The link between holidays and holy days has become fragile in our society. But you can bypass the stress that mounts for many people during this season to fashion your own holiday spirit. The words that get tossed around—joy, peace, Thanksgiving—will only have meaning if you fill them with meaning. It all happens at the level of intention and attention.
The Christmas holidays are meant to be a time to rest and reflect upon the year and on the loving spirit of Jesus. It’s so easy to forget this and get caught up in the stresses of all the food we have to prepare, and gifts we have to buy, and extra places we have to commute to. Here are the ways I refocus on what matters during the holiday season.
Holidays are about gatherings—first of family but also of events that embrace community and nation. It’s therefore easy to feel, on the negative side, that you have little or no control over what’s happening around you. Swept up in holiday rituals that are simply a given, surrounded by squabbling family members and old tensions, you can easily be overwhelmed.
The way out is by centering yourself and being clear, first on the inside, of what you intend your holiday season to be. A helpful exercise is to sit quietly with eyes closed and say to yourself, “I want joy. I want peace. I want grace and love.” As you say each phrase, pause and feel what joy, peace, love, and grace are like. It doesn’t matter how you arrive at the feeling. Putting your attention on your heart is often helpful, or seeing a soft light in that region.
No one can intend these things except you, and when you feel them inside, you don’t depend on others quite as much. Try repeating this exercise every day during the holiday season. You can go a step further, too. Instead of seeing this as a defense against holiday stresses, why not commit yourself to making the holidays a time for your own evolution? In other words, by asking for joy, peace, love, and grace, your intention is to arrive at the new year renewed in spirit.
AttentionOnce you have committed yourself to evolving during the holidays, put your attention on this. What most people do at this time of year is brace themselves for the negative side of the holidays: the family tensions, shopping, scary credit card bills, hectic pace, and, for many, a predictable bout of depression. The gap between what people wish for and what actually happens to them is wide. You can put your attention on closing the gap, both for you and for others.
Christmas should be a time of peace.It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The sound of jingling bells can be heard everywhere, everyone is in good cheer, and the world is lit up with twinkling lights. Or is it the most stressful time of the year? There’s so much to do and so much to buy, that the spirit of Christmas is often lost in the fray.
Set the Goal of Having a Peaceful Christmas.Instead of telling yourself that Christmas is a stressful and chaotic time of year, and there’s nothing that you can do about it, set the goal of having a peaceful Christmas. Once you’ve set your goal, plan how you’re going to make it happen. Then, stick to your plan, regardless of the Christmas chaos that may surround you. This will help you to stay focused on the peace and joy of Christmas, instead of muddying up your Christmas with stress and anxiety.
Set Holiday Limits.
“Overwhelming” is a word that often describes the Holiday season. There are tons of gifts to buy, parties to go to, decorations to put up, food to prepare, and so on and so forth. At the same time, “overwhelm” is the opposite of peace.
The way to make Christmas less overwhelming is to set limits. Do the following:
- Set a limit on the amount of gifts you’re going to buy. You can also set a limit on the amount of money you’re going to spend on those gifts.
- Set a limit on the number of Christmas parties you’re going to attend.
- Set a limit on the amount of Christmas activities you’re going to participate in. You don’t have to do “Elf on the Shelf”, and go Christmas caroling, and bake a gingerbread house, and put on a Christmas play, and have a Christmas village, and be the house on the street with the most Christmas lights, and so and so forth. Choose your favorite Christmas activities and just stick to those.
- Set a limit on the amount of food you’re going to cook (and eat).
You get the picture. This time of year, limits are you friend.
Recite a Christmas Mantra.
A mantra is a word or phrase that helps to interrupt a negative train of thought and focus the mind on something positive. When you find yourself thinking, “I’ll never find time to do everything I have to do before the 25th”, or “I just wish the holidays were over”, switch your focus by repeating your Christmas mantra.
Choose a mantra that reminds you of the joy of the season. Here are some ideas:
- “I hold Christmas in my heart.”
- “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”
- “Peace on earth and goodwill toward all people.”
Add Some Fun to Your Christmas Chores.
Let’s face it, Christmas involves a lot of chores that most of us would rather not have to do. Here are some examples:
- Driving to the mall in horrible traffic.
- Deep cleaning the house in preparation for the family
- Christmas dinner you’ll be hosting.
- Wrapping presents.
