Many of us who were raised in narcissistic families or come from abusive backgrounds don’t have good associations with Christmas and the holidays in general. On top of this, Christmas has become overcommercialized and even people from normal, happy families get stressed. Everywhere you go, there are messages telling you to be cheerful and “jolly” and ads telling you to buy, buy, and buy some more. People who don’t have families (or have dysfunctional families) or don’t have a lot of money often feel marginalized, as if they’re defective because they can’t fully participate in all the hoopla or be as happy as the wealthy, perfect (and annoying) people they see in TV commercials. The days are also short and gloomy. No wonder depression is so common this time of year.
Even if you dread the holidays, it’s still possible to enjoy them. I used to stress myself into a frenzy every Christmas. When you have small children, it’s easy to do this if money is tight, which it almost always was for us. After all, children are expecting Santa to come with his bag of gifts, and they will not understand if gifts are few. But kids being around also make Christmas fun. Now that my kids are adults, I’ve learned to not stress so much about Christmas. It’s still not my favorite time of year, but here are some ways you can make the most of it. Even though I still dread the holidays, I almost always wind up having a great time.
1. Treat Christmas like a second Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is probably the least commercialized holiday. In fact, it’s so underrated that now it’s been nearly co-opted by Black Friday, and stores remain open on Thanskgiving so people can get a head start on their Christmas shopping.
On Thanksgiving, the focus is on food, eating, and football. For the past few years, I’ve focused on the food at Christmas rather than the gifts. I give a few inexpensive or homemade gifts, but I spend more of my time and energy on cooking. My spinach-meat lasagna has become a family tradition rather than the usual turkey (I’m usually turkey’d out after a month of eating turkey, turkey soup, and turkey sandwiches) and the lasagna I make has all the Christmas colors too. (I’ll post my recipe later on). Add a salad and some garlic bread and some kind of pie (usually apple for us), and we’re good to go. Everyone’s so busy enjoying the food they barely register the fact the gifts are few.
2. Bake cookies (or other baked goods) and give them as gifts.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on presents. Everyone loves cookies and they can be wrapped in attractive and creative ways and given as gifts. If you’ve baked the cookies yourself, it can be a more thoughtful and personal gift than something you got from the store. If you prefer, bake a pie and wrap it like an Easter basket in red and green cellophane with a bow on top. Even a prettily wrapped basket of fruit can make a thoughtful gift.
3. Give handmade gifts.
I make suncatchers made of bits of glass, stone and small mirrors and they make terrific gifts. I haven’t made any in about a year, but I have several still around that I plan to give as gifts this year. Each one is unique and everyone appreciates them. Years ago, when I had a kiln, I used to paint ceramic tiles. People loved those too. If you paint, make jewelry, knit, or do any other kind of arts and crafts, think about making your gifts instead of buying them. People will appreciate the time and effort that went into making such a personal and unique gift.
4. Remember that the days are now becoming longer.
If you’re like me (I suffer from SAD), the short days of this time of year can get you down. But there’s an upside too. Starting the first day of winter, the days start growing longer! Christmas was originally a pagan holiday to celebrate the “return of the sun”–the winter solstice. Remind yourself of the lengthening days and try not to think about the cold months ahead.
5. Do something special for yourself.
If you’re not blessed with a big, boisterous family–or even if you have no one to spend Christmas with, you can still enjoy the day. Make it special: give (or make) yourself a gift, go to a movie, take a long walk, or a long luxurious bath. Also, you can remind yourself that sometimes big family get-togethers can turn into unpleasant drama fests. Remind yourself that you’re spared from that.
Most churches sponsor Christmas dinners. Other organizations do too. If you don’t have a family to spend the day with, or you have negative memories associated with this time of year, consider donating your time to preparing or serving food to take your mind off your woes. You might even meet others in the same boat and wind up making new friends and having a great time.
7. It’s only one day.
Even though the Christmas season can seem endless, it’s all leading up to one day, and then it’s all over for another whole year.
8. Skip Christmas this year.
I’m serious. If Christmas really stresses you out, consider skipping it altogether. Explain to your friends and family that you need a break from the stress and assure them it’s nothing personal. If they’re true friends they will understand. If you’re a Christian, you will not offend Jesus if you skip Christmas. The Bible doesn’t tell us we have to celebrate his birthday.
9. Remember what Christmas is really all about.
In spite of what all the commercials tell us, Christmas isn’t about the trees, Santa Claus, reindeer and gifts. It’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. Most churches have some sort of Christmas service. Consider attending and focusing on the true meaning of Christmas instead of all the material trappings. Watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” always a treat for me.