They’re at it already: it’s Halloween, sunny and 75 where I am, and this morning my newspaper was full of Christmas ads.
I’m all in favor of the spirit of Christmas. Peace on earth, goodwill to man—bring it on, the more the better! But we all know that’s not the part that starts on Halloween. When they play all those Christmas songs in the stores, all I hear is
Deck the halls with buy stuff buy stuff
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Tis the season you must buy stuff
Fa la la la la, la la la la
You’re a bad person ‘less you freak out and buy stuff
Fa la la, la la la, la la la…
Buy stuff, buy stuff, buy stuff, buy stuff
Fa la la la la, la la… buy stuuuuuff!
Retailers know if they play Christmas songs, people will buy more junk, so they play Christmas songs. It’s that simple. And then people get all caught up in a needless frenzy of stressing out, decorating, baking, running around, frantically shopping, wrapping, putting up the lights, and all of the other Christmas rituals.
This year, let’s stop and think for a minute.
If you do all that stuff and end up all stressed out and nerved up, think about why. Why do you do it? Is it because you think you have to? You think people will judge you if you don’t? Or does it start out as things you truly want to do and just snowball out of control?
If you are a person who ends up feeling stressed and overwhelmed during the holidays, here’s how to bring some sanity into the mix.
First of all, the universe does not require you to do a single one of these Christmas rituals. If you’re a Christian, look it up in the Bible: there is no verse in there where God commands everyone to bake a thousand cookies, buy stocking stuffers for people they don’t even like, string up lights, or any other nonsense. You don’t have to do it.
Right now, write down the list of everything you expect to do for the upcoming holiday season. That includes office parties, gatherings with friends, caroling, making or buying presents, wrapping presents, decorating, baking, cooking, cleaning—everything. List it all.
Then write down next to each one how many hours you think it will take. If you’re like most people and find yourself saying “wow, that took twice as long as I expected!” a lot, then cross out all the numbers and double them. Add up those hours.
Now look at the list again. For each task, draw a smiley face if it’s something that you truly enjoy doing, a frown if you hate it, or a neutral face if you don’t care. Be honest—nobody else has to see this, it’s just for you.
For any tasks that aren’t smileys, think about why you’re doing them, and consider adding them to your to-quit list. Life is way too short to be wasted on these false obligations! And here’s a little-known fact: people can tell when you do something you really don’t want to do, as opposed to gifts and actions that come from a heart overflowing with love. They sense your resentment, and it cancels out the value of your gift. “It’s the thought that counts” works both ways. This may sound terrible, but it’s actually quite freeing: if you’re not getting credit for doing these things anyway, you lose nothing by not doing them, so you’re definitely free to stop!
Once you have your revised list, put everything on the calendar. Now is the time to be realistic, and be sure to schedule in time for exercise, rest, reflection, and time with loved ones.
Time with loved ones is one of the most important. My family has agreed to give each other the gift of time rather than presents each year. We realized that it was getting hard to come up with good gifts for each other and we all have more stuff than we need, so we declared a present truce. Now, instead of stressing out about shopping for each other and buying things just to have something to give, we can all relax and enjoy each other. This has transformed the holidays for us. I still buy gifts for my two honorary nieces, and I generally buy some livestock for people who need it through Heifer International or a similar charity. I also bake one or two things to take to one or two parties of people I really like. That’s it. I stay away from malls and department stores as much as I can to avoid the madness, and I change the station whenever commercials come on, spoken or sung.
You can do it this way, too, if you want to. I definitely recommend negotiating accords and present truces with everyone you can. Your time and attention are really the most valuable things you can give them, and you’ll have a lot more to give if you eliminate the excess other stuff.
Once you have your smiley tasks all planned out on the calendar, consider it closed unless something comes along that you really want to do. Now, whenever things come up that could have become obligations, you can truthfully say, “I’m sorry, but I have a prior commitment.” Make that your default response. You are comitted to having a sane November and December, and that comes before adding anything extra. If something comes along that you really want to do, and it fits in your schedule and won’t make you crazy, by all means, do it! But otherwise, say no. Just try it this year; if the next two months aren’t way more pleasant and peaceful than usual, you can always go back to the Christmas rat race next year.
And let me be the first to say, peace on earth, goodwill to man!