Do Better December 18th 2014 The Holiday Danger Zone

18 Dec

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So here we are on December 18th, exactly one week before Christmas, for those who celebrate it. It can be a time of great stress, or it can be a time of great joy. It can be a time of beating yourself up for all of the things you didn’t do, like making all of the ornaments on your tree this year (believe it or not, I actually saw an article about that), or it can be a time of surrendering and choosing what is most important. Initially, surrendering and choosing seems like the more difficult choice. It feels like admitting defeat. I read a blog the other day where a woman was complaining about shopping and “doing Christmas” and being so very resentful of what she thought was expected of her, and I wanted to shout at her, “then don’t do it!” If you want your season to be what the season is about, take a stand.

When my husband and I first started dating, our first Thanksgiving together was easy. My parents always traveled so we were free to attend Thanksgiving with his family; easy peasy. Then Christmas rolled around, and we found out that we both celebrated on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. Both of our families held tradition in high esteem, but my husband’s family had about forty people in it at the time and mine had five; six if you included my husband. It only made sense that my family would be the one to adjust, but I knew it wouldn’t be an easy conversation. My mom loved our traditions, but she also didn’t want to have to rush through her portion of the day so my husband and I could rush to his parents’ house the same evening. She decided that she would move things to Christmas Day and although it was strange at first, it got easier, especially since my husband’s parents, knowing my parents were spending Christmas Eve alone, invited my parents to their house, and my parents did the same for my husband’s parents on Christmas Day. The result was that both of our parents got to spend much more time with us than either could have imagined, and I have some wonderful memories of those few Christmases that we spent together before both of our dads passed on.

As we added children to the mix, things had to change again. Because we had our own Christmas morning, we struggled to make it to my mom’s by noon, the time we had decided to start our Christmas Day celebration with my parents. We pushed it back a couple of hours. When my dad passed and my mom moved into a smaller home, it became difficult for all of us to fit comfortably in my mom’s home and for her to make a dinner for all of us. Much to the delight of my children, we moved Christmas dinner to our home, so they didn’t have to rush out and leave their gifts behind. It also relieved so much of my mom’s stress because she didn’t have to cook and clean up, and it didn’t add stress to my day because instead of rushing my family out the door, I could enjoy the morning and enjoy making a wonderful meal with my husband. Cooking is something we’ve always enjoyed doing together, so it really was a joy rather than a burden to make the meal. The point is that we’ve adapted.

The same thing has happened with gifts and social engagements. When we were younger, we felt like we had to make every Christmas spectacular and accept every invitation that was extended. Parties became a commitment rather than a joy, so we stopped going for a while, especially if we had to pay a sitter too.

Then there are the gifts. The amount of money some people spend on gifts is staggering. We have had a year or two that we used our credit cards much more than we should have and took a few months to pay off the Christmas debt. As I think back on it now, we paid for those gifts for much longer than most of them were appreciated, but one of the best things I ever heard someone say about Christmas gifts was that each of their children only got three gifts. At first, I thought that was pretty stingy, but they went on to say that if three gifts were good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for anyone, and a new tradition was instantly born in our home. For years, each of our children got three gifts from Santa and one from us. It was a great system and still holds today, although the gifts have gotten smaller while the prices have gotten larger because Ipods are much smaller than a truck and so much more expensive. Speaking of expensive, when you have a family that now has over 70 people in it and you don’t know how many will show and you see some more than others, buying gifts can get completely out of hand. We’ve tried exchanging names and all of the other things big families try, but none of it seems to work very well, so everyone just does their own thing, which generally means most people don’t buy for most people. I happen to love giving gifts, especially unique and practical gifts, but I also like to keep a decent budget, so I get very creative around the holidays with that. I have given gifts cards to grocery stores for families in need. I have given photo stamps. I have made homemade taco seasoning, French onion soup mix and ranch seasoning that are healthier than most things you’ll find in the store. There may not be a ton of money invested in the gifts, but there is a lot of love, and most of the time, they don’t even clutter up your home.