Ask yourself how you can make these things fun. After all, it’s easier to feel peaceful when you’re enjoying yourself. Here are some ideas:
- If you’re stuck in Christmas traffic with your kids in the car whining that they’re bored, start a “Christmas Scavenger Hunt”. No one will care that you’re moving at a snail’s pace once they’re each trying to be the first to find a snowman, Rudolph, a nativity scene, or a candy cane.
- Cleaning can be made fun–or at least a little less awful–by playing Christmas music and singing along loudly. In addition, clean in fifteen minute bursts, followed by fifteen minutes of watching Christmas specials.
- Turn wrapping presents into a fun social event by doing it with a group of friends. Have some easy to prepare snacks available, like a cheese board, grapes, and some cookies (store-bought cookies are fine). And, of course, eggnog spiked with rum can turn almost anything into a joyful occasion.
Set Aside Five Minutes Each Morning.Set aside five minutes each morning to sit quietly with a cup of Christmas blend coffee and just breath. Use this time to ground yourself and prepare for the day that is to come. Beginning each day peacefully will help you to carry that peace with you for the rest of the day.
Create a Christmas Gratitude List.
Christmas can remind us of what we don’t have.
If there’s someone who’s no longer in your life, it may make you sad to think of spending Christmas without them. Also, the season has turned very commercial, and you may find yourself wishing you had more money to spend on gifts and lavish decorations.
However, thinking of what you don’t have is a peace-sucking, pointless activity that you should refrain from at all costs. Instead, count your blessings by creating a Christmas gratitude list. Here are some ideas:
- List the Christmas activities you’ll be participating in that you’re really looking forward to.
- List the people you’ll be spending time with.
- List the sights, sounds, and tastes of Christmas that you love.
Each time your mind wanders and you start to think of what you’ll be lacking this Christmas, refer to your gratitude list and refocus your mind on all of the wonderful things that Christmas brings.
Schedule Your Christmas Activities.
Once you’ve carefully selected the Christmas activities that you’ll be participating in this year, schedule them. There’s nothing that will rob you of your peace of mind faster than trying to find a turkey on the 23rd of December, or running around a store on the 24th desperately trying to finish shopping for presents.
In addition, make sure that your schedule isn’t jam-packed. If it is, refer back to the second point in this blog post (setting limits).
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Choose Your Reactions This Christmas Season.
It doesn’t matter how well prepared you are to have a peaceful Christmas, you’re going to come across rude and boorish people who will make it very hard to remain peaceful. Plus, something with almost certainly go wrong.
However, know that nothing can interfere with your peaceful Christmas if you don’t let it. Look at the following:
- If someone pushes ahead of you in line, remind yourself that the problem is their lack of manners. Their reprehensible behavior has nothing to do with you. In other words, don’t take things personally.
- If you hear of a Christmas party that a friend is throwing which you weren’t invited to, be grateful that you have one less event to attend. That is, choose to interpret everything in the most favorable light you can.
- If you discover that your Christmas lights no longer work, tell yourself that you would have preferred that they work, but your happiness and peace of mind are not dependent on whether or not the Christmas lights light up.
You can’t control what happens around you, but you can control how you react to it. Choose to react to your environment in a way that is conducive to having a peaceful Christmas.
Avoid Situations that You Know Will Rob You of Your Peace of Mind.
There are two types of difficult situations: those that can’t be avoided, and those that can. For the former, refer to the previous point. For the latter, follow a strategy of avoidance.
Here are some examples:
- If there’s a relative who belittles your accomplishments every Christmas, don’t invite them to your Christmas dinner. This may seem harsh, but there’s no reason to put up with toxic people, especially at Christmas.
- If there’s a store in which the shopping attendants are routinely rude, avoid that shop at all costs.
- If there’s a time of day in which the shops are packed, shop at a different time.
If you plan well, many difficult situations can be avoided. After all, why put yourself in situations that will put your resolve of having a peaceful Christmas at risk?
Simplify Your Christmas.
There may be one or two things you’ll want to go all out for this Christmas. For everything else, embrace simplicity. Look at the following:
- Do you lack the time to wrap presents? Get some nice gift bags and just use those.
- Are you racking your brain trying to come up with gift ideas? Just call up the people on your gift-giving list and ask them what they want.
- Is the turkey recipe you were planning to follow incredibly elaborate? Choose a simpler recipe.
Whenever you start to feel stressed this holiday season, just ask yourself: “How can I simplify this?” After all, peace and simplicity go hand-in-hand.