Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we are starting to count down the days to the next big holiday: Christmas. Most of us have already experienced some form of holiday anxiety such as what to buy for those people who don't need or want anything or where to go shopping or when or whether or not to involve the children in tradition X, Y or Z. I am not here to tell you what you should or should not do this Christmas to ease your anxiety. I will, however, share my strategy for doing so.
My first plan of action is to set a clear focus or a few clear goals for the holiday season. My main goal is to keep Christmas from being just about receiving gifts and make sure my attitude reflects the true "reason for the season". A secondary goal is to keep in mind that I want my kids to end up with an overall picture and goal and not every step (or day, week or year) along the way will work out exactly as I planned.
For instance, we want giving to be a primary focus for our children, so we have already participated in several giving events. Our oldest is 4 years old, and he and his younger brother "helped" us shop for Operation Christmas Child and "helped" us pack the boxes. Honestly, I almost gave up on Christmas at that point. We were tired and stressed out while shopping. The boys were making more of a mess than helping with the packing, and I wondered if they would ever get the point of what we were doing.
Then, as we drove to drop off the boxes, we talked about where they were going and explained that the boxes would go on trailers to a warehouse and then be shipped to another country where little boys and girls didn't have any presents for Christmas. I think D got the point, because he asked about it again a few days later and asked if we could go to the country to see them open it. Maybe that's when I started to realize that I was missing out on the point a little bit myself. Rather than making him see my side of giving to others, I should just be giving him the opportunity to see my faith in action and let him see my faith rather than hear it.
We also took the Christmas season as an opportunity to de-clutter (we needed to at least make room for the Christmas tree) and give back to those in our community. So our 4 year old got to ride along with his Dad to donate some of our extra toys to Goodwill, hopefully in time for them to be turned around for another family's Christmas. We also purchased a few "Angel tree" items.
The second step I would suggest is to have honest communication about family traditions. For instance, if your family goal is to make giving more important than receiving, but you have four different wish lists for each of your kids, you probably aren't going to make it to that goal. On the other hand, if being at home with your family and feeling less stressed is on your list, maybe you need to re-evaluate the annual Christmas "trifecta" of visits to Gran and Granpa's, then the aunt and uncles who don't come to Gran's, then the step-parents from your husband's side of the family.
It's important to keep in mind that our extended family members probably will not care as much about us missing out on the third annual Christmas potluck/snowball fight as much as they will notice our bad attitude during said event. It's completely appropriate to decide beforehand that you can't attend every event and send a heartfelt Christmas card and gift (if appropriate). I know it's easy to get sucked into making it "fair" for every family member. In reality, we should be making it "fair" for our immediate family members. If we are dragging a toddler and preschooler to 3 different family events in a four-day "Blitzkreig" then we're teaching some very unhealthy habits. On the other hand, if seeing every single family member in person and giving them a hug is at the top of your wishlist, then by all means, Blitz away.
Also, do keep in mind your extended family may have a different priority this holiday season and respect their desires without caving in completely. I would love to skip gift giving all together, but my two boys are the only grandchildren on both sides of the extended family. I shouldn't limit the joy that the grandparents receive by giving fun gifts just because I'm anti-clutter and millions of toys. I've tried to give hints and suggestions for one or two higher priced items or items that can be consumed or experienced, because we live in an 1100 square foot house with limited storage. However, limiting their gift giving too much would be rude, since it's their primary method of celebrating the holidays.
Above all else, keep in mind the reason for the season. If you're a Christian, you should be excited and celebrating the Savior's birth, not stressed and grumpy. Try to spread a little Christmas cheer during your last minute shopping rather than dreading the holidays. For those of you who have lost a loved one or child and are struggling this holiday season, keep in mind that even God experienced your pain while Jesus suffered and died on the cross, and because of that, we have hope. For those who are not Christians, may your days be merry and bright, and may you find peace on Earth.