Celebrating the Holidays
While “dashing through the snow” could be written today as “speeding down the interstate to the mall,” both statements sound stressful to me.
With the arrival of the holidays, many of us experience an odd mixture of excitement and dread as we prepare to celebrate the season.
We get excited about the lights, shopping and Christmas dinner with family, but we also fear the stress that past holidays have taught us to expect. From previous family misunderstandings and hurt feelings to scheduling conflicts, tight finances and the wear and tear on the body, holidays have a way of taking their toll on us.
I have found that the best way to lessen the stress of the holidays is to be prepared:
- Recognize stress triggers ahead of time, and plan to minimize their impact. For example: Realize that you will get several invitations to holiday parties, events or service opportunities, and limit the number of events you will commit to before the invitations come.
- Create a holiday budget together. Commit to sticking to the budget no matter how great the sales are!
- Try to resolve extended family issues before holiday gatherings, if possible. Sit down and discuss the problems rather than ignore them.
- Commit to dealing with spousal conflict after the emotion has died down: “Honey, we are both tired. Let’s not try to solve this now. Let’s talk in the morning over coffee.” Use common sense, and be disciplined enough to handle conflict in the right way.
- Schedule time for each other: Go to bed at a decent hour. Exercise or take a walk together. Protect your “together” time.
Most of all, remember what this time of year is all about: “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people… a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, NIV).
That is a great reason to slow down, be thankful and be at peace this Christmas season. As you prepare for your upcoming activities, we hope that the following series of articles will help you stress less and enjoy that peace more fully.
The Holidays Times Two
Don’t let family obligations pull you apart during this season.
Made your holiday plans yet? Naturally, you want to be around family and enjoy the warmth of familiar traditions. But for young couples, combining the traditions of two separate families isn’t always easy.
Both spouses’ families can sometimes place unrealistic expectations on couples and put them in awkward situations. One family may expect you to celebrate the entire Christmas holiday with them and tell you so; the other family may want the same but silently stew. You’re caught in the middle, feeling guilty that you can’t be in two places at the same time.
You can also create your own stress by each demanding to be with your own family during the holidays. You can’t please everyone, so together decide what’s best for the two of you.
A good place to begin is to discuss which holidays are important to each of you and why. Perhaps one of your families makes a big deal of Thanksgiving but Christmas is low-key. You may want to celebrate Thanksgiving with them and visit the other family for Christmas.
I’ve heard of large families who plan an annual “Christmas in July” so the entire clan can meet and celebrate the holiday together, allowing young families to celebrate Dec. 25 in their own homes. At their summer gathering, the families make Christmas cookies, wear red and green shorts and T-shirts, and open gifts.
Depending on your situation, sometimes you’ll need to compromise, choosing what seems most fair to all families. Does everyone live close enough to combine their celebrations? Will it work to alternate family gatherings?
When Dale and I were engaged, we talked extensively about this issue. We decided to go anywhere we were invited on Thanksgiving, but we’d stay home on Christmas — and anyone could join us. Once we communicated this to all the family, the pressure was off.
Other couples choose the typical rotation from one family to another. Whatever you decide, communicate your holiday plans to both extended families so everyone understands and you don’t unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings.
As you make your plans, consider your vacation time, holiday travel and the stress that goes with it, your parents’ ages, family needs, the costs you’ll incur in your holiday celebration, and so on. When you have children, you’ll also want to consider their needs.
You may need to start a new tradition of limited gift giving, especially if you have a tight budget and your families have always splurged during the holidays. It’s wise to be open and honest with your parents about your constraints.
Review your options annually, and be willing to adjust your holiday plans to match your new circumstances. Making a change can be good, especially when it brings your life into balance; now may be a good time to introduce one.
Holidays should be a joyful time, so plan to make them low stress and enjoyable. Spread your visits wisely, count the costs and carefully build healthy relationships.
Creating Memories and Managing Holidays
The joy of the season can be drained away by the decision of where you’re going to spend the holidays.
Let’s face it, the old saying “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” is never more true than when it comes to where you are going to spend the holidays.
When you add stepparents, siblings, and grandparents, you can become torn in so many directions that the joy of the holiday can be drained away. The goal is to come up with a plan that is acceptable to both spouses so that everyone comes out a winner.
An exercise that will help get the conversation started toward a win/win result is to get out a sheet of paper and write down each holiday that could possibly be spend outside your family nest.
Next, list the way you would like to spend each holiday individually. This column will likely be largely based on what your family traditions were like while you were growing up. Also list the feelings you have associate with the holiday. Finally you will have to compromise with lots of understanding and be willing to use positive communication techniques to decide what you will do for each holiday as a couple.
