How to Not Cancel Christmas

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Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with the preparations, emotional baggage, and social obligations of Christmas that you’ve wanted to cancel it? (Chances are your answer is “yes”. Even esteemed medical associations acknowledge this!)

I grew up in a household where Christmas was almost cancelled annually. Nobody would have known it from the outside looking in because the halls were decked, the gifts were wrapped, and the greeting cards were mailed. The reality was that my mom was stressed out to the max, and it almost got the best of her (and our family’s) holiday.

I have not yet wanted to cancel Christmas. I chalk it up to having learned how not to cancel it (and other high stakes holidays) from observing my mom each December. I’d like to share these insights in the hopes that you, too, won’t cancel the next big holiday.

person stressed about holidays

Insight #1: Go easy on the gifts. Christmas shopping is something that people – and retailers – start thinking about in July. That’s half a year before the big day! This is the most stressful aspect of the Christmas season, hands down. It takes a lot of time, money, and brain power to fulfill that shopping list.

  • Why not give fewer gifts to fewer people? I know, I know – who am I and why would I even suggest this?! Hear me out… If you’re from a family or culture where the gifts you give demonstrate your love and generosity, then this might be a tough one to change. Make the change slowly: Year 1 you can cut out the third cousins once removed; Year 2 you can cut out your neighbors’ grandchildren; so on and so forth. Maybe you’ll get to the point where your family agrees to do a drawing of names where each person or household gives a gift (potentially of higher value) to one other person or household. My family hasn’t gotten there, but we’ve gradually self-selected to whom we give gifts, and it is not awkward at all. I love giving gifts to the college-aged cousins and my godchildren. I love giving gifts to my mother-in-law, dad, half-siblings, and aunts. I don’t feel badly that I don’t buy for my uncles (who don’t want something anyway).
  • Consider giving those near and dear to you a gift some other time of the year, such as for a different holiday that you celebrate, or a “happy fall” basket of apples. Your affection will be noticed, and it’s one less gift to give at Christmas.
  • Another idea is to choose a few gifts to give across the board: pick one type of gift for your neighbors, another type for people out of town, and a third for extended family members. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for individuality and customizations – it just keeps things simple and organized. Last year I did DIY bird seed ornaments for the neighbors (each a different style), and monogramed door mats for some out-of-town recipients (each a different last name).
  • And for any children or significant others, and idea I’ve always admired is the “something you want, something you need, something to play with, something to read”, or some similarly rhyming methodology for gifting.

one Christmas gift

Insight #2: Be choosy about traditions. Whether you’re an Elf on the Shelf family, holiday lights touring family, or Nativity scene reenacting family, you get to pick and choose what you do – you don’t have to do it all! Don’t overcommit. Set yourself up for success! Choose a handful of traditions to enjoy year after year. Be okay with changing them up if you no longer want to bake cookies for Santa or watch a Christmas Story marathon. If something new sounds intriguing, then try it out. It’s okay to not commit. You have to do something three times to make it a tradition (or at least that’s my feeling.)

Christmas lights on house

Insight #3: Delegate responsibilities. Sharing is caring, after all, and isn’t that the spirit of Christmas? You don’t have to do it all. This approach does take some letting go of control, but, when you get there, I promise it’s going to feel amazing. Your spouse or significant other can bake the cookies while you’re wrapping the gifts. Or your older children could wrap the gifts – I bet grandma would think the wrinkled and mismatched paper was darling if she knew her grandbabies were the reason. The whole family can share the responsibility/joy of addressing the greeting cards, or you could use some of the money you saved by not buying as many gifts (Insight 1), and pay a third-party web-based company to address the envelopes for you. This is what I’m talking about! Choose the tasks that really spark joy – or that you can’t imagine someone else doing to your standards – for yourself.

boy decorating the tree

Insight #4: Prioritize parties. You can only be in one place at one time (unless you’re that guy in a red suit from the North Pole). You only have so many weekend nights in one Christmas season. Pick and choose the parties you want to attend, and the people with whom you want to surround yourself. You could even be more random about it and say you’ll only attend Friday night parties this year. Try to do this guilt-free. If you choose not to attend, and you feel some sort of way about it, then have flowers delivered or drop off a box of chocolates another day of the week. The thought will go a long way, and you will have freed up that Saturday night to sit in front of the fire in your jammies at your own house in silence. To each their own!

And what about family gatherings, and the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day shuffle? Each family has its own dynamics, and some are more demanding than others. Making space for managing those relationships during the holidays by simplifying other parts of the season (see Insights 1, 2, and 3) may help.

christmas party

Using even one of these ideas from my insights into how to not cancel Christmas this year could really make your December (and July – November) so much simpler.

Just remember that every year doesn’t have to be exactly the same – especially if last year you wanted to cancel Christmas. That’s what we’re trying to avoid here. Give yourself some grace, and gingerbread, too!

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