Handling the Holy-days: Managing the Special Stresses of Christmas

1. Attitude and Expectations
As with most things, handling the Holiday season begins not with to-do lists or your surroundings, but inside you with your spiritual, emotional, and mental attitude. To begin this inward preparation you may want to:

  • Remember that in the Christian calendar, this is the season of Advent, the season of anticipation that celebrates the reality that God loves us so much that he entered our world in the form of child to love us and to redeem us. You may want to begin or end each day with a time of prayer, perhaps with an advent calendar or other means to remind you of the spiritual center of these Holy-days.
  • Be flexible. Rather than consistently ‘taking control’ through the holidays, remember to try to be flexible. Ask God to show you places where he is working, opportunities to experience wonder at what he is doing, rather than constantly pressing your agenda.
  • Plan without pressing. Who among us is immune to all those messages of the Ideal Perfect Christmas with the Ideal Perfect Family? Try to discern what you and your family need this Christmas and plan to meet those needs, but be willing to compromise and alter rather than insist and press.

2. Your Particular Christmas
Be aware of how this particular Christmas in your particular life may be different than the Christmas experience of other people. What factors are shaping this particular Christmas for you and your family? DO NOT ASSUME that these circumstances will always be the case, but THEY ARE the reality for you NOW. It is important to ACCEPT this enough to PLAN accordingly. Significant issues you may want to address include.

The Experience of Loss
If someone you love has died or is no longer in your life, life has changed and so has Christmas. Assume that your mood will be less festive, that you will be attuned to the darker side of the holidays to loss, brokenness, and grief. Try to find people and places you can be understood and supported and affirmed. Limit who you share these feelings with, not everyone can handle them and not everyone needs to hear about it. Begin to decide which important traditions of past Christmases you will want to honor this year, and decide which things you want to change perhaps even radically and perhaps only for this year. Don’t get isolated and only turn inward. Ignore people who offer you the rules for the right way to handle your grief. Talk through decisions with trusted friends who know you, but then HAVE a holiday even if you decide to have one by focusing on others (not a bad idea).

The Experience of Financial Hardship
Financial realities are not ALL there is, but they certainly bear down on us. Make a budget (TOGETHER, if you are married), and try to follow it closely. DO NOT create the January misery of debt. But do not simply AVOID having fun or being active. Just because your financial ledger is tight, DO NOT make your emotional ledger tight as well. Remember that a surprising majority of Holiday programs for the public are free. Find ways to lavish warmth, support and affection to spouses, parents and children. Surf the internet for gift giving ideas that require that you give yourself more than money.

The Experience of Separation or Divorce
Reread the section above related to Loss, because this certainly applies to you.

  • If you anticipate that the separation is temporary, try to respect the distance that both you and your partner may need. If getting together is a possibility, try as much as possible to focus on ANYTHING other than the question of whether you will be staying together. Focus on children if they are involved; focus on the holidays, focus on the present and your surroundings just don’t endlessly obsess on the relationship.
  • If you anticipate that the separation is permanent or if you are recently divorced, again, be aware that an appropriate label for this condition is No-End Grief. This means that the grieving is more difficult because the person you have lost keeps re-appearing in your life either personally or through the things that connect you like bills, obligations, events, children, etc.
  • Focus on trying to control your emotions when things trigger strong emotional reactions. Do not engage in arguments and banter. For the holidays, try to capture a sense of the hopeful side of Christmas the side that affirms that life changes and that God is not done with you. Your future may improve

The Experience of Difficult Families or Family Members
It is best to think of difficult families and family members as potential toxins for you. The key to survival is limiting exposure

  • Try NOT to focus on efforts to control or change these people. Those efforts have likely gotten you nowhere in the past.
  • Instead, try to focus on yourself and your relationship with God and with those members of your family who ARE functional. Create alliances of health with these people.
  • A key strategy is to remain in control of where you are staying, how long you will be there, and maintaining a means to leave. o Finally, pray for these people. If they drive you crazy, chance are they make themselves crazy and drive others crazy as well. which does not help them.
  • One More Thing- IF you decide to intervene in the negative pattern of a substance abuser, someone who is mentally ill, or a relative who is showing signs of dementia, do it in partnership with other family members and seek professional advice and help. DON’T try to single-handedly confront a major mental health problem in a family member.

Emmanuel, God With Us

  • When things are difficult, the two greatest challenges are these: Fear, and your attitude.
  • We tend to be afraid of the present, remember our past fears, and fear the uncertainty of the future. When Fear takes over, we tend either to lash out in anger or slink back with depression. Your feelings do not tell you that God is with you; rather it may feel like God has abandoned you.
  • Thank God we don’t have to make all our decisions based on the whim of feelings. Remember that God’s Word says that: “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Death can’t and life can’t. The Angels can’t and the Demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus Our Lord.” Romans 8: 38-39 (New Living Translation)