Some of the questions to consider are:
- Do you want to simplify the season?
- Go to parties and be with people?
- Stay within a limited travel budget?
- Spend the day in the comfort of your own home?
Take a look at the following sample list from a couple we’ll call Tom and Sally. It is easy to see why it led to a doozie of an argument.
This couple is an extreme case because their expectations for the holidays and diverse backgrounds were on opposite ends of the spectrum. But if they reached resolution, so can you.
By sitting down together and discussing the holiday topic, you can avoid future arguments on the same topic and put to rest any smoldering ashes left over from the last disagreement. As you can see from the final column in our chart, each side had to give and take in order to reach a consensus.
In their discussion, they took into account that the decisions they made in the “here and now” would affect their future children and the rest of their family. So they made their decisions based on what would maintain peace, create lasting and loving memories for their own family, and be an asset to their relationship.
They also kept in mind the fact that any decision would not be set in stone but could be modified to meet their future real and felt needs, geographical location, and family situation.
Maybe the plan will get you started on how to celebrate your holidays this coming year and for many happy years to come.
Holiday Celebration Worksheet / Year of _____________
|1. Christmas Eve church services||1. Open presents on Christmas Eve||1. Go to services, when available, and open one gift on Christmas Eve|
|2. Up at 6:00 a.m. to read Christmas store from the Bible||2. Sleep in late and wear pajamas most of the day||2. Tom sleeps in, and they read the Bible story when he wakes up (by 10:00 a.m.)|
|3. Open presents one at a time, thanking between each one||3. Few presents (the holidays were downplayed)||3. Three gifts, opened one at a time|
|4. Formal dinner at Grandma’s house||4. Pizza or whatever (maybe tacos)||4. They realize the holiday can have the significance you give it|
|5. Ice-skating in the afternoon||5. Watch football games and then take a nap||5. Football in the afternoon and caroling at night (when possible)|
|6. Christmas-caroling at night||6. No particular traditions (Christmas is just commercialism)|
Photo Greeting Cards
We have photos made in October and get the savings of an early-bird discount on photo greeting cards. If you try this beginning in your first year of marriage, it will be fun to see how your family changes as the years go by. We even put together a special Christmas photo album, and it’s a wonderful place to display our annual photo greeting cards and an effective way to preserve memories.
The reason we keep our gift-giving simple is not because we’re cheap. It’s because we want to keep the focus on the Reason for the Season. Holiday mania detracts from the coming of the Christ Child as God’s greatest gift to us.
Part of the Kay Family Simplification Plan involves the number of gifts each of our children receive. This could also apply to each spouse, before the kids start coming along. I’ll never forget one Christmas before we had children. Bob and I watched a little boy get so many gifts for Christmas that he got tired of opening them and quit. Sadly, he was so spoiled by his parents and grandparents that he had the mistaken notion that Christmas was all about him.
Sometimes the gift of time is the greatest gift of all during the holidays. There are a number of ways you and your spouse can brighten the holidays of those around you and share the season. We like to visit nursing homes and spend time with the residents, talking and sharing. If you know of an elderly relative, neighbor, or friend who rarely gets to decorate for the holidays, why not help that person put up a tree and holiday lights? Then, after the season is over, help them put the decorations away.
On of the traditions on military bases is a holiday cookie drive. Last year we collected ten thousand dozen cookies and distributed them to the police department, the fire department, and others who worked the holiday shift. You could take a basket of goodies to your local firefighters or police officers on duty. I know they would enjoy these treats on Christmas Eve! We even bake cookies for the mail carriers and sanitation workers. We place these in easy-to-carry plastic bags and include a can of soda pop.
Mission of Joy
One final idea is to adopt a developing-country child at this time of the year and sponsor him/her year-round. A portion of the proceeds of my books goes to an organization that helps orphans in India called Mission of Joy. We also send out their brochures with every product order we receive on our Web site.
A gift is a demonstration of love from one heart to another. Calvin Miller once sent me an acrostic poem that spelled out my name. You cherish those special, personal gifts. – Chuck Swindoll, Tale of the Tardy Ox Cart
The Gift of Good Will
Before getting upset with your spouse, have you stopped to think about his or her intentions?
Returning to the Los Angeles airport in a rental vehicle, we couldn’t remember the location of Budget Rent A Car. Sarah, my wife, retrieved the directions to help me navigate. As she read, she told me to take a certain street, but I was convinced Budget was on another. I listened to her, but the directions were incorrect. When we realized the error, I got upset with her.
Obviously, she was hurt by my reaction. Her intent was to help me navigate to the airport, but I overlooked her good will and subconsciously blamed her for the predicament. I quickly realized what I had done and apologized.
