By Karen Wolff
They say the most stressful time of year is during the holidays. Why is that? Thanksgiving.....Christmas....they're supposed to be happy and fun, you know.....almost Norman Rockwell like..... but somewhere along the way the stress, the unrealistic expectations, the unreasonable demands, and all that other negative stuff show ups and the next thing you know.....you're depressed, over-tired, and dreading one more day during the so-called "holiday season".
Amazingly enough, Christians seem to have the exact same issues as non-Christians. There is no apparent difference in the way they act or talk or handle the stress of the holidays. Or is there?
I could tell you that simplifying things to make it easier is a good idea, but then I'm pretty sure tipping over the Christmas tree, throwing out the lights, and using the family egg nog recipe as fireplace kindling wouldn't count in the whole "simplifying" concept.
So how do you prioritize all that's Christian about the holidays with all the other stuff that's creeped in over the years? How do you satisfy your family and friends, and still be able to keep your focus on what's truly important?
Here are some things you can do that may help you start moving in the right direction.
Start planning NOW. Decide what is truly important and necessary as a family. Having Christian priorities means putting "all that's Christian" at the top of the holiday list. This is a great time to teach your kids the difference between giving and receiving. When your kids see that your priorities are centered around truly celebrating the real purpose of the season, it will get easier and easier for them to be a Christian at Christmas too.
Now, let me clarify. Teaching your kids about giving and receiving doesn't mean you can tell your kids to tell Aunt Martha they can't "receive" her favorite fruitcake because it exceeds the airline weight requirement for the trip home, and that she should "give" it to the starving children in a foreign country.
Let other family and extended family members know well in advance of your holiday season plans. Explain that as a family, you've decided to change your focus to things that can make a difference for someone else. Perhaps that means there will be less gift giving amongst family members and more to needy families. Or perhaps it means you won't be spending every available dollar on decorations and holiday parties, but rather on things that will make your family truly understand and appreciate the intent of the season. It is important to set the example for all those extended family members. You'll be surprised how others will follow your lead.....they just need someone to show them the way.
As a family, evaluate all your scheduled holiday activities. Only participate in those that you can honestly say you're attending because they bring you joy and contribute to your Christian holiday season. If, on the other hand, you're dreading that party or that holiday event and only attend because you feel pressure to meet the expectations of other people, then perhaps it's time to let people in on your change in direction. It may upset some people initially, but taking back control of your holidays won't always make everyone else happy. Pleasing God and keeping your sanity have got to have the highest priority.
There will always be pressure from other people coming at you from all directions during the holidays. Being a Christian at Christmas means you have to fight your way through the noise to get to all that's Christian about the season. The holiday season is a great opportunity to let others see you "walk the walk" and "talk the talk". Saying you're a Christian is one thing........actually being one at Christmas....shows what you're really made of.
Give other people a break. Putting pressure on others to meet your expectations puts alot of unneccessary stress on them because they're facing alot of what you're facing during the holidiays. If people can't make it to your holiday gathering, the world won't stop turning. Cutting people some slack will go a long way toward doing what you can to help others reduce their holiday stress level.
As a family, discuss your financial status and make a commitment not to overspend. There is nothing Christian about getting into debt just to satisfy a lot of unreasonable demands and expectations. God always looks at motive, no matter what you do. Now is the time to re-evaluate what you're spending, and why you're spending it. It may not be easy to change your overspending holiday habits, but it's better to take small steps than none at all.
Of course, gift giving can mean alot of different things to alot of different people. For example, in my family gift giving takes the form of an olympic event. Having received belly-button lights which my brother helpfully described as "great for reading", and slippers made from Kotex pads, and oh yes....let's not forget the talking fish that was already moving under the wrapping paper before I even opened it.....well, let's just say the attempts to out-give each other really do reach olympic proportions.
I'm not really sure what God thinks about the motive in that scenerio.....I'm just glad He has a sense of humor.
Being a "Christian at Christmas" has to be a deliberate, concentrated effort. The world continues to get more and more commercialized, so you can bet God will honor all your efforts to keep the focus where it should be. And you can also bet He'll appreciate your efforts to set the right example for your family and friends.
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