Guilty at Holiday Time

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How to Make Your Life Bearable

I have a dirty little secret that I think many people share, but do not voice. 

I hate Holiday time, especially Christmas. 

It took me a long time to come to terms with this feeling. But when I did, I could deal with all of that supposed happiness and joy in my own special way.

Let me explain the circumstances that lead to this inability to enjoy one of the most wonderful times of the year because, as a kid, I adored Christmas. 

It was at a time in my life, when I was struggling financially, a new mother and an aspiring teacher in the throws of her first few years as a professional. Yes, It was all about learning how to manage the expectations and stress that can happen at this exhilarating time of year.

Did you know that Christmas can be stressful? With all of the singing of “Joy to the World,” many people secretly are dreading the event. The truth is Christmas has been “formally identified as a source of stress, clinical psychologist Dr. Bob Montgomery said,” according to ABC. There is stress about finances, time, family relationships, and trying to please everyone, just to mention a few of the top contenders.

But like most things in life, it is how you handle the situation that can make a difference.

Family Patterns – Not

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What has been the coping mechanism of your parents may not be the best solution at all. I remember one holiday event where we had a command performance as a family to attend dinner at grandma’s home.  Although I did not know it, my father did not want to go. His method of dissent was to throw a set of my mother’s good dishes on the floor in protest. This was shocking behavior in a loving family situation.

How to Find a Better Solution

So no, that is definitely not how I wanted to express my feelings. I was determined to manage the situation better than that incident. Just in passing, we did go to grandma’s and had a lovely time, despite the negativity of my father.

So how can you manage the stress of a holiday? The first step is acknowledging that it is a stressful time for most people – adults and kids alike. Once you come from that understanding, you can make better decisions.

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It is essential to set priorities. Family time is key, not retail therapy. Develop relationships and traditions. Keep everyone on an even keel. 

Create Bonding Experiences not Shopping Trips

Christmas is a time for drawing the family closer. This does not require great financial burdens, but it does require time commitments. Focus on building traditions that involve every family member. Here are some sure-fire ways.

The Tree


Since our family liked to have the scent of a fresh cut a tree in the home, instead of just acquiring one, we would make a family outing of this task. Year after year, we would gather everyone together and then visit a tree farm or the local tree lot to select the best one to decorate. On the way back, it was a tradition to stop off at a local restaurant to enjoy hot chocolate and Holiday cookies.

  • Decoration Mania

When we got home, we took the time to involve everyone in making decorations for it. Stringing popcorn and cranberry garlands are a time-worn tradition. My family members delighted in making something personal for the tree, such as a cut and paste Santa to snowflakes cut out of paper to a painted figure made of wood. All of the treasures we saved for the subsequent seasons. We did not have a tree that was color-coordinated, but each year, the tree stimulated memories of the years, past.

  • Fa la la la la

Another bonding experience we enjoyed was to take an evening or two in singing carols together as a family. It is a fact that many school situations are such that this tradition is no longer happening. We felt we needed to pass on our own cultural traditions to keep them alive. Some lucky years there were opportunities to visit the homes of friends and neighbors to share our Christmas carols. 

  • Reach out to Family and Friends

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Instead of acquiring Christmas cards, we decided to make a few to share with extended family members or special friends. How many physical Christmas cards have you received lately?  Yes, we all are familiar with the ecards and electronic ways of keeping in touch, but how precious is it for grandmothers and grandfathers to receive a home-made card from their grandchildren.

  • Baking

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There are very few children who will turn down an opportunity to make Christmas cookies that will be proudly served to drop-in guests or shared at a family gathering. We looked around for recipes that required some creativity and thought. One of my favorites was stained glass cookies that my children fashioned into Christmas trees, ball decorations, and angels.

  • Night Walk

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One very satisfying Christmas Eve, We decided to go for a night walk. It had been snowing all day and the area was blanketed by a white covering. To make the opportunity even more dramatic, the moon was almost full. So, we bundled up in our warmest clothes and started down the trail. To this day I have never repeated that magnificent experience but it remains etched in my memory as a peak time in my life, even though it happened decades ago. 

Keeping an Even Keel

Since many children and adults balk at change, we need strategies to deal with the extra stress at Holiday time. All of us are busy enough in our daily lives, we do not need the extra burden of constant change. But when something does upset the apple cart, it is helpful to define the expectations so everyone understands the playbook. 

1 Maintain a Schedule 

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I have learned that children require fairly regular schedules. But at holiday time, the plan tends to go by the wayside with all of the hustle and bustle of the season. During the weeks close to the big holiday events, we made every effort to make sure all family members had healthy meals, adequate sleep, and time to relax to do what they wanted. That usually meant quality playtime.

2 Visiting Expectations

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When we did go for a visit, we always brought an engaging activity or toy to share with the cousins we met. The cousins loved to opportunity to explore something new. I also suggested to the other family members to do the same thing. So, my children looked forward to the surprises from their cousins.

Funny enough, I also found out that children react well with predictability. So, before each visit, we discussed the ground rules. The exact details depended on the age of the child, but we negotiated if there would be a nap or not, who they could expect to see, where they would sit for dinner, how they could help the adults and when we would leave. This gave everyone a framework for good behavior.

3 Finances in Check

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Since finances were high on my stressor list, I needed to discuss the financial obligations with the adults. That is the way I managed my anxiety.  I stopped the buying frenzy.  It not only helped me with the bills but also reduced the time in preparation. Not many people enjoy the overcrowded shopping malls.

Some of the ground rules, we hammered out as a larger family were that we would buy one present for one adult. We selected that adult by chance as we drew names out of a hat. There was also a limit to the cost of the presents to all of the kids, too.  

4 Shared Responsibilities for the Day

And as for the meal, everyone would contribute something to the dinner. Our meal was more of a potluck Christmas. It took some effort in organization, but I was surprised by how easily the adults agreed. I also welcomed the suggestion that we alternate the location of the special day every year. It gives everyone an opportunity to shine. 


I suspect that everyone was worn out by the demands of the season and welcomed these changes to simplify their lives. I think I heard a silent sigh of relief.

I still find that holiday time is a stressor, but now that I have developed a few strategies to help me relax,  I find I can be there for the people who count the most – my family.

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