It’s time for my annual rant about the increasingly outrageous expansion of what used to be “Christmas” into a two-month extravaganza of over-eating, over-scheduling, and over-spending called “the holiday season.” Let’s focus for just a moment on holiday stress.
If I see one more article about coping with the stress of the holidays, I just may scream. Not, you understand, that I am stressed or anything. I will admit to being profoundly irritated, though. It just doesn’t seem reasonable to complain about holiday stress when so much of it is self-inflicted.
My own suggestion to reduce stress is to employ, early and often, one short word. No, not that word. Admittedly, it may have its place—such as when it’s 11:47 p.m. on Christmas Eve and you are attempting to put together something that the directions blithely assure you can be assembled “in 15 minutes with a few simple tools,” and you’ve been working on it for three hours and you have several small parts left over. In such a situation, feel free to use whatever words come to mind, as often and as emphatically as seems appropriate.
And no, although it certainly can be useful, “no” isn’t the word I’m suggesting, either. The word I recommend using lavishly at this time of year is “why.”
“I have to bake six dozen cookies for the cookie exchange at work.” Why?
“It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving; we have to put up the outside Christmas lights.” Why?
“The Christmas letter has to go out by December 15.” Why?
“I have to get gifts for all 47 people in the extended family.” Why?
“I don’t care what the in-laws want; we have to get together with the whole family on Christmas morning.” Why?
I’m certainly not suggesting you should turn into a Grinch and skip Christmas altogether. It can be a wonderful time of sharing traditions with the people you care about most. Just stop and think about why you do the things you do this time of year. Consider whether the activities are enjoyable, whether they are important to someone in your family, or whether they matter enough to you to be worth doing at all.
If writing a Christmas letter or sending out cards to a long list of relatives and friends is fun and helps you keep in touch with people, then fine. If it’s a hassle and you hate it, why not skip it? You can keep in touch just as well with a spring letter or a summer one—or better yet, emails and notes throughout the year.
If you truly love baking Christmas cookies and want to have dozens of them, that’s great. But if you make them because you assume you should, or you know you’re going to eat too many of them and hate yourself for it, or you end up throwing half of them away because they get stale—then in the name of Saint Nicholas, Rudolph, and all the elves, why do them at all?
By all means, participate in the events and traditions you enjoy this time of year. But before you commit yourself unthinkingly to a list of seasonal shoulds, stop and ask one small question. “Why do this?”
If the answer is, “Because I want to,” then go for it. Have a wonderful time—and a Merry Christmas.