09 December 2013

My *UPDATED* Guide to an Unstressy Christmas

You may have noticed an absence of Christmas crafting posts here on my blog, a dearth of Christmas recipes, a lack of Christmas how to's. 

In the past you may have found me madly rushing around buying presents/baking gingerbread/mulling wine/decking the halls/recreating endless stuff I've found on Pinterest/getting into the holiday spirit...? 

In years gone by I would have been Advent Calendar-ing and Elf-on-the-Shelfing with the best of them. 
My teeth would be nearly ground to nubs from the sheer effort of trying to drag my family kicking and screaming into the Spirit of Christmas. Whether they liked it or not. Whether they complained or not. Whether it killed me or not.

And of course I would be madly blogging about it all. Photographing every step of creating my glue-gun bunting, recording in painful detail how to wrap the teachers gifts so nicely with cellophane and ribbon.

This year I have been forced to take a very laid back approach to Christmas Fever due to mental health constraints and a general lack of energy, as well as a preoccupation with trying to flog my Christmas Book.

I'm taking an approach to Christmas this year called "Barely Blogging". It's the only way to keep my sanity and have any chance of enjoying this special season. I'm taking each day as it comes, making few plans, watching loads of Christmas movies and actually trying to "just be" with my family.

As I occasionally browse through Pinterest aimlessly pinning things I know I will never create, I wonder: How's everyone else doing out there? Are you surviving the rush or wishing it was over already? Drowning in things to do... or actually enjoying the season? For what it's worth I thought I'd share with you a few of the things that help me survive - and enjoy - Christmas. Without too much Stress. 

1. Figure out What's Most Important to You About Christmas (and then use that to reprioritise everything)
It sounds obvious, but sometimes we can get so caught up in the activity of the season that we forget to stop and think: What is this really all for?
Who are the people we most want to spend time with this season? (make time for them)
What are the things we most enjoy doing as a family at this time of the year? (make time for those)

Take stock, take a breath and ditch everything that doesn't add to the enjoyment (i.e. the Peace and Joy) of Christmas. 

2. Find a Way to Connect with the Reason for the Season
I stopped stressing about to-do lists and began actually enjoying the season when I found a way to reconnect with the meaning of Christmas for me, i.e. the Christmas Story
A few years back I did it by writing a Christmas book for my Children, but I keep that Christmas meaning alive and fresh in a number of other ways...
  • Christmas Music: I download new Christmas songs from iTunes to help keep my Christmas Music collection fresh. I make playlists on iTunes for each mood and burn them to CD: One with Christmas Carols for when I feel spiritual/sentimental; another CD with fun Christmas jingles for when we want to be merry.
  • Christmas shows: We look forward to our church Nativity Play each year, along with a few other local events where we can meet friends, relax and hang out. We try to avoid the crush and the rush at the major city wide events and stay local.
  • Christmas Books: Reading favourite Christmas stories is a great way to connect with the season. We have a collection of Christmas books that we add to each year.  Home-made books are another favourite way to connect with the spirit of Christmas. A few years back I wrote An Unexpected Christmas for the kids; another year I made a photobook of all our Christmas memories on Snapfish, as a family gift to open on Christmas Eve. They get read and re-read every year.
  • Christmas Movies: We spend hours watching old favourites and discovering new ones. This time of year there are often Christmas films showing on TV, so plan to record them, or if the pickings are slim check out Fatso. They have classics which are hard to find in video stores. (Our favourite Christmas Movie reviews here at the bottom of the page)
  • Christmas Giving: We always try to find a way to bless others at Christmas, whether its gathering up gifts for needy kids via City Mission, dropping off a hamper to bless another family or getting the kids doing chores to earn money for something from the Tear Fund Gift for Life catalogue... Blessing others at this time of the year helps offset greed and commercialism (and always leads to great warm fuzzies).
3. Put a Lid on Greed
One of the most disheartening things about this season is the way it can turn our kids into greedy spoilt brats if we're not careful. Focusing on giving to others as a family is one of the best ways to offset this. Another way is to put limits on the Christmas spending spree by setting expectations early.
This year I told the kids early on that we would be following this rule this Christmas: "Something you want, Something you need, Something to wear, Something to read."
Setting their expectations early really helps. They end up saying, "Mum, for my something to read I'd really love a Thea Stilton book" or "Mum for my something I need I really need a lunchbox, and socks - cos Dash keeps stealing mine!"
This not only helps me focus on what to buy but lets them know not to expect a massive pile of loot under the tree. It also helps reduce financial pressure.
Below are the printable labels I've created for their presents. You are welcome to take them and use them if you want to give this plan a go.

[To use, simply right-click, and save to your computer; they print out on an A4 page.]
4. Limit Obligations
Sometimes the biggest stress comes from being pulled in too many directions by various obligations. Some of these we can't avoid, but others we can free ourselves from.
For instance, Christmas Cards.
I am just not a Christmas Card person. Never have been.
We send Christmas cards only to my hubby's English family (because they are Very Big in England) but our friends and acquaintances know that if they don't get a card from us, it's not because we don't like them. It's because we don't do Christmas Cards.
It's the same with gift giving. We get Christmas Gifts for our immediate family. The children give thankyou gifts to their teachers. Sometimes (if we get around to it) we take cookies to the neighbours.

But there are no obligations. We won't stress ourselves out doing it, we'll just do what we can.

5. Don't Reinvent the Wheel - Take Shortcuts
You can have the fun without all the stress. Don't tear your hair out over a handmade gingerbread house that won't stick together: get a kit from the store (sixteen bucks from Kmart). Use store-bought custard and sponge cake for the trifle, a Cowells pavlova, an Aunt Betty's Christmas Pudd.

Sure, do some baking with the kids, mull the wine yourself, but don't feel like you have to do everything from scratch. Take a deep breath... and find a shortcut.

Here's one that'll save your Christmas Eve: Wrap the presents as you buy them. Don't wait until Christmas Eve and do them all at once. This is a Thankless back-breaking exercise which is sure to keep you up late wondering why you bought so much stuff. Wrap-as-you-go lets you just chill and enjoy Christmas Eve, mulled wine, (store-bought) Christmas mince tarts and candlelight...

6. Don't Compare to Others, but Fill the House with Christmas in your own way
The danger of sites like Pinterest is that we can start to compare our efforts to the awesomeness we see there. Down this road of comparison lies discontent and disatisfaction. Don't go there.
Sure, look for inspiration on the net, on Pinterest, on crafty blogs... but don't let it make you feel like your Christmas efforts are not "enough".

Instead fill your house with a sense of the season, your special memories and things that mean Christmas to you. Whether it's your childrens' old kindy decorations, burning scented candles, stringing up some twinkle lights, decorating a real pine tree (for that Christmas scent) with the decorations you've collected through the years or making some humble glue-gun Christmas bunting to hang in your window. 

Most of all... think PEACE. Think JOY. Think LOVE. If anything on your list hinders these things, it's maybe time to edit your to-do list....? 

So what if we've ticked off doing all the Christmas activities and traditions from our list but we've exhausted ourselves in the process and can't wait until the whole jolly rigmarole is over? 
Sometimes less is more.

Now go and have a beautiful blessed unstressy Christmas. xx

Favourite Stories from past Christmases about finding the meaning...

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