“I’m irritated, but I shouldn’t be mad at you. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” It wasn’t her fault the directions were unclear. If I had refused to acknowledge her good intentions and resisted apologizing, the friction would have remained and possibly escalated.
In your marriage, a scenario like this may play out in your holiday plans. Trouble could surface in two specific areas: when traveling to see family or when giving and receiving gifts. You can work through these differences by choosing to see the good will of your spouse.
When a family travels together, conflict often arises. Confined quarters within a car can foster stress and irritation. If you’re traveling for Christmas, try to avoid the negative comments that might impulsively come to the surface.
For example, when Dad says in front of the children, “Your mother is late, just to irritate me,” he discredits his wife and plants seeds of doubt in the children’s minds about Mom’s good will. The children also wonder about Daddy’s heart for Mommy.
When Mom says, “Your father is too proud to look at a map,” she sends a message to the children to be disrespectful toward Dad, and they may see Mom as bitter or snippy. No one wins.
The giving and receiving of gifts can also be a source of tension. If a husband says to his wife, “I can’t believe you spent this much money on your family!” she may hear condemnation. When he verbally blasts his wife who is a good-hearted gift-giver, she closes off from him. Until he makes a heartfelt apology, Christmas probably won’t be very merry.
After Sarah and I were engaged, Sarah made a jean jacket for me for Christmas. I opened the box, held up the jacket and thanked her.
“You don’t like it,” she said.
“I do like it,” I insisted.
“No, you don’t. You aren’t excited. If you liked it, you would be excited. In my family, Christmas is important, and we show it.”
She assumed I was being polite but didn’t like the jacket; I felt misunderstood and judged. We had different expectations of giving and receiving, but instead of learning to understand each other, we made cutting remarks that discredited both of our intended good will.
If you face a similar situation, learn to explain your family’s view on gifts. If the wife directs her husband how to respond, “When my mother gives you a gift, act excited,” the husband may feel scolded and inadequate. He may think she doesn’t trust him to appropriately appreciate gifts. However, she is trying to be helpful. If both understand that the other spouse isn’t plotting ways to provoke the other, then the cycle of criticism and hurt feelings can be avoided.
Look for the Best
The key here is to see what Jesus sees. Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41b, NIV). Though He was disappointed with His three disciples who failed Him, He did not show hatred or contempt toward them. Jesus saw their hearts as willing.
Realize that your spouse has good will, even though at times he or she will fail to be the person you want. If you verbally jump all over him or her, confess your critical attitude. And remember, whether you are traveling or facing challenges with a loving gift-giver, see the best in your partner. That may be the best gift you can give (and receive) this holiday season.
Gifts That Money Can’t Buy
If you’re trying to decide on a gift for your spouse, remember that handmade and creative presents are often the most meaningful.
Ask anyone to name a favorite gift that he or she has received and you’ll probably hear “the drawing my child did of me” or “the poem my husband wrote to propose.” Handmade and creative presents are often the most meaningful.
So if you’d like to lavish your spouse with simple, thoughtful gifts this holiday season, consider a few suggestions:
- Framed affection. Frame a picture of your spouse in a blank photo mat. Surround the picture with written compliments. List the qualities you adore about him or her, including the little things that usually go unnoticed.
- Clever notes. Leave short missives of love around the house — “you warm my heart” on the oven, “thanks for putting up with me” on the coatrack, and so on.
- A love song. If you’re musically inclined, compose and perform a song for your mate. Are you a ham? Consider surprising your spouse with a performance in front of other people.
- Caring service. Does he usually clean the kitchen after you cook? Do both chores one night, and let him put his feet up. Is she the carpool and breakfast-and-lunch-making queen? Volunteer to take her shift so she can sleep in.
- Audio romance. Remember “mix tapes”? Do the same thing with a computer or digital recorder, alternating favorite songs with spoken memories.
- Poetry. Write a love poem — it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Try an acrostic: Write your loved one’s name vertically and list adjectives that begin with each letter.
- Prayer. Make a hand-written prayer journal that specifies requests you’ve made for your mate.
- Personal lessons. Share your talents and skills. Teach your spouse to bake a special dish, knit or swing a putter (and be sure to lean in close to demonstrate certain techniques).
I love blessing my husband with creative presents, and he’s gotten good at doing the same for me. Coming up with personally tailored surprises is a fun way to demonstrate our affection. Try it; I bet you’ll be hooked, too.
Next Steps and Related Information
Additional resources addressing the marriage and the holidays
Popular questions on this topic:
- What is the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day without reinforcing the media’s influences?
- Does Focus have any online material for celebrating Lent?