By: Gary R. Collins
It has been called the most wonderful time of the year – a time of happiness, excitement, good food, and good times with friends. It’s a time for twinkling lights, nostalgia, choral concerts, gift giving, and songs about joy, gladness, peace on earth, and good will.
It is also the most stressful time of the year. The angels sang about peace and the carolers sing about silent night, but for most of us Christmas is anything but peaceful, and few nights in December are silent with all being calm and bright. We don’t dash through the snow in one-horse open sleighs, but we dash through crowded malls, rush to get things ready, and sometimes reach the big day exhausted, frustrated, and too stressed to enjoy the festivities. For some people, this is also a time for depression. Their Christmas celebrations are blue, not white.
Why is Christmas Stressful?
There can be many reasons. Often we try to squeeze more into our December days than we can handle without feeling frazzled. We’ve still got out regular jobs and busy lifestyles, but we add decorating, shopping, baking, sending cards, wrapping presents, additional church activities, and busy social whirl from one party to another.
In sharp contrast, some people are away from relatives at Christmas, alone, lonely, bored, and forced to face their emptiness or lack of friends at a time when everybody else is caught up in the festivities. That happened to me one year. I was a student, living in Germany, far away from my friends and family. Everything closed on Christmas Eve. The German families congregated together, but I sat alone in a little hotel, thinking of my family far away, and feeling very sad as I ate the three or four cookies that the hotel manager provided for each of the lonely guests. It was not a time for rejoicing, singing, and celebrating.
Sometimes we are surrounded by people at Christmas, but instead of celebrating together, the people are the cause of our stress. Think of the parent who drinks too much, the relatives who get into an argument, the kids who get on everybody’s nerves and whine because the toys are broken or the gifts are disappointing. In many homes, the celebrants share together, but their joy is dampened because a loved one has gone and everyone feels that loss and emptiness.
I don’t want to kill your Christmas with stories of woe and sadness. For you, Christmas may be bright, cheerful, and the happiest time of the year. If so, be glad and rejoice. Then remember that there are others near you who might appreciate some cheerful words and actions from you. On the other hand, if Christmas is hard for you to handle, read on.
Many years ago, an enterprising London printer designed and produced the first Christmas card. Quickly the idea caught on in Britain, but it was not until 1875 that the first Christmas cards were sold and exchanged in America. How things have changed! Now our stores are filled with millions of Christmas cards long before Halloween and the post office is swamped every December with cards making their way from one mailbox to another. The cards differ in quality and in their messages, but almost all convey some kind of greeting for happiness in the holiday season and beyond.
How can we be happy and merry when the world where we live is filled with war, starvation, domestic violence, and despair? How can we have time to sing with the angels when we are swamped with the pressures? Here are some suggestions for keeping a cheerful Christmas celebration.
First, take a few minutes right now to think of ways that you can reduce your holiday pressures. Do you really need to send all those cards, decorate as much as you usually do, keep the long gift list, go to all the parties? Do you need to do everything by yourself? Most of us can find a few things to cut from our Christmas schedules. Start now.
Second, think of some ways to reach out to others at Christmas. Maybe this means giving money, energy, even a little time to others who struggle. You will be surprised at how refreshing and rejuvenating this kind of reaching out can be.
Third, think about what you are teaching your kids at Christmas. Are you a Christian who is so busy at Christmas that you never talk about the Christ whose birthday we celebrate? Is your Christmas so inundated by frenzy, concern about gifts, and stress that you show by your actions that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost?
Fourth, determine to spend time with God this Christmas. Caught in the holiday season, we often let our times of prayer, worship, and reflection get pushed aside when we need them most. Ask God and your family members to help you find the time to put Christ back into your Christmas.
And if the pressures get overwhelming, take some time to see your counselor. Sometimes a session or two with a sensitive Christian caregiver can make a lot of difference in relieving Christmas stress.
Then, have yourself a merry little Christmas. And remember why the celebration exists.
This article is produced by the American Association of Christian Counselors. For more information, write AACC, PO Box 739, Forest, Virginia 24551, or call 1.800.526.8673. The information contained in this article is provided to AACC members for information purposes only. AACC assumes no responsibility for how this information is used and in no way endorses the counseling services provided by the person or counseling centers that provide this information.