I remember a post on my Instagram around this time a year ago. That was the first time ever I didn’t feel stressed about celebrating Christmas and it got me thinking. We always dream about spending quality time with our loved ones in a relaxed atmosphere, with perfect food, presents, weather conditions, etc. And it (almost) never works out this way. At least for most women who spend their days on planning meals, cooking, doing last minute shopping, and remembering to take a shower somewhere in between. I don’t know how it is in your country but in Latvia what’s added to this list is also attending children’s Christmas events and parties at their education institutions and stressing about semester reports.
I used to have my own language school, a tiny one, where I was the only teacher and a director in one person. And what I learned in my first year of working at it was that I can easily plan doing something else in December because everyone keeps cancelling their lessons due to Christmas events and stress. After that, in January, I got tons of new students because… New Year’s Resolutions, right? But let’s get back to December.
It all changed for me when I started homeschooling. I’m not saying everyone has to take their kids out of school but here’s some food for thought:
- Sleeping is crucial. It is how I personally deal with stress. Being able to wake up whenever I feel like it and not to stress about getting my kids to school on time is one of the best things that has happened to me lately. We are now living in a blockhouse, and each workday morning I hear neighbours in the staircase yelling and crying, and stressing about being late. Since it is still dark outside when it happens (daylight is about 6-7 hours these days here), hearing it all feels like I’m still sleeping and having a nightmare.
- Although some school events can be nice, I prefer choosing social gatherings that I really want to attend. I may even pay for them but at least they bring me joy.
- I can control and choose my kids intake of sweets. They both like salty foods anyway but it’s a tradition here- you meet Santa, recite a poem, and get a huge bag of random sweets. I don’t have to pay for things they don’t eat or like anymore. Instead they get what they really like and what’s even healthy for them.
- My kids don’t stress about being forced to recite poems or talk to Santa in front of a crowd. I don’t blame them. I don’t mind talking in front of a crowd but it must be for other purposes.
- We are not waiting for the first day of school holidays to go on a trip. To be honest, I even don’t know when school holiday starts this month. We complete school tasks whenever and wherever we are.
- I clearly see how kids are impacted by people who they spend most of they time with. If it’s teachers at school, they’ll have bigger impact on your kids than you do. If they eat more meals with their peers at school, their eating habits will form accordingly. If they spend most of their time among people who encourage consumerism, it creates more stress for everybody at home because kids fall into the “I need it” trap more easily (peer pressure, stereotypes, society expectations, etc.) and we spend extra time on discussions about the fact that “you don’t actually need it”. All of this is gone since we spend most of our time together and lead a more peaceful life that we all enjoy.
- Travel has let us see the destructive side of human lifestyle. I’ve always taught my kids that self-made presents are more valuable than another useless piece of plastic you buy. I’ve heard whining along the way but it’s slowly coming together. It takes time. And effort.
This is where we come to the subject of gifts and presents.
Before I had kids, my Christmas time wasn’t less stressful. We usually visited my parents, then my grandparents, then my husband’s parents and grandparents. After that I was exhausted and cried for days. When my daughter was born, she sort of brought everyone together. They came to visit us on one day. A festive lunch or dinner and it was all done. Pheew! The only persisting problem was the pile of presents in the corner of the living room and the amount of food that was too much even for week-long leftovers for us and our neighbours. Changing older generation’s beliefs and traditions are as hard as teaching your children! They don’t understand that kids don’t need that chemical lollipop and toys made in China just because “kids need toys and sweets”.
One year I had this idea. I sent out invitations to our annual Christmas lunch. I also added a long list of RULES. Before that I divided our family members into “units”. One unit was either a couple (a husband & wife) or a single person (kids and those who didn’t have a partner). Each unit had to decide on one thing they really wanted for Christmas. I calculated the approximate amount for all these wishes and then divided it per person. The result was mind blowing: each person paid about 7 EUR and got exactly what they wanted in return. Instead of buying random presents for 15 other people and spending tens and hundreds on that. I also gave instructions on what food which person brought. There was no secret competition on who makes that particular dish better and there was just the amount of food on the table that was needed and sufficient. Regarding big family Christmas celebrations, this is the best solution I’ve come up with so far.
The following years were slightly different. Both grandmothers had passed away, and we had opened a cafe. Christmas celebrations took place there and had more or less the same present policy. It took me about 7-8 years to persuade the older generation that quality is more important than quantity. It does take time. And effort.
This year will be even more different. It’s been a long and exhausting journey for me personally and I’m saying ‘no’ to everything that brings extra stress to me. Visiting people just because it’s a tradition is not on my agenda anymore. They are family all year round and I can visit them any time for a special meal. I needed help and “presents” in July more than I need them now. It is the same with all the charity events. People need help all the time, not only at Christmas.
What you focus on, expands.
If your energy goes in spending excessive amounts of money and surviving endless Christmas events in one particular week of the year, it costs you more in all fields. Just like running a sprint will require more energy than a slow run or pressing the gas pedal to the ground will use more fuel. Like everything else in your life, it depends on your choices. Be smart and act! Only you know what brings joy and peace to you but remember that changes don’t happen overnight. It may require years. However, you can start implementing small steps this year and strive for more in the future. Small steps are better than no steps at all.
- Make a list of all the events you have to attend. Circle those that you’d love to attend. Then those that you “should” attend. Think about why you should do that. If it’s “just because they’ll feel offended if I don’t go”, that’s not a reason good enough to keep this event on your list. Not even presidents or Oprah go everywhere they’re invited to. Cross out all events that bring headache to you. Now, breathe in! Well done!
- Your own family may have traditions that are not in line with what others might expect. Maybe instead of sitting down for a big meal on Christmas Eve it makes more sense to you to go out to the local kebab place or order a pizza and watch a movie. It’s about spending time together and creating memories. Maybe you have to be at work and celebrating is not even possible. Do whatever works best for you and your family!
- We are constantly learning about zero waste principles and protecting our planet. This is why we try to give presents that are edible (homemade gingerbread, jams, chocolate truffles, wine, etc.), in digital format (books, gift cards, event or flight tickets, etc.) or we find out what the person really wants. If you find yourself in a position that you don’t have a present to give, then hugs, good words, gratitude (publicly expressed as well) and a shared meal go a long way. Giving has to be meaningful. Giving is a choice, not an obligation.
- Don’t fall for perfect photos on social media! Nobody has it perfect. Comparison is one of the habits we all have to let go.
- Take time off for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a whole day and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Sitting in your car alone for 10 minutes listening to whatever calms you down or inspires you is better than nothing. Locking yourself in the bathroom for longer than it would usually take, with your headphones on to zoom out the possible chaos in your household, is better than nothing. Taking your trash bin out and walking extra slowly while breathing in and out (not the smell of the trash though) is better than nothing. You get the idea.
Most importantly, sit down and think about what you like and what you don’t like about how you spend this time each year. There’s always room for improvement.
I hope you get to enjoy this season. Let me know what your traditions are and how you make the most of this beautiful yet complicated time of the year.