How I Survive December

I used to feel like the time between Thanksgiving and December 25th was a month-long winter storm. I anticipated the Christmas season with dread.

 The last few years I’ve adopted strategies to lessen my worry, stress, and pressures associated with the season. Now I give up, cheat, and put off. This lazy attitude makes me feel more at peace with holiday chaos.

The change was easy to get used to when I felt as though I had been set free after admitting to myself that Christmas didn’t have to be perfect. I redirected my focus on what Christmas might mean to my kids someday, and decided to give up on insisting that they partake in family Christmas activities that they don’t enjoy doing.

I gave up trying to find the most perfectly shaped, full-looking tree in the Black Hills several years ago, and let my kids pick one off of our place instead. Our son cuts down whichever one they decide on with a hatchet because he loves using an axe. He could care less about decorating it. That’s our daughter’s specialty.

 I used to consider decorating to be a pain but enjoy it now because when I let her do it, my girl gets excited about decorating, getting out the ornaments, lights, nativity set, and Christmas music. Seeing tree limbs weighed down with lots of ornaments makes me smile.

 I don’t stress over holiday potlucks anymore either, because I cheat. I always have food on hand in my freezer leftover from feeding crews that helped us work cattle. I eliminate potluck anxieties from my “have to do” list by digging something out of the freezer that’s already been cooked and heat it up in the crock pot or add a few extra ingredients to make a tasty hot dish. I also cheat at suppertime during the month of December and lower my expectations of always having to cook meals from scratch. Hot dogs and macaroni or Hamburger Helper-type dinners save me time on busy December nights.

 Not spending a lot of money on presents eases financial anxieties and our kids learn that they don’t get everything they want. They get a few things on their list but I also give them gifts that nurture their talents and interests, or gifts that will benefit them at any age. By getting less, they appreciate more. And to diffuse greediness and add to their suspense, I secretly assign my kids different wrapping paper instead of using gift tags—a new tradition.

 My procrastination has been most beneficial during Christmas. Putting off sending out our family newsletter until after Christmas takes the pressure off of getting them out before the 25th. More people are likely to read them after Christmas anyway.

 I gave up feeling obligated to accept every party invitation and Christmas social activity. We attend the festivities that we find most enjoyable or that have a meaningful and inspirational message about Christmas and go to worship services and programs which helps us stay grounded throughout the holiday. Most of the time, my family prefers to stay home to relax and enjoy silent nights together.

 Overall, the easiest way for me to enjoy a stress-free Christmas season is to remind myself that whatever we do to celebrate Christmas creates lasting memories for our kids. Stay sane and have a Merry Christmas.

Column originally published December 20-26, 2009

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