Christmas can be a stressful time for even the most relaxed and devout Christian. Our culture places so much emphasis on presents, catering, and family get-togethers, that it's hard to avoid the pressure to spend too much, be the perfect host, and to smile and be jolly, when you're worn out and feeling frazzled!
Anxiety levels can start rising weeks ahead of the big day, and the demands of catering for dozens of people, combined with family arguments and annoying in-laws, are enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed by the festive season.
The underlying problem with our traditional Christmas, is that it’s all become too commercial, and people expect too much. Christ’s birth was a modest affair. It was never supposed to be celebrated with extravagance and huge expectations. Yes, he received gifts, but within the constraints of what those giving could afford. It was all about the birth of Christ - not about who bought the best presents or had the most elaborate decorations.
We need to get back to the modesty of the original Christmas and emulate the example set by Jesus himself. Manage our own expectations, offer to help others, and focus on kindness and charity. Here are eight ways to help you have a stress-free Christmas this year:
One of the best approaches to keeping anxiety at bay, is to keep it simple and pray. Focus on the true meaning of Christmas and emulate the simplicity and modesty of Christ’s birth in your own seasonal preparations.
2. Plan ahead
Get your diary in order now, marking church activities, work and family commitments, but try not to over-commit yourself. Do plenty of Christmas shopping in advance so that you’re not faced with a huge burden on Christmas Eve.
3. Keep it simple
Keep entertainment simple. If you're cooking a hot meal, you could prepare vegetables and stuffing the night before, so there’s not so much to do on the big day. At other times, cold buffets are simple and delicious. Ask others if they’d like to bring a salad bowl and see if they’ll help to share some of the responsibility.
If you're dreading Great Aunt Mavis coming to stay, think through the potential areas of conflict and how to minimise them. If she thinks she can cook better than you, clean better than you, or entertain better than you, then maybe this is the time to engage her skills and ask if she’d like to share in the food preparation? Or organise the entertainment? She might enjoy being involved.
5. Keep a lid on costs
Agree with those who buy you presents, that no-one should spend too much. Would your relatives be grateful to receive a modest gift or notice of a charitable donation? Why not suggest, ‘token gifts this year’, or set a limit on the costs of Christmas presents, which works both ways. They might be relieved.
6. Change how you give
If you want to encourage people to think of others this Christmas, how about sending money to the third world through 'Oxfam Unwrapped', 'Present Aid' by Christian Aid, or 'Tearfund Gifts'. These approaches to giving take the focus off self-gratification and instead highlight the plight of those in the developing world.
If you’re struggling to buy something for the man who has everything, how about a fair-trade hamper of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit: God’s own nutrient-rich foods that help to lower cholesterol and promote good health?
7. Avoid conflict
Do your family have get-togethers with the potential to degenerate into tedium, arguments, or irritation? Avoid topics like politics, that might trigger arguments. You could try keeping everyone engaged with informal quiz sheets and simple party games. This can create a fun and relaxed atmosphere. A walk after lunch helps your meal go down.
8. Watch what you eat
Avoid consuming stimulants such as sugar and caffeine if you’re feeling stressed over Christmas, because they can make you more stressed. Try to relax, pray, and eat God’s natural whole foods like fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, beans and pulses. This is what God intended us to eat and it will help you stay energised, focused, and deal efficiently with any stressors that come your way.
When it’s all over and everyone’s gone home, make sure you take time to relax, pray and meditate on The Bible. Be grateful if things have gone well and ask for guidance if they haven’t.
Susie Kearley is a British freelance writer, working for magazines, newspapers, and book publishers around the world.