Monday, December 8, 2014
So far, so good.
This holiday season I've found myself at about a 4 on the Stress-o-Meter rather than the usual 9.8. I've been trying to figure out why in order to make this a habit rather than an aberration.
It's certainly not because of anything I'm doing. My shopping's not done. Christmas cards have yet to be sent. Christmas cookie decorating? Not yet. The tree is up -- just don't look in the back, where we didn't bother to hang ornaments.
I guess it's all about a state of mind. Has anyone else noticed that sometimes the entire holiday season seemed to fly by and we never even thought about it? I mean, we did stuff and we raced around and got things and went to parties and did traditions and never really stopped and breathed in a single moment?
It reminds me of the time I achieved a lifelong dream and attended the parade in Boston after the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years. At one moment I sat there juggling a video camera and regular camera, switching back and forth, and a voice screamed in my head, "You're missing the moment because you're too busy trying to capture the moment!"
What's sad is that we have to be so intentional, so mindful about being mindful, about staying in the moment. This should be a way of life and yet seems so contrary to how most of our lives are structured.
After ruminating I've begun to see why a few choices we've made are helping make things a little calmer this year. I thought I'd share...not to give someone another list to check off, or to concoct a formula for a perfect holiday, but to perhaps help someone else out there just a little...and maybe to serve as a reminder for me next time around when I will inevitably fight the usual holiday/high expectations/ultra-stress demons.
So, here goes:
- Fewer gifts
This year, we're doing the three gifts per child a la the Three Wise Men (plus a stocking) thing. This is certainly due to financial considerations, but also because they just have too much stuff. And our house is too small to collect much more. Hey, if it's good enough for Jesus, I tell them, it's good enough for them.
- Scaling back traditions
I LOVE decorating cookies with the kids (and unfortunately love eating them as well). But for years we've used a lot of our baking time to make cookie plates for the neighbors. This means that I stress about how they're making or decorating them since someone outside immediate family might actually eat them. This year we're decorating cookies -- for us. They can make as big of a mess as they want and who cares if they smear too much frosting on their snowman or we overcook the gingerbread men? We're the ones stuck with the final results. I may bake quick breads for the neighbors, which leads me to...
- Do the things you love to do
I enjoy baking. I don't enjoy shopping or crafting. So it makes sense that I'd bake things for people rather than try my hands at yet another Pinterest craft. Anna loves to craft. She spent a good deal of time recently with my mom making ornaments and gingerbread houses because my mom has the materials, the patience, and the know-how. I created about three (not-so-great-looking) ornaments and was done. I refuse to feel guilty about this any longer. I also love sending and receiving Christmas cards. So while fewer and fewer people do this, I'm still going to, not because I have to, but because I like to.
- Do the things you don't LIKE to do, but HAVE to do, cheerfully
When you allow time for the things you enjoy doing, those times you're stuck doing something you don't care for during the holidays, it's easier to have some self-control and at least try to be happy about it. I used to abhor going to Dan's work holiday party. There's nothing I hate more than schmoozing and fake small talk. I realized I felt a lot better when I just sucked it up and tried to have the best time I could rather than sulking. These days I no longer have that party to attend, but I have already had to deal with shopping on a Saturday at the nightmare that is the Buckland Hills Mall/Evergreen Walk area this time of year. As a person who already hates to shop, I've found the only way to get through this is with a sense of humor.
- Find ONE meaningful spiritual tradition to adopt
This is tough. I know so many people out there who do so many cool things to get their family involved in "the true meaning of Christmas" or to help their kids better understand the "real Christmas story," and some of it ends up being pretty elaborate. I can't even seem to follow our pastor's suggested tradition about hiding the Baby Jesus from your nativity set until Christmas morning. I keep losing him!
On the flip side, attending Christmas services or having your kids sing in the church choir or act in a play to me isn't a family tradition. It's just, honestly, more busyness. For a few years now we've checked out a living nativity held at a park in a nearby town on a Saturday evening before Christmas. Similar to going to look at Christmas lights, that night we go to look at Jesus. If we can maybe have one meaningful faith conversation that comes out of that night, I'll feel blessed. Although actually, these conversations rarely end up being planned. They usually come up when you're least expecting them.
- As Elsa sings, just "Let it Go"
I guess this is the biggest one of all: letting go of expectations. There is nothing that has caused me to be less in the moment during the holidays than that voice whispering about what I should be doing rather than leaving me focused on what is.
Maybe my child won't want to play with his new presents but will prefer his old standby toys.
Maybe I'll stumble over the words during the Christmas solo.
Maybe the cookies will burn and my tree will lose its needles before Christmas even arrives.
Maybe I won't hear from that relative I'd been hoping to connect with or will run into that same person who makes those same hurtful comments.
Maybe yes to all of these things. But maybe I can find those moments to just stop...to breathe...to listen to that favorite Christmas song...to look out the window at the stark beauty of bare trees...to find joy in my children's laughter rather than in finding them the perfect gift. Maybe I can stop working to digest the totality of the Bible's Christmas story or to find some new revelation or take on things that I hadn't thought of before or try so hard to make sure I'm not forgetting Jesus that I do indeed, forget. Maybe I could just sit with one thought, like Emmanuel. God with us. Wow.
Maybe, just maybe.
And if you celebrate Christmas and you have had similar struggles, I hope this for you, too.