I feel like Game of Thrones jokes are in abundance these days, so I’ll refrain from “winter is coming” references. But darn it. It is. However, along with it comes the most wonderful time of the year, right? Christmas. It is such a loaded word. For many, many reasons. Lately, I feel like I hear so much about how Christmas and the holidays are so stressful. Crazy even.
Strange isn’t it though? That we talk in the same breath about trying to live more simply, minimalism, priorities, etc. Yet here we are on the hamster wheel of the year. The Holidays.
*As a disclaimer, I use the “we” above to refer to the swaying winds of what is catchy and popular these days. Not necessarily things that I practice. Maybe just in theory.
Anyway, I realized the other day in reading another article about the stress and hustle and bustle of the holidays, that I don’t typically find myself overwhelmed and overloaded the way I have been reading about. Now. That does not mean I don’t feel any of that, it just doesn’t seem to feel as heavy as those descriptions.
I started thinking about why that is. Why don’t I feel the crush of the chaos and expectations? I believe I have uncovered my thing, or my secret. Well, one specific thing with some supporting “things.” Wanna know? Sure ya do.
The number one simple way I keep from going crazy over the holidays? I have learned my weakness.
That is the number one thing that has kept me from the crazy. I know where I am weak. I set parameters based on that weakness and remind myself of it in virtually all decisions.
This weakness is not something I have always recognized in myself, but I have always KNOWN it. Does that make sense? It’s always been there flitting in the background, pushing me to make unwise and impulsive decisions this time of year. It is no longer hiding out, and I can use it as a tool for making choices that are healthy, life-giving and joy-filled for me and the people I care about.
So that is the one secret. What is mine? I’m glad you asked. But first, let’s walk through how I landed on mine and help you discover yours. Cause you have one too.
First, let’s talk a little about the “issues” surrounding this time of year. I have narrowed it down to two that I believe most struggles with overwhelm and poor decisions fall under and branch out from.
I learned about this concept a few years ago and it was so eye-opening for me and offered great insight into how my personality engages with options. The term was introduced by author Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock. Per Wikipedia…
“Overchoice or choice overload is a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options.The phenomenon of overchoice occurs when many equivalent choices are available. Making a decision becomes overwhelming due to the many potential outcomes and risks that may result from making the wrong choice. Having too many approximately equally good options is mentally draining because each option must be weighed against alternatives to select the best one.”
Oh my gosh. I am an overchoice junkie. I. Want. All. The. Options. I spend hours, days even, researching arcane silly purchases and ideas. Things that are meaningless. I want to make the perfect decision. Unfortunately, we live in a part of the world with 70 mustard brands and I can’t even fathom how many toothpaste choices. I’m in constant decision-making mode.
What does that have to do with Christmas and the holidays?
There is no other time of the year with more choice overload. No other time.
Food. Party plans. Christmas cards…photo or no photo? Which printing company? Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Gifts. Two or ten? Santa or no Santa? Advent tree or advent calendar or no advent at all? Travel. Packing. Who to visit? Put up lights? Or not? Is this a tradition or just something we did twice? Shoot. Appliances are cheapest this time of year. Do we NEED a new tv…cause it’s on sale? Dang it…last years car models too…
I’m not kidding you, I’m just getting started.
It’s so much. It’s too much.
Not much to explain here, right? It’s everywhere, all the time, starting earlier and earlier every year.
Listen. It’s a given that there is simply a lot to do, but here are the things I think overchoice and oversaturation lead to during the holidays.
It’s real. The fear of missing out. What if by missing out on xyz we will regret it forever? Christmas won’t be special. It won’t feel meaningful. We might not capture the “meaning of the season” if we don’t do all these things. On and On.
We will fail and ruin Christmas for our kids. Dramatic maybe, but there is so much pressure here for moms. For everyone really. We have to make it the best ever.
This is the trying to do everything part. Every tradition. Every activity and craft. Every event. Often this is an area comparison rears its dirty head.
I left these intentionally brief descriptions because I bet you can easily relate to one or all of them. Here’s the thing. These absolutely come with good intentions. It’s a wonderful thing to try and create beauty and magic and tradition around Christmas and this time of year. I mean that and I believe it.
We work hard to make this season special and that is a good thing. It really is. But I think that sometimes there are motivations or behind the scenes things at work, that play so dirty with option overload. I bet most of us will read these and at least one or two will distinctly ring true.
1/ We simply want to make Christmas and the surrounding holidays special for our people. Every part of it.
No other time of the year probably brings up more memories and ideas of the “right way” or the “way we did it.” So in trying to resurrect the things we loved about our own pasts, we feel obligated to recreate our experiences.
This is the opposite of Nostalgia. This is the “what I missed” motivation. The desire to redeem poor or even bad experiences of our own childhoods. This is a common motivation for overcompensation.
4/ We just love Christmas!
Any of these stick? I bet so. And to reiterate, these are not bad motivations when kept in proper check and perspective. But when they go unfettered, we end up with crazy, do or die mentalities.
The main result? It has to be perfect to be good.
Because who wants to ruin Christmas. Not this girl.
So what happens when these motivations drive us in all of our decisions? From the crafts and cookies to events and decorating. To the presents. Phew. The presents.
1/ It puts the emphasis on me and my output.
