‘Tis the Season…but not always jolly.
Christmas can be such a lovely time of year! The crisp air in the morning as the season changes to winter…well…as winter as we get on the Central Coast of California! The signs of the holiday – Christmas trees, street decorations, carols playing in Walmart as you frantically hunt for that certain “must have” toy or gift. The Advent candle lighting on Sunday morning has been really special at my church this year and I love to put a wreath on the front of my car and spread a little Christmas cheer as I drive. Holiday gatherings with friends and family are something I look forward to. This year a few of our traditions will be skipped – I have a brand new granddaughter, born on Thanksgiving Day, and we will all travel to where she is for the Christmas season. I’ll miss our traditional trip to the Christmas Melodrama, the Phillips’ Annual Christmas party and my youngest son’s buddies home from college and jobs – spread out on the living room floor with video games, sleeping bags and cookie crumbs!
For many people, instead of “the season to be jolly,” Christmas brings anxiety and even depression. It feels like a “celebration” of the arrival of a lot of pressure, expectations, strain on the finances and stressful family relationships. Presents need to be bought and wrapped. The tree needs to be bought (holy cow, the prices!), hauled home, made to stand up straight in its holder (surely we found the perfect holder this year!). Then there’s the lights…tangled, of course…some not lighting properly…where are those replacement bulbs we bought last year…we’ll get more at Walmart…what do you mean they don’t have any more that size…where’s that circuit breaker box again???
Gatherings with family – don’t we have a vision in our minds of what that should look like? Where did that vision come from? Everyone is around the table, everyone is smiling, and the table is laden with yummy and photogenic dishes. You just know they all just finished opening those perfect gifts in perfect wrapping with clever little messages on the tags. Everyone is happy, they all love each other, and they will probably sit around the table after dinner and play some family oriented game or help the little ones put together that new toy or puzzle on the floor while everyone sits by with gracious smiles. It’s a peaceful idyllic vision.
What’s the reality? Mary Lou is coming down with the flu – driving to your folks’ house for hours while a 3 year old is throwing up every few miles is so much fun. Dad had trouble getting away from work so we’re hopelessly stuck in traffic with no dinner and our ETA is midnight – oh and by the way Grandma and Grandpa go to bed at 8 – hope they’ll leave the front door unlocked! Half the presents are wrapped (no tags or bows of course) and the other half are shoved in bags – we’ll pick up some gift bags and tissue along the way – how long will that line be in Walmart?? We’ll all be sleeping in one room – three kids on the floor of a 10X10 room will be so cozy! And of course we’ll have to make sure the folks’ dog doesn’t sneak in – little Jimmy is so allergic…and sometimes Fido bites. Mom went through every piece of clothing in her closet to find a few things she can squeeze into – maybe that loose fitting shirt and no one will know her jeans aren’t zipped all the way up. It’s so hard to lose weight this time of year with all the events and rich foods…and that candy bowl in the office at the kids school! Dad is anxious…he saw that pile of Christmas gifts and is wondering what happened to their promise to “keep it simple and inexpensive this Christmas.” He hopes his father-in-law won’t notice the oil leak from the van…not one more car maintenance lecture! He makes a snide remark and Mom sits in silence stewing and working up her retort in her mind.
I could go on, but you get the idea. If your mental health were in perfect condition prior to the Christmas season, it could still be quite a challenge to keep the “reason for the season” in mind. But many people who are already struggling with anxiety and tend towards depression are faced with “Mount Everest” in the Christmas season – how can they possibly survive without ending up completely non-functional or melting down or doing some serious relationship damage while feeling out of control?
I wish I could point you to a magic solution for the stresses of this holiday season. There is no quick fix. For most this is an ongoing learning curve – year by year figuring out what and how much we can handle, what we need to avoid, to maintain an equilibrium and at least survive the season if not out and out enjoy it. So, excuse the fact that this is not a “cure” but just a few (hopefully) well-placed Band-Aids to help with that learning curve:
1) Speak up – honestly and often – about the struggles you have in this season. It’s really not a big surprise to anyone, but it’s a good reminder that you are functioning on not-all-eight-cylinders.
2) Accept sympathy, encouragement and help. I know you don’t want to be seen as “that person.” Get over it. We are human beings, not machines. You need others.
3) Apologize when you blow it. Do it immediately. Do it humbly. Ask for forgiveness. You will be amazed at how “clean” your “relationship house” stays when you pick up the “trash” each time you drop it instead of letting it pile up and become an overwhelming mess.
4) Give other people the benefit of the doubt. I know Grandpa is always irritable, Grandma is a perfectionist, Aunt Sue brags too much, and Cousin Zach never helps. You may need to be creative, but try to imagine that they are struggling with life and the strains of the season, too. Cut them some slack…the same kind you wish they would cut you. You may not receive it in return, but you can be proud of your own graciousness AND you won’t add to the mess.
5) Say no. Mean it. “I’d love to make 20 intricate party favors for Christmas dinner, Grandma, but it’s really outside of my reach this year. I hope you’ll find someone else in a better place to be able to help with that. I’ll bring the bag of Hershey’s kisses, though!”
6) Look over your left shoulder. Do you see that big bag there? You know the one I’m talking about. That big one that’s filled with all the responsibility you feel for everyone else having a perfect and wonderful and memorable Christmas. See that? Drop it. No one will have the ideal Christmas this year. No one. No matter how hard you try to make it happen. It won’t happen. Trust me on this. Even if you carry it every minute of every day. It’s heavy and it makes you depressed, anxious and grumpy. Put it down.
7) Love. LOVE. You don’t need a perfect situation, perfect people, perfect decorations, food, timing, sleep, health or anything else to be able to love. Just love. Stop. Sit down with someone (even if it’s the three year old throwing up over the toilet) and just choose to love. You will NEVER regret that time – even if it’s at the expense of some of the “stuff” that seems like it just HAS TO happen. Stop and love. And while you’re at it, take in some love from others. Better yet, tell them you need some. “Honey, I know I’m covered in toddler puke and your mom is mad because I didn’t make favors and my jeans won’t zip all the way up, but I could sure just use a little cuddle right about now.”
8) Pray. Pray. Pray.
I know what you’re thinking. “I wish Christmas were just over already. I’m too stressed out, busy and exhausted to think about any of this.” Remember that the very One who we are supposed to be celebrating is the One who we can run to. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11 Remember!! We celebrate His birth, but He didn’t stay a baby in the manger – He is your mighty Lord who SAVES you!! Let Him rescue you from the fear and sadness that can come in this season. “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17