I was at a store the other day and said something about having a nice holiday to the cashier. And she replied that she was so stressed out and so busy, she hated Christmas. She wanted it to hurry and be over.
I was stunned. If she doesn't like the stress, why does she allow it? If she doesn't want to be busy, why is she? Surely she can control her calendar and her craziness to some extent. Who is putting these demands on her? I went home musing about it, and I tried to identify why I find Christmas so peaceful and relaxing when others around me are literally making themselves ill over preparations.
Maybe I'm not preparing the right way. Maybe I'm being lazy. I try to do any shopping before December (partly because I have to mail gifts to far-away family). I avoid stores. I avoid driving if I can help it. (That's true all year long, not just in December.) I keep gifts simple - homemade or special in meaning. Maybe giving experiences instead of objects (for example, a coupon entitling the bearer to a special outing with me in the new year). I make one kind of Christmas cookie to take to the neighbours instead of twenty different kinds. I slap up the same decorations every year and don't get too carried away (half of the decorations stay in their boxes. I mean, how much do you really need?). I rely on music to set the scene more than tinsel. I go to church and remind myself frequently of the real purpose and meaning of the season.
Granted, we have little family in Canada, so there aren't very many social demands. Christmas Eve we lounge around watching TV and waiting for the kids to go to sleep so we can shuttle all the gifts down from their hiding place in our room. We don't put gifts under the tree until late Christmas Eve. That way, when the kids wake up, the transformation has all the more punch, and it doesn't take a huge pile of wrapped boxes to excite them. Some years we forgo the turkey dinner and just have lasagna or something else that's simple. Christmas Day is spent eating, sleeping, reading, taking the dog on long walks, and just hanging out with family generally. And for some reason I can't figure out, it has become a family tradition to watch Planet of the Apes every year. I know, it's weird. But it suits us.
I think that is the key. Find what suits your family and your particular circumstances. Don't try to live someone else's version of life. Don't try to be Martha Stewart (after all, she has a staff and television crew to help her clean up the mess!). Don't think you have to have the perfect Hallmark celebration. Do what feels right to you, and let the rest go. If you want to stay home, do. If you want to forgo gifts altogether and donate to World Vision instead, do. If you want to skip the big meal and go hang out and help at the local food bank, do. If you don't like the idea of climbing on ladders in the snow to hang lights on your house, don't. All our neighbours deck their houses with garlands of lights, beautiful greens and golds and whites. It's lovely. We don't do it ourselves. We plunk a couple of spotlights in the ground to give the front of the house a demonic red glow and leave it at that. And it's enough.
Knowing when you have enough is the key to happiness, I think. If you don't want it in the first place, it's as good as having it.