|Photo by Moko 2013|
Christmas is around the corner, and as the famous song claims, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” The city brightens with thousands of holiday lights, the smell of gingerbread and evergreen swirls through the air, and the radio and TV emits joyful holiday music. Many of us when asked what is the most important thing about Christmas will say: family, relationships, and being together. But let’s not fool ourselves - shopping, gifts, and delicious food are important parts of the holidays, too. Furthermore, the stress associated to holiday preparations and gift expenses often times prevents us from fully celebrating the meaning of Christmas. Maybe then, the joyous lyrics of “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” should be adjusted to “It’s the most stressful time of the year.” Should an occasion as happy as Christmas be the source of significant stress? If not, then why are we allowing our holidays to become a nerve-racking experience?
I have observed that many people who experience a lot of stress during Christmas have a sense of obligation associated to this occasion. Thoughts linger like, “I will have to shop for gifts again and spend all the money that I don’t have to make everyone happy,” or, “The house must look perfect for my family visit”, and, “As with every year I will have to suffer with my crazy family,” etc. Christmas is no longer a source of pleasure and leisure to them because they allow others (family members/tradition/perceived expectations) to dictate how they should celebrate. The lonely feel even lonelier because they allow society to convince them that during Christmas no one should be alone. People who avoid their families for the whole year (often times for reasonable reasons) feel obligated to meet with them, because it is a popular notion that Christmas is a “family holiday”. People spend excessive amounts of money on others because they were made to believe that “it is a season of giving”. But do we really have to celebrate in a way that is inconvenient, stressful and unpleasant to us?
More and more people have started their own tradition of celebrating. For example, every year my single friend goes for an exotic vacation with another single girl because they both want to avoid family reunions and nosy comments and questions about their romantic relationships (or the lack of them). Another friend, who works as a bartender all year long and gets tired of constant socializing, likes to spend his Christmas alone with his dog. I myself have changed my Christmas tradition to minimize the stress and maximize the enjoyment with my husband: the house does not have to be immaculate anymore, we eat whatever we desire, and we spend Christmas Eve only with each other and our dogs.
I encourage everyone who is stressed out with the upcoming holidays to seek to build their own tradition. Ask yourself a simple question, “If Christmas this year was really enjoyable to me, what would it look like?” Some of my friends who I asked this question to responded that it would still be the same as every other year, but they would feel less tired and stressed out with preparations (hmmm… not sure if it’s possible). But there was a group of people who said their Christmas would look drastically different. One friend said that if he could avoid meeting with his loud and gossipy family, he would go on a short trip alone. Another friend said she would only spend it with her partner at their house instead of visiting his family, which usually ends up in family drama. Yet another friend said she would spend it alone in front of the TV with a bowl of chips and her cat in her lap because she couldn’t remember the last time she was able to do it. What was really interesting was that most of the people that wanted to change their Christmas tradition said, “If I could, I would change it completely.” But why can’t they? They are all independent, autonomous adults! Is it the fear of breaking the tradition? (Who’s tradition is it anyway?!) Is it the fear of being rejected by family? Or, is it because all “normal” people spend Christmas this way?
If you’re one of the people to whom Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year, you are most likely a victim of a “tradition” that is not yours. But remember, you can change your tradition and you can initiate a new tradition, too. If you want to spend your Christmas break in a certain way, don’t look for excuses not to do it. This occasion only happens once a year! I wish you all a joyous and pleasant Christmas. To all the family gathering fans, I wish for this Christmas to be filled with laughter, family warmth, and joy. To those who crave some peace, I wish this Christmas were restful and quiet for you. And for adventure seekers, I wish for this Christmas to be filled with wonderful travels and thrill! To all of you, I wish for this Christmas to be YOURS.
Note: this article was originally written in Polish and published in Zycie Kolorado, December 2013.