You know, there is a song called The Twelve Pains of Christmas, which cracks me up because they really are the things that drive us crazy during the holidays. The pains, in order are finding a Christmas tree, rigging up the lights, hangovers, sending Christmas cards, five months of bills, facing the in-laws, charities, whiney and demanding children, finding parking spaces, batteries not included, stale TV specials and singing Christmas carols. My answer to each of the pains is as follows: Get an artificial tree. They last longer. They don’t drop needles. You can buy them pre-lit, and they are not a fire hazard. Whoever said you have to have lights, and if you’re talking about the ones on the tree, refer to my previous comment. Don’t drink. Don’t send the stinking cards if you hate them. I love getting them, so I’ll be sending them or at least I’ll be sending a letter or something, and it may or may not arrive before Christmas. If you know me, that makes more sense than you know. There are no bills if you plan ahead. Cash is a beautiful thing when it comes to keeping your holiday spending in check. We’ll talk about family in a minute. Charities – pick one or two that touch your heart and donate. The Salvation Army people don’t judge you if you walk by. You can even tell them, “I can’t today, but Merry Christmas!” and I’ll bet they wish you a Merry Christmas back. Keep your kids away from the stores. It’s a marketing bonanza and so much of it is aimed toward your children. Have someone drop you off at the mall and limit yourself to two shopping bags. Saves time and the budget. Buy a big pack of batteries with some of every kind at the home improvement store. Yes, they do have them, especially at this time of year. Turn off your TV and radio if you don’t like what you see or hear. No one is forcing you to watch or listen to any of it. There is my cliff notes version of how to have a happier holiday season.

Finally, the dreaded “f” word, family. Does anyone make it through the holiday season without some kind of family angst? I think that it’s part of the fabric of human existence, and I’m not immune, but here’s what helps me. When I’m in a situation with family that stresses me and I’m in a good state of mind, I walk away and take a moment to center myself and realize that how I feel and how I respond to anyone is a choice. If I’m well rested and have been taking care of myself, it’s easier to see that sometimes, the insensitive or judgmental comment is the result of the other person not being well rested or well taken care of or maybe it’s the other person’s insecurity that they need to criticize someone else to make them feel better. Isn’t that sad that some people feel so bad about their own lives that they need to criticize others to feel better about their own lives? Isn’t it sad that they have to run others down to feel good about themselves? Unfortunately I’ve been that person at some points in my life, and I can tell you that the happier I am with my life and who I am, the less I feel it’s necessary to criticize others. I love the saying that asks you to be kind to everyone you meet because they may be fighting a battle you know nothing about, and I’ve found that to be true in so many cases. Some use their own battle to become a kinder, gentler person. Others develop armor and use criticism to deflect the focus from their life to someone else’s. In either case, there is pain, and unless you’ve never experienced pain, and who hasn’t experienced pain, there is always room for compassion, but if you just can’t stand it anymore walk away. Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. Take a breath, look in the mirror and be glad that you’re you and not them. Does it work every time? Maybe not, but it works most of the time. If, however, you know the situation is toxic for you, stay away. Yes, your family may be angry with you for not showing up, but you get to choose.

Choosing, and consciously choosing, especially is your greatest strength through the holidays. I want you to try an experiment for the next two weeks as the year winds down. Remove the phrases “I have to” and “I need to” from your vocabulary and replace them with “I choose to”. Say it out loud and say it to yourself. You don’t need to buy gifts; you choose to. You don’t have to go to a party; you choose to. You don’t have to decorate or bake or cook or even smile; you choose to. If your choices bring you joy and happiness, hooray for you. If they don’t, you may want to re-think your choices. If you are a Christian, this season is about God making the ultimate choice to sacrifice His child for the good of humanity. He didn’t do that so you would stress yourself out and make this time of year the worst time of year for you. He did it so that each of us could have eternal salvation, so save yourself the rest of the season. Make choices that line up with your values and bring great joy to you and the world around you. Do it with grace. Do it with love and do it because you choose to be a better person today than you were yesterday. You deserve a wonderful holiday season and I hope and pray that you get it. If you are listening daily, I’ll be posting through the end of the year, although I’ll probably take next Thursday off since it’s Christmas day, although I’m not sure what I might cook up for New Year’s Day if I get the right inspiration. For now, thanks for being you and have a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.


2 Responses to “Do Better December 18th 2014 The Holiday Danger Zone”

  1. Chris Toy Seal December 19, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    I truly enjoy your posts. Don’t stop.


  1. Do Better December 18th 2014 The Holiday Danger Zone | karenbemmes aka Better Living Daily - December 18, 2014

    […] Do Better December 18th 2014 The Holiday Danger Zone. […]

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