Just because most people celebrate Christmas with a lot of gifting, hoopla and hall decking doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. In the 2004 film, “Christmas With the Kranks,” empty-nesters Luther and Nora Krank decided they would like to skip Christmas and go on a cruise instead. Social pressures, neighborhood hijinks and expectations from their adult child push them into spending loads of money, canceling their trip and going the whole nine yards to conform to the expected holiday traditions.
Like it or not, Christmas movies rarely come close to depicting real-life at Christmas. We’ve got stress from all angles this time of year. At work, Secret Santa is expecting you to put his name on a $20 Starbucks card; young children, adult children, grandchildren, stepchildren, nephews, and nieces have posted their Amazon wish lists; the homeowner’s association has decorating guidelines and your neighbor already has a gift for you.
If the above laundry list of expectations hasn’t caused your blood pressure to rise a bit, you’re a Christmas pro, and you probably don’t need to read any farther. However, if you’re already feeling the threat of a cluster headache thinking about all of the usual preparations for the quickly approaching holiday season, you’re in luck. Here are seven genius tips for a low-stress Christmas.
1. Abundant Holiday Decorations Are Nice But Unnecessary
Clark W. Griswold might not be available this year. If you have some extra time and a desire to have the brightest, most decorated house on the block, then hooray for Christmas lights.
On the other hand, if you aren’t interested or if you don’t have the time, money or patience for outdoor Christmas lights, take it off of your list. Plenty of other folks will light up the town this year. If Christmas doesn’t seem complete without twinkling lights, take a slow drive through a neighborhood that’s known for festive decor. You can also attend a tree-lighting ceremony nearby. You’ll get all the feels and sights of Christmas without tangling yourself in lights.
2. Holiday Greeting Cards No Longer a Necessity
If you don’t love sending out an 8-inch stack of Christmas cards, skip it. Do you remember which family didn’t send you a glossy photo Christmas card on premium cardstock last year? Neither do I. But I do know that you can save yourself at least a hundred bucks and save your tongue several paper cuts by opting out of sending cards to everyone you know this Christmas.
There are probably a handful of faraway family members that might be expecting a greeting card from you this holiday season. I’m talking parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends that are so close they seem like siblings. Most of us could get by with a standard 12-pack of pretty Christmas cards that each hold a copy of a fun family selfie taken in front of the tree or fireplace.
3. Draw Names for Christmas Gifts Among Groups
Do you have a large family or group of friends that will be hosting a big Christmas gathering this year? You can sign up for a whole lot of extra holiday stress if you promise a gift to everyone ― from your sister’s oldest son’s wife to your Aunt Betsy. Be the sensible one and suggest drawing names from a hat or another sort of creative exchange, so that each person doesn’t have to buy gifts for everyone on the guest list. Even if you have some resistance from those who love to shop, most of the people in your group will be thankful that they only have one gift to buy. Here are some low-stress ideas to help you plan a gift exchange:
- A simple lottery-style pick for everyone: Divide the group members into age groups. For example, 0-5 years, 6-12 years, 13-18 years and 18 and older. Either physically put names into a hat and draw them at a family gathering or use a random name selector, which available for free online, to assign each person with another in his or her age group. Set a monetary amount and shop for one person only.
- Adults play white elephant: Each adult is required to wrap up something that they don’t want and would like to unload. A gag gift could also be purchased. But it should be something silly rather than desirable. A giant clown painting or a wild handbag would do the trick. He or she brings one wrapped white elephant gift to the party. Draw names from a hat to determine who will pick first, second and so on. When each name is selected, the person will choose a gift from the pile and unwrap it. The next person to pick can decide to steal an unwrapped gift from its owner or unwrap another gift from the pile. The person whose gift has been stolen will pick a new one from the pile.
- Play a form of Hot Potato with the kids: Each child brings a wrapped toy and sits with the other children in a circle. Play music and have them pass all the toys around the circle while the music plays. Stop the music when you’re sure that none of the kids are holding the gift that they brought. When the music stops, all the children get to keep the gift they are holding and open it. You can decide if you’d prefer to have the children bring gender-neutral gifts or if you’d like to split the kids into gender groups and have separate circles.
When you’re setting a price limit for gifts, try to determine an amount that will suit the lowest wage earners in your group. Encourage everyone ― even the all-too generous grandparents ― to stay within the spending limit no matter what.
4. Set a Cash Limit and Stick Within Your Budget
Overspending will not only cause you stress during the Christmas holiday, but it will continue to bring you stress throughout the New Year as well. Before you even begin shopping, determine your budget. If you have $60 to spend on gifts this year, you’ve got to shop wisely. If you have $600 to spend, you still have to shop wisely. Whatever your budget is, stick to it and don’t go over.
If you’re shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, take only cash with you. Leave your debit cards and credit cards at home. If you’re shopping online, keep a sticky note on your computer with your total budget and write down each cyber purchase.
I’ll venture to say that no one on your Christmas list would be happy to know that you dipped into January’s mortgage payment or racked up a few hundred dollars on your credit card so you could purchase holiday gifts. Your friends and family likely want the best for you and will understand if all you can afford this year is a modest gift or a thoughtful handwritten letter.
When the final piece of tinsel is sucked up by your new robotic vacuum and all of the wrapping paper has been hauled out to the recycling bin, you’ll be proud of yourself and much less stressed if you’ve stayed well within your Christmas budget.
5. Don’t Attend Every Nonessential Event
There are only four Saturdays in December this year and three before Christmas. Your book club has a cookie exchange, your alumni group is hosting a charity dinner and your church needs you for the annual Christmas tea. If you attend all three events, you won’t even have one pre-Christmas Saturday to decorate your tree, bake holiday cookies or stay in your pajamas all day.
Do yourself a favor and attend only the nonessential events that you truly enjoy. Save at least one Saturday to be at home. You don’t have to offer an excuse for not attending. Send an RSVP with your regrets. If you’re pushed for a reason, explain that the date and time won’t work for you this month. December is busy, so most people won’t even question you.
6. Keep Taking Care of Yourself
Holiday stress can take a toll on your body. It isn’t unusual to pick up a cold or the flu when you’re overtired and undernourished. Amid the hustle and bustle, keep taking care of yourself.
Be cognizant of your physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health throughout the Christmas season. Stay consistent in your sleep schedule, workout regimen and prayer or meditation practices. Also, remember to eat well. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy a couple of Christmas cookies or a slice of pie during the holidays, but balance the added sugar with solid, nutritious meals and more water than usual.
7. Realize That It Won’t All Be Perfect
I know it’s hard for some of us to read those words. However, it’s true. Of all the holidays, Christmas is often a time when we have tragically unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. To avoid high stress, guard your heart against perfectionism at all costs. Realize that, although meaningful, Christmas is simply another day of the year. If your tree seems crooked, your Christmas goose gets overcooked and the cat throws up on your pretty snowman rug, the day is not ruined, and you can still enjoy yourself and your loved ones.
Keep Your Stress Levels Low This Christmas
Although it wouldn’t have made as good of a movie, perhaps Luther and Nora Krank should have snuck away and enjoyed their holiday with a romantic Christmas dinner on a cruise ship. This fictitious couple and surely others would be wise to listen to their own desires and convictions when it comes to Christmas.
It’s far less stressful to celebrate such a beautiful holiday in a way that brings you peace and joy. If you choose to forego certain traditional expectations, do so with tact. Give yourself and others an extra measure of grace and enjoy this lovely Christmas season.
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Barnathan, M., Columbus, C., Radcliffe, M. (Producers), & Roth, J. (Director). (2004). Christmas with the Kranks [DVD]. United States: Revolution Studios.