So, just how stressed did you get this Christmas? Just the word ‘Christmas’ itself creates a heart-sink feeling in lots of people. Thanks to the retail sector, we get swept along with counting down the weeks and then the shopping days left before the big day. Portrayals in the media of stunning decorations, sumptuous and beautifully presented food, gifts galore and happy families can result in people feeling defeated and inadequate before the holiday season even starts.
7 tips for transforming your next Christmas
Most of us will know someone who has very difficult family relationships, has had a recent family breakdown or has experienced a bereavement at this time of year. Perhaps we are that person. The added pressure to shop for gifts, plan menus, battle crowds and negotiate family expectations increases the stress of what is already a very difficult time for many.
If your stress levels were high (again) this Christmas, here are 7 tips for taking back some control and transforming your experience next time.
1. Rethink gift-giving with those near and dear
I don’t know about you but I pretty much have ‘enough’. It seems excessive to be exchanging gifts with others who feel likewise. Long before next Christmas, have a conversation with those close to you about your gift-giving tradition. Perhaps you could suggest a donation to each other’s chosen charity instead.
2. Re-evaluate habitual gift-giving with those no longer close
Are you still giving gifts out of habit, even when the relationship is not so close anymore? Years ago I had a discussion with a friend who I no longer saw much, but with whom I still exchanged gifts. It felt a little awkward, but I basically said ‘I’m wondering if it would be ok with you if we don’t exchange Christmas gifts.’ Her reply? ‘I would be relieved!’ Sometimes it just takes one person to broach the subject.
3. Cease gift-giving where there is no reciprocation or acknowledgement
I know people who continue to give gifts despite the absence of any acknowledgement, let alone reciprocation. The lack of response from the recipient is downright rude. But it could also be saying what they don’t feel able to put into words. ‘Please stop!’ There’s no need to feel bad – the person is hardly going to you to ask ‘where was my present this year’ - so just do it!
4. Reflect on the expectations you place on others
Families often feel an enormous sense of obligation to spend a gruelling day travelling from one gathering to another in response to pressure from each set of parents, who may not reside together. Then, if it simply can't be squeezed into Christmas day, they face the unenviable prospect of doing it all again on Bo day. The result is exhaustion as well as overconsumption. Please have an honest look at whether this is the position you are placing your family in, and resolve to release them from this obligation next Christmas. Think about it logically - family gatherings can and should be held at any time of year. Any time is a good time to celebrate being together and to strengthen relationships, not just at Christmas.
5. Release yourself from the unrealistic expectations of others
If you are the one who is feeling under obligation to meet the unrealistic expectation of others, have the ‘difficult conversation’ sooner rather than later. Many find themselves anticipating with dread a day they know will be spent in the company of people they can barely tolerate. Or travelling from event to event to fit everyone in ‘on the day’. Negotiate what can and can’t be managed based on your other commitments, travel distances, and what it is you want to do. Stand your ground and keep your resolve when the time comes. Let’s face it, if the relationship is so fragile that you fear it won’t survive this conversation, giving in to guilt and obligation at the most stressful time of the year is not going to help repair it.
6. Ease up on your expectations of your ‘saintly’ self
I once had a conversation with a newly married woman who told me, whilst rolling her eyes, that she had invited her husband’s ex-wife on Christmas day ‘for the sake of his children’. (I did have to wonder about the ex-wife’s motives in accepting the invitation.) Really, unless relations with ex-partners are extremely amiable, it is just not going to end well. But such is the influence that Christmas has on the idealistic and saintly amongst us – we feel duty-bound, and imagine that some magic will transform it into a wonderful day. Including when it is spent in the company of people who we would never want to cross our threshold at any other time of year! Please, give yourself permission to let of go of feeling obligated. You have the right to share the holiday season with only those you really love to be with.
7. Plan menus and shop well ahead
The amount of food thrown out is scandalous at the best of times and often worse at Christmas when there is a tendency to over-cater. Most of us have fallen victim to overindulgence when confronted with a table groaning under the weight of every variety of food imaginable. My preference for any gathering is to prepare and serve just a handful of carefully selected items. Adjust for guest numbers by doubling or tripling the quantity rather than the number of dishes. Noone will go home hungry. And you are not still hanging on for grim death to the tradition of roast meats that characterised the Christmases of our English forebears are you?? It got up to 38° on Christmas Day where I live. Who wants to either cook or eat a hot roast lunch in that sort of temperature? Finally, resolve to plan your meals to last at least a week. Shop well ahead of time to avoid the stress of traffic, crowded car parks and shopping centres. Check out my simple menu ideas for gathering at any time of the year .
I wish you a stress-free holiday season, next time around!