One of my favorite fun holiday movies is Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation. I don’t like to admit it, but I’m a lot like his character, Clark Griswold. I want more than anything to have a perfect Christmas with my loved ones, but no matter how I try to orchestrate it, things always run amuck. Can you relate?
Between hosting meals (how long does it take to took a turkey again?) to making sure the house gets (and stays!) clean for guests, to finding, hiding (remembering where I hid them), wrapping and presenting the perfect gifts, it can be so stressful!
Add COVID-19 to the mix, and we are gearing up for a very stressful Christmas. Or are we?
A few years ago, I was in full-on “perfect Christmas, high-stress mode” when disaster struck. OK, not a real disaster, but it felt like it. I was laid low with an exhausting virus, one of my doctors thought was the flu and warned it could take me out of commission for two weeks.
This was just a few days before Christmas, and my calendar was packed with work parties, church events, hosting one side of our family on Christmas day and visiting the other out of state the following week. I lay in bed, miserable and achy and sure the holiday was ruined. Instead of resting, I was stressing about how I could salvage the holiday. I begged God to make me better and to do it quickly.
Prayer is a mysterious thing, and God himself works in ways we don’t always expect. Instead of immediate healing, he sent people to help and remind me of what was important. My husband took over my necessary duties while still handling his own very busy week with grace and kindness. My kids made me sweet get-well cards and did their best to play quietly and help. My family offered their own prayers and support and were quite willing to change their Christmas plans. And even though I still felt miserable, my heart moved from stressed-out to peace-filled.
(In the end, it wasn’t the flu, just a nasty virus. I took it easy, enjoyed a scaled back holiday, and realized we all enjoyed the day more when I wasn’t Clark Griswolding it).
HANDLING THE STRESS
Medicinenet.com lists some top reasons for holiday stress in non-pandemic times. They include:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Over commercialization
- Financial stress
- Inability to be with family or friends
- An inability to cope with difficulties the holidays bring out
I know that COVID has caused a huge shift in our life today. It’s stressful to handle all the rules and expectations about masks and cleaning and visiting out of state. It’s scary to think of contracting the virus yourself or inadvertently carrying it to grandma’s house. Add this to regular holidays stress, and it’s a lot to handle!
There are, of course, common sense ways to manage these stressors.
First, you must take care of yourself.
Get regular sleep and drink lots of water. While it’s ok to splurge on a favorite treat, make sure most of your meals are healthy. Practice taking deep, calming breaths when you feel overwhelmed. And focus on spending time with people you love and who love you back.
Next, figure out a common-sense budget.
This year has been a challenge, but it’s also been a year to try new things. So let 2020 be the year you change how you give gifts (and how many you give). Scale back your plans and expenses for meals, and resolve to enjoy the simple solutions that result.
Finally, find ways to connect with loved ones.
Instead of a big gathering with your friends, go caroling outside, social distance style. If you can’t host a meal, use video chat programs to connect safely, and make plans to get together down the road. And with the people you see regularly, resolve to sidestep distracting activities, and enjoy things like conversations, simple meals and the like.
REMEMBER WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT
Even though I struggle with Christmas stress myself, it boggles my mind that we get so wrapped up in the trimmings of a holiday that began in such a humble way. Over two thousand years ago, a young couple traveled to a distant town due to a government demand to do a census. When they arrived, they could not find or afford a place to stay and ended up sleeping on a barn floor.
To top things off, she was pregnant and gave birth that night surrounded by farm animals. Their guests? Friendly but smelly shepherds they had never met. Perfect and stress free? No. But this imperfect event was, in the end, perfectly orchestrated to welcome God’s best gift to our world: Jesus.
It’s my hope that you will be able to focus on Jesus as your source of peace this holiday season. Step away from the stress when you can, find joy in the simple pleasures of the time and remember to thank God for the best gifts, which don’t require wrapping paper or stress.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17