I find Christmas extremely stressful. I just do. We’re entering the Advent season for 2019, and I’m making a concerted effort this year to love Christmas and anticipate it rather than worrying about it. It’s easier said than done.
The stress starts with Halloween. The last week of peace and stability in my annual schedule falls somewhere near the start of October. Halloween decorations must be pulled out and put up. Candy must be purchased. The timeline has to be planned out for church trunk-n-treat, our daughter’s school events, the end of Fall Bible study season, and the assembly of costumes/festive attire. That’s a very mild list compared to all that comes afterward, but October sets the tone.
The frenzy of controlled chaos sets in at Halloween, and it does not stop until the second week of January. Panic and fear set in around the 15th of October as my brain calculates the odds that I’m going to forget something crucial or fail to meet someone’s expectations.
- Money will be spent.
- Travel plans will be made.
- Lists of obligations, dates, and preparations will begin to proliferate.
- Loved ones must be remembered, and I must struggle not to allow my forgetfulness to disappoint anyone.
- Home decor will be put up and taken down four times in the space of 60 days.
- Disruptions to both diet and daily routines will be frequent.
The demands and expectations of the holidays are often just simply too much for me. I have a tendency to turn inward and freeze in place. Other people might drink too much, lose control of their temper, or self-punish in response to stress. I just freeze. This means that I stay in my daily routine, refusing to acknowledge or deal with any of the coming expectations. The pool of dread starts to form right under the surface, but I just stay in place, treading water, getting nothing done. It’s a fear of confronting it all.
I feel weak and inadequate and guilty this time of year. I feel that my inability to “handle” the holidays is robbing my family and friends of something that I want to give them and they are entitled to. Something I owe them. It’s an ugly feeling.
I want to make my home beautiful and fill it with the sights and smells and flavors of the four major holidays our nation celebrates during this season. I want to make memories for my daughter, my husband, and the friends who spend time with us. I want it to look like “it’s supposed” to look. It rarely does.
I see other women who thrive in the stressful shopping and planning of the season. They seem to light up. I see them revel in the performative nature of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day celebrations. They get excited. They make parties. They make picture-perfect feasts. They make their homes shine and they make their children marvel and they make their friends feel accommodated and welcomed.
But it’s a lot…and despite my desire to do it all–to do it well–there are years when I just can’t seem to make it all happen.
Guilt. Shame. Inadequacy. Fear. Panic. Failure. Disappointment. Chaos. Struggle.
That isn’t what Advent is supposed to look like.
There are two words–words that are meant to define all of this noise we go through in the holidays–that are demonstrably absent from everything I’ve just confessed.
I haven’t used the word gratitude, and I haven’t mentioned the name of Jesus.
Gratitude for abundance and gratitude for the birth of Jesus are the entire point of all of this stress and celebration and expectation, but all I feel at this time of year is a cocktail of fear and shame.
I don’t think I’m alone in any of this. A quick glance produces all kinds of confirmation that I’m not.
One of the articles linked above describes my experience of the holidays perfectly: “a chore and an unwanted obligation.” The exhaustion–both emotional and physical–is a chore. I don’t want it. And I feel tremendous guilt and shame for not wanting it. Every year.
Shame and guilt and fear predominate for many, many people during the holidays. We talk about coping with holiday stress, and there are many support groups for “surviving the holidays.” That might sound overwrought, but it isn’t. Suicide rates zoom up at the very moment when we’re supposed to be celebrating in joyous praise. People are ending their own lives in the season meant for celebrating the coming of Christ.
That isn’t right.
There is something profoundly wrong about what we’re all collectively doing in this “holidays” thing.
I confessed all of this stuff to my husband and he sort of groaned in relief, admitting that he feels it all, too. So we’re doing it differently this year. We have to.
We aren’t traveling.
We aren’t spending a mountain of money.
We aren’t going nuts with decorations.
There will be no photos posted to social media.
There will still be a tree and gifts, but there will be no new decorations purchased. I will wrap the gifts in hand-decorated wrapping paper because it soothes me and delights my daughter, but there will be 3 presents per person and no more. There will be special meals, but we’re not going to buy more than we can eat. I will find a way–with God’s help–to use the phone and letters to express my love and tell people that I haven’t forgotten them, but I will not shop endlessly online to spend money on gifts that won’t mean anything to the recipient in the long-term.
I cannot be everywhere. I cannot plan the trips and make the lists and cook the feasts and decorate four times and curate the music and buy new clothes and buy gifts for every person and keep everything spotlessly clean and be…perfect at all of it. This isn’t a movie. There is no montage scene that conveniently gets all the work done right on time. I cannot be perfect. I cannot gain the world’s approval. I cannot. And I’m not supposed to try.
We’re going to observe the holidays. We’re going to celebrate God’s abundance and the Son who was born to die for us. We’re going to love people. We’re going to give special treats to one another. We’re going to find a meaningful way to help people with pressing need. We’re going to worship the Lord.
That has to be enough.