Boy do we need a little Christmas right this very minute. After a Yuletide in exile last year, some of us are actually planning to be together with distant family this year, if we want to brave the new realities of air travel, that is: cancelled flights, higher prices, hours in a fuselage with a mask on and the off-chance that you’ll run into the bad behavior that looks anything like Christmas cheer.
Ever since we became adults, the holiday season has been crowded, honking intersection of toxic stress and anticipatory excitement. The experience we associated with childhood, full of candy canes, snowmen and Christmas lists that were all about us, has long ago been traded for worries about weather forecasts and travel plans, getting enough time away from work to feel like you had a holiday, and saving enough money to cover all the gift lists that are now all about everyone else.
And for too many of us, especially after a year of COVID, the holidays are filled with the pain of loss and memories of holidays with loved ones whose absence seems to rob the season of all its joy.
So how do you have a merry little Christmas now that you’re a grown-up and giving is so much more expensive than receiving? We asked a couple of our elves to go into their shop and come up with some tips which we offer here, free of charge.
“Expectations can get a little hard to match up to reality at this time of year,” said Jeff Hubbell, Director of Behavioral Health. “We carry those high expectations forward with us from childhood, and these days especially, they can get inflated still further by glittering images from social media and movies. Don’t let your dreams of the perfect holiday get in the way of a perfectly good one. Look close at those small moments with loved ones and you’ll find plenty of reasons for happiness.”
Of course, getting together with family can come with its own, built-in stress level. How do we navigate the family that sticks together, but not always so happily?
First of all, remember that not every comment requires a response. Change the subject or the person you’re engaging in conversation with if the conversation is getting too heated. Steer clear of subjects that have led to disagreements in the past. After all, these are the people you know well, so you also know where the mines are planted.
If you are dealing with grief this holiday season, give yourself permission to do as much or as little as you feel will help you with your feelings. Everyone’s grief is their own. Connecting with family and friends can be healthy and helpful, but it can also get to be more than you can absorb. Share your holiday to the extent you want to, with those who can understand and share your sense of loss.
To lower your stress level, stretch the holidays out as long as you can on the calendar. Start working on your gift list as early as you can and plan your shopping excursions to be fun outings with family or friends. Plan a budget for your giving and stick to it, so you don’t end up even more stressed over the money you spent.
Probably the best way to ensure you have a merry little Christmas, though, is to remember why we celebrate the holiday at all. “The birth of Christ is the pinnacle event of history,” said Chaplain Steve Slack, GraceMed’s Director of Spiritual Care. “God gave us a gift that first Christmas that opened up his grace and mercy to everyone and literally endowed us with the wonder of eternal life. If you can take some time out this Christmas just to go and worship, God can fill you with his presence and renew you with his love. A truly profound experience like that can really make all the noise and stress of life ‘grow strangely dim’ as the old hymn says.”
It’s kind of hard to follow that advice with just about anything else, unless it would be this: Volunteer. Put the love God freely gives us into action giving nothing more than your time to help out at a shelter or serve a holiday meal with those less fortunate than you. After all, God gave us an eternity full of love to give away to each other. And when you do that, “merry” is just too little a word to describe the Christmas you will have.
One afterword on that subject from our CEO, Venus Lee: “From all of us here at GraceMed to all the wonderful people who have supported our ministry during this challenging year, please accept our heartfelt appreciation. Your prayers and donations have helped enormously as we have reached out to more and more of the underserved as well as the thousands who have needed testing and vaccination against the coronavirus. We are so blessed to serve communities where so many of you believe we have a responsibility to help one another discover and enjoy the fullness of life God intends for everyone.”
This post originated in our State of Grace quarterly news magazine. If you would like to receive the magazine, please visit this link and give us your information. Thanks!