room
Small children have short attention spans and cannot occupy themselves for a long time. I advise against planning an elaborate meal that gives children too little space. When my children are happy and relaxed, so am I.
Big children can be included in the preparations and take responsibility for some chores. My children even enjoy to help at Christmas time, probably because they don´t enjoy a stressed-out mother! For me as the head planner it is important to be as clear as possible when delegating.
6. You are responsible for yourself
Everybody is responsible for creating the conditions they feel well in. It is not possible to delegate this. This is especially true at Christmas time where people tend to create extremes more easily and may suddenly find themselves in explosive situations.
My kids often realise before I do when I start to get agitated and ask me: What is the matter, Mom? I am thankful for this warning that enables me to become aware and react.
What is good for you at Christmas time?
- When you need a time-out it is okay to skip Christmas altogether.
- Dare to change old structures when they are a burden for you.
- Include family and participants early on in the Christmas preparations. Beware that you have to live with other people doing stuff differently from you, which is a good exercise in acceptance.
- Do you really have to invite relatives who are annoying just because they are family?
- Very important: You are not responsible for what others think of you.
When the situation is escalating:
- Get help bringing down your stress level.
- Note your stress triggers and get back to them after the holidays.
- Don´t expect easy Christmas holidays only because you changed some things.
Christmas time is always a good test for me that shows how much progress I have made in my personal development.
My offer for a more relaxed Christmas season:
Especially at Christmastime issues we are working on will pop up. Don´t hesitate to ask for help. I offer special energy-coachings before Christmas.
© Inge Schumacher
Book-tip: Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg