Snow tumbles gently to the ground illuminated by white Christmas lights. Holly and huge red bows adorn every street corner, cheeks are flushed, hearts are racing and the soothing sound of silver bells escapes every doorway as shoppers happily flee with their bounty. Unfortunately this coveted Christmas scene is one we long for and rarely see in our own lives.
Christmas should be an exciting time, a time of festive food, laughter and love but all too often we find ourselves overwhelmed and pulled in several different directions, under pressure to over spend on gifts, over eat and over-complicate every single detail.
When I recall Christmas’s past, my most treasured memories come from time spent with family and friends and though gifts are nice, there are only a few over the years that stand out as being memorable and that is because they were gifts that came from the heart. A well thought out gift means so much and unfortunately the commercialism of Christmas makes this almost impossible to achieve. I find Christmas is becoming like a gift swap where we are exchanging gifts cards and awkward gag gifts, and though our intentions may have been to send something thoughtful, the stress of the holidays leave us so frazzled that we find ourselves scrambling at the last minute. There are some people that genuinely love gift giving and others that feel that it adds a great deal of pressure, financially and otherwise.
Year after year after year, I have fallen into the trap of trying to load up the gifts under the Christmas tree, spending a fortune on our children on things that they really didn’t need. I would start out strong reminding myself of all of the most important things about Christmas and then I would scramble last minute to bulk up the pile under the tree.
The last couple of years my late husband and I agreed that the most important thing about Christmas was time spent together so the bulk of our gift giving was focused on experiences and time spent as a family. Last year our girls got a game night out at the local game cafe, sisters manicure & pedicure, concert tickets and as a family we got our summer family vacation at our special place in the mountains.
This year is a challenge; we are going home at Christmas for the first time in years, a wonderful gift from sweet friends who understand the importance of being with loved ones during our first Christmas without Kirk. With our super hero absent everything has changed but we are reminded now more than ever of what is really important and it is not gifts underneath the tree.
The holidays can amplify depression and anxiety as well as shine a spotlight on dysfunction and addictions in families. For a lot of people it is not the joyful and lively time that the media sells us and no amount of money can buy those feelings that we desire.
Maybe the answer is not to check out but to check in with yourself, use your wisdom and be courageous enough to set clear boundaries so that Christmas is not only what you desire it to be, but what it was always meant to be.
For me, going home has always caused me a bit of anxiety, there are always a lot of people that want my time, and my time is limited so it can cause a great deal of stress. I sensed that my kids were feeling some of that familiar anxiety around the topic as well so we sat down and had a little chat as a family and discussed some clear boundaries.
We realize that we are responsible for our own experience at Christmas and this is an important trip home for us, we will be seeing some of our loved ones for the first time since Kirk passed away and we are prepared for tears and healing. However, we have spent the past several months working extremely hard on our own personal healing journeys and well-being and we want to continue to do the next best thing to continue on that path to wellness. We have given ourselves permission to avoid or back away from situations that have the potential to rob us of our peace of mind.
In the past our instinct would have been to tolerate situations as they arose as not to hurt or offend anyone but we decided as a family to not over promise or over complicate and to do as much or as little as we want to depending upon or own needs. This may seem selfish but it is actually self care. Sometimes silent tolerance makes a complex situation much worse and can quickly steal the joy that the holidays are meant to bring.
The most important gifts will not take up a great deal of room in our suitcases. We are bringing love, friendship and memories with us; to share with the special people in our lives. We may not come dragging a red sack of full of colorfully wrapped good intentions but our hearts will be abundant with Christmas spirit. Whenever I feel stress creeping in I am going to ask myself “How can I simplify this?” After all, peace and simplicity go hand in hand.
Today I surprisingly found myself dressed in red and humming Christmas carols. This has been a tough year, I never imagined making it through a day without Kirk and the thought of facing Christmas without him is not something I was able to think about but I am finding myself feeling grateful for the memories we shared as a family and holding those close in my heart.
I find myself imagining the smell of my mothers Christmas baking, the laughter of my granddaughters, the joy when the girls get to see their brother and the good natured ribbing I will get from my own brothers. I am looking forward to sharing a great big hug with my sister in law and telling funny stories and toasting Kirk with my mother in law. I am going to sink into the comfort of my parents and do my best to steal some moments with important friends.
The best we can be expected to do at any given moment is the next best thing, and the I believe the next best thing for us is to bring the all the love and joy to Christmas that money cannot buy because this will be one of our most important Christmas’s. I truly believe that the way we choose to celebrate it and to honor Kirk will make a huge difference in our lives going forward.
A couple of tips to simplify your Christmas
- Focus on what the Holiday means to you. What do you like most about the season and what do you like the least? Look at ways that you can have more of what brings you joy and eliminate that which brings you stress.
- Simplify gift giving. Gift giving has gone way beyond its intention and we are spending more money and putting in less thought. Remember that gifts are not always necessary; sometimes the greatest gift we can give is our time. I like the idea of a gift exchange in families where you can draw names and focus on one special gift for someone important to you instead of spending a lot of unnecessary time and money just because. Decide what works for you personally and do that.
- Make a list and break it in three. Make a list of everything you want to get done and put it under three headers, Must do, possibly and bonus. Do the things you must do first, add what you can from the possibly list and the bonus list is nice but not at all a necessity. Set a budget for food, gifts and decor and stick to it so that Christmas bills do not follow you into the New Year.
- Recall a good Christmas memory that makes you smile, think about how it makes you feel and why. Keep that gratitude in your heart and bring it into your holiday celebrations.
- It is your experience, you do not have to go to every party or follow traditions that no longer suit you. It is OK to have quiet time with your family in front of the fire, it is OK to retire old worn out traditions and it is OK to make new ones. The only rule should be that whatever you do is based in love and the spirit of the season.
I’ll be home for Christmas and not just in my dreams.