It’s just two weeks until Christmas, weeks that I’m sure will fly by in the blink of an eye. The tree is up and the house is decorated. In the evenings I make my way through the Christmas card list in a leisurely way, sipping cocoa or a hot toddy and listening to my favorite Christmas tunes. The gifts have been purchased, just waiting to be wrapped. This weekend we have a few Christmas parties and tickets to see a performance of The Nutcracker. Yes, it really it beginning to feel like Christmas.
It’s at this midpoint between Thanksgiving and Christmas that I always feel as if there’s a fork in the road. If there were signs, they would point in two directions. One path would lead you straightaway to a simple, peaceful holiday. The other would lead you twisting and turning towards a holiday full of stress. The problem is, they’re not easily distinguished. The entrances to both paths look like good old-fashioned holiday cheer.
The good news is, as easy as it is to get on the wrong path during the holidays, it’s just as easy to stop and change directions. It’s always okay to reevaluate mid-season. I’ve traveled both paths, and I’ve found that the road towards a stressful Christmas is full of traps that will foil a simple holiday. Avoid them now, and enjoy the holiday to the fullest.
Trap #1: Your Email
Yes, your inbox is a huge source of potential holiday stress. It seems as if every morning between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I wake up to an inbox overflowing with deals, deals, and more DEALS! At the beginning of the holiday season, these notifications can be helpful and cost-saving. I scan all the emails from Shutterfly, Minted, and Tiny Prints before ordering my Christmas cards, and always score a great deal. If there’s something I want to purchase from a certain store, I want to know if I can get more bang for my buck. But after you’ve decided what you’re buying, and – more importantly – after you’ve made your holiday purchases, these emails serve no purpose in your life. They’ll either suck valuable time you could be spending doing things you enjoy with people you like, or they’ll suck your wallet dry by getting “deals” on things you never meant to buy in the first place. Don’t even open them. Try it with me, friends: delete, delete, delete.
Trap #2: The Stores
It starts innocently enough. You’re just popping into the mall for that one last teacher gift, and then you wander to this store and that. Before you know it, you’re buying. Or you’re coveting. Or both. I’ll see something Elena would love, then realize I need to balance it out and buy something else for Eli. Only there’s nothing at this store, so maybe I’ll just run over to this other store and get it. But they’re out. On my way to the other store, I hit traffic. The errands I only planned 2 hours for are now taking up the whole day, meaning that other thing I was going to do isn’t going to get done today. Now I spend the evening stressed about it, and instead of watching a fun holiday show with the kids, I’m yelling at them because inside I’m mad at myself. You see where this is going? Once you’re done with your holiday shopping, stay away from the stores.
I do love to window shop during the holidays, though, so it’s a battle for me. To avoid falling into a shopping trap that will end up stressing me out and costing me more than I intended to spend, I balance it by creating New Year wish lists. Then, when birthdays and the holidays roll around again the next year, I have a list of great gift ideas already waiting for me.
Trap #3: Pinterest and Social Media
I love Pinterest and I love Facebook, but I also recognize that there are times of the year when I need to take a break. This point in the holidays is often one of those times. There are simply too many beautiful ideas, and soon I’m feeling like a failure. How did I not throw a themed gingerbread-house-making party with a fully-stocked hot cocoa bar? Is it too late to make my own Advent calendar? My own vanilla? I should run to Hobby Lobby, it would be so (not-really) easy! (See Trap #2).
Trap #4: Traditions
Before you call me Scrooge, I promise I’m not saying all traditions are evil. The problem arises when you try to fit ALL the traditions into a few weeks. You just can’t do it, at least not without somebody (most likely you) losing their mind. Here’s the thing. All of those little things you want to do add up very, very quickly, and before you know it you haven’t left any margin in your holiday season. The most magical and peaceful holiday moments happen in the margins, when we allow ourselves the freedom to just be. Not rushing from one event to the next, not preoccupied with what’s left on the to-do list, not worried about the credit card bill that will come in January.
If my family is reading this, they’re giving me the big ol’ stink eye right about now. Because of anyone, I am the absolute WORST at trying to pack in as much as possible. I love it all, and I want everyone to love it with me! But not everyone cares as much about the things I think we must do as I do. Instead of enjoying ourselves, we all end up stabby. Try this: the next time you’re all sitting down together, have everyone make a list of their top 3 or 4 holiday traditions. Compare them, and the answers will probably surprise you. My kids love the simplest of things: driving around and looking at the lights with a to-go cup of hot coca, watching Christmas movies, decorating cut-outs. That’s it. That’s all they need for a holly, jolly Christmas.
I can’t remember where I read this, but this was the gist: if you’re life isn’t adding up, subtract something. The same goes for the holidays. If the season isn’t adding up to joy and cheer for you, subtract a holiday-related commitment from it. Skip the cards this year. Don’t bake those cookies. Give your regrets to that party. It will be ok. And if you realize at the end of the season you really missed that tradition? I have good news for you: there’s another Christmas in 2015.
The most important thing I can tell you is that, like anything in life, there are many paths. No two holidays will look alike for any two families, and that’s okay. Give your family, and yourself, the very best gift possible this Christmas: a content and peaceful holiday. It’s enough. You’re enough.
Happy holidays, friends.