Someone has to accomplish all the things. And because I care the most, I have to pull it all off. I get frustrated because it’s all on me. But who decided what the “all” was going to be?
2/ It places crazy expectations on the future.
I felt so guilty for not going to watch the lights at this cute little farm last year. I felt like because we did it that way once, we had to create a ritual of it. Ya know what? No one cared. Once I let it go, I didn’t either. Not every great thing has to be recreated or made into tradition. Pumpkin Patches and Christmas cards, I’m looking at you.
3/ It’s exhausting.
No duh. And let me tell you how pleasant I am when I’m tired with too much to do.
4/ It’s expensive.
People literally go into debt because of this one month of the year.
5/ It’s not sustainable.
You can’t do everything every year. Your schedule changes, your people grow up and change. You change.
Ok. So that was prob a lot. But I promise I’m getting to the more positive side…What to do with this information. Which brings me back to my thing.
Know your weakness.
What is yours?
Is it FOMO driven by redemption? Is it guilt doubled up with wanting everything to be so special?
Here’s the process for you. Take some time and walk through these questions, being honest with yourself. Also, I created this Christmas 2017 Worksheet below to help you be intentional about your approach to the Holidays this year.
Here are the steps...
What are my weak spots or triggers?
I'm prone to...
I struggle with...
- Making it all special
- I just love Christmas so much!
For me, it’s nostalgia, guilt and making it all special. I have great Christmas memories and spent a lot of energy and disagreeing with Bret trying to recreate what I thought Christmas was “supposed” to be like.
How do I respond to these triggers? What does it create in me?
I feel a lot of guilt for letting my family down if I don’t do all the things I tell myself I should. I overcompensate by overbuying on gifts at the last minute. I start a lot of things and don’t finish them. And lastly, my rebellious side puts me in paralysis and I don’t even do the things that I really value and feel are important. I'll get to the "heck with it all" stage. The important things get overshadowed by all of the shoulds I have.
Ask yourself, “What do I really care about?”
Pick 2 or three things that are at the top of the list, always. These are more like values than practices.
In our house, it's making the holidays special and memorable for the boys and our family. I want Christmas to feel set apart and meaningful. The second one is that I want to foster a spiritual emphasis that creates beauty and mystery around our faith like only Christmas can. And lastly, I’m a freaking gift giving ninja. I wish it was my job. It brings me immense joy to put my heart into giving thoughtfully to the people I love.
So. Are you tracking with the process?
- What are my triggers/weakness?
- How do I respond to them? How do they cause me to act?
- What do I really care about and value?
For the last piece…
Here’s how you are going to accomplish it...
It’s not rocket science. It’s intentionality.
Pick 4-5 traditions to emphasize and let the rest go.
- Traditional Chicken Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast followed by gift time!!! Did I mention I value gifts?
- Advent. For me personally, an advent study. She Reads Truth has a beautiful one every year, but there are tons of options online that are even free. Please comment if you have one you have enjoyed, I'd love to know. Also, you can just do the same one you have done before. I'll say though, for me, having a beautiful study is part of the joy of it.
- In the past for the boys, we have wrapped a book for every day and read one each night, with the last night being the biblical Christmas story. At this stage of life, it’s too much work and too much wrapping paper. This year, when the She Reads Truth Advent cards from last year went on sale, I snatched them up. That is my plan for now. I still have a little time to make the final call.
- Hanging Christmas lights. I also want to drive around and drink hot cocoa with the boys while we ooh and ahh together.
- Ornaments. This gets a nod to nostalgia. Our parents bought us an ornament each Christmas that typically had some significance from the year. They also did it for each other. My favorite part of putting up the tree was unwrapping the ornaments they gave to one another on their first Christmas together.
- Giving back in some way. This year we did shoeboxes for Samaritan's Purse. This category will grow as the boys grow, without a doubt. (I actually think that's 6. Ah well.)
Here’s the thing. When I said pick 4 or 5 and let the rest go, I don’t mean you only can do those things. But those are THE things. And 4 or 5 might have sounded like a lot at first, but once you start listing, you'll be surprised at how many you come up with.
If you had time for nothing else, what would you pick? And then and only then, if you have time for other things, by all means, do them. But do them because you are intentional about them, and you actually have the heart, time, and resources for them. Not because you feel like you have to.
And just so you know, yes decorating for Christmas is certainly on my list. But it’s on autopilot for me. I decorate simply and use the same things every year. I try not to have trendy decorations that I will hate next year. But if decorating with elaborate things is on your list, go for it. But only because you value it.
So there you have it.
Know your weakness, use it as a weapon.
Here is how you do that.
Pull it out when you are impulse shopping online, making a bazillion teacher gifts (won’t be making anything around here, I assure you), or dragging your people to every Christmas themed event in town.
If something you need to do is not a value to you, figure out the most unsophisticated, simple way of doing it. If making gifts for your kid's teachers is too stressful, don't feel guilty about contributing a small amount to the general fund at school for such things. Yes, I do still love my kid's teachers. Very much so.
Do not make things complicated that don't have to be!
And please don’t make decisions because of what anyone else is doing. Know your weakness and fight it by owning and living out your values for this beautiful time of year. Let all the rest go, or take the easy road when available.
So tell me your weaknesses. What do you value? And don't forget to grab our free Christmas 2017 Worksheet to help you figure it out!