When Jill (a pseudonym) turns her calendar to December, she’ll read a message she wrote to herself a year ago: “Be intentional all through the month to not put pressure on myself and to avoid the stress of the holidays.”
She says she dreads the Christmas season every year. Between gift shopping, sending out a Christmas letter to more than 60 people, decorating the tree, trying to find room to set out her Santa, nutcracker, angel and Christmas village collections, and cleaning the house to prepare for company, she is ready to collapse before Dec. 25.
On Christmas Day, she feels she must make a full turkey dinner, topped off with a dozen different kinds of homemade cookies, and a Christmas pudding that nobody eats—but that she feels she must make because it is a family tradition.
“If I continue to do this, I will go insane,” she says. “A couple of years ago I thought I was going to, as I was not getting any pleasure from the holidays and couldn’t wait until they were over.”
As we celebrate Christmas, it may be helpful to sort out what is worth releasing for the enjoyment of the season and what’s worth keeping, or even adding.
On my own “Let it be” list of absolute necessities are putting up a Christmas tree and manger scene, baking my mother’s peppernuts and listening to my collection of Christmas music of old favourites like Nat King Cole, the Canadian Brass and the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square (formerly the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). Along with buying gifts for my family, I also like to remember the less fortunate, either by donating to a local charity that supports indigent families or by making up a care package of necessities for homeless people.
On the “Let it go” list is the idea that I need to put up all the special Christmas ornaments in my collection every year; there are simply too many. Instead, I now pick a theme and use only those ornaments, such as musical instruments, travel, toys or angels. Ornaments left in the box this year will come out another year!
Other members of the Canadian Mennonite staff share what’s on their list to keep or let go:
• Will Braun, senior writer: “I celebrate family, food and gifts. And I ponder the mystery of Emmanuel. During Advent, I listen to Handel’s Messiah, full version, numerous times.”
• Donna Schulz, Saskatchewan correspondent: “For me, Christmas would not be Christmas without music. Also, while I don't think it's essential, I'm not sure it would feel quite like Christmas without a tree. And, though I don't do much Christmas baking, it wouldn't be Christmas without peppernuts. These things have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, but they have become part of our celebrations, and we enjoy them in their familiarity and their beauty.
“Christmas shopping is one thing I am letting go of. Being a quilter, I stitched a Christmas stocking for each member of the family, along with an additional stocking for the Christ child. We will give one another gifts, but they must be small enough to fit in a stocking and valued at under $10. Gifts for the Christ child's stocking can be of any value, large or small, and will be designated toward a giving project of our family's choosing.”
• Ginny Hostetler, executive editor: “I like the Advent practice of setting up the creche. Over the years, I have collected manger scenes from places where I have lived, and from other countries around the world. They are a reminder of other homes and people whom we love. More importantly, they point to the coming of Christ and the universality of Christ's message.
“What to let go? As much as I enjoy eating Christmas cookies, I don't really enjoy making them! I'm content to make only a recipe or two and to enjoy the variety of treats that often come to our house as gifts.”
• Barb Draper, editorial assistant: “For me, connecting with family is probably most important. I’m not good at staying in touch with people throughout the year, and I don’t use social media, so I consider it important to send out Christmas cards with a duplicated letter.
“I find gift-giving probably the most stressful. I’d like to drop it altogether, but that’s a tradition that is so ingrained it can be hard to break. I work at small, practical gifts that express thoughtfulness but also allow most of my end-of-year budget to go to charities.”
What about you? What can you release to cut down on holiday stress? What practices or traditions mean the most to you that you want to keep?
As we celebrate Christmas, it may be helpful to sort out what is worth releasing for the enjoyment of the season and what is worth keeping, or even adding. (Photo by Amy Dueckman)
A nativity scene is a reminder of the coming of the Christ Child, the reason for Christmas celebrations. (Photo by Amy Dueckman)