I love Christmas. I love the food and being together. I love decorating the house and buying (and receiving!) gifts. I love the opportunity to celebrate.
There is a but.
All the expectations around what Christmas could or should be can make me anxious.
Until a few years ago as December approached I would find myself starting to worry. Would everyone have a good time? Had I remembered everyone’s presents? Did the house look festive enough?
Pressure and stress built up as the list of non-negotiable (as I saw it at the time) events filled my diary. I would panic about the most bizarre things: Would my child be ill for her nativity play? Would I provide the right gifts for teachers? Would my son like his Christmas jumper? Would I enjoy my work’s Christmas night out?
I would try and stay on top of all the arrangements and hold all the details for all the events in my head. I would make lists of all the things my children would need on various days: the money for the school party, the costume for the play, the cards for their friends. I would always be worrying I was going to forget something vital and let everyone down.
My diary would fill up will lots of lovely events. I wanted [to] go to them all, to be relaxed and laid back about it, while wearing a carefully planned outfit and looking fabulous. I wanted to be organized and care-free, to always be the one bringing the fun.
But it is hard to be relaxed and throw yourself into party mode when you are wound so tight. I have had my fair share of Christmases when I have been so anxious I have not been able to enjoy them at all.
For a number of years, I found Christmas so disappointing.
I expended so much effort and energy trying to create a perfect Christmas while I stood with clenched fists trying hard to hold it together while everyone else had a good time.
But I have learned, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Over the past few years, I have discovered practices that enable me to have a Christmas I can fully enjoy. I have distilled it down to five elements. (All which begin with the letter ‘P’, I am a preacher’s daughter after all!).
- Prepare. No, I don’t mean follow Delia’s plan to the letter and make your roast potatoes on Christmas Eve (although go ahead if you find that helps). And I don’t mean coordinated gift wrapping and ribbons and bows for everyone in your family. I am talking about expectations. Key to a Christmas you can enjoy is thinking and talking about your expectations for the season. What do you want? What is most important to you? Think about this, and then talk about it with whomever you are spending Christmas with. If you don’t do this, you will end up blindly stumbling into Christmas, the distance between everyone’s differing expectations of how the day or week should go, causing conflict.
- Perspective. Remember that it is just Christmas. It isn’t the end of the world. There will be another one in 365 days. Don’t burden yourself with unnecessary weight about making this year perfect. You will get another go next year! It is only one day, don’t try and make it carry more weight than it should.
- Pause. This is essential. Plan moments of pause in the run-up to, and throughout the actual event. It can be such a busy season and if you don’t plan to pause, you won’t. Schedule in nights at home in front of the television. Plan nights when you can have a bath and fully relax. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to every invitation, make sure you keep back some time to rest.
- Permission. This is my favorite practice at Christmas. Offering myself the gift of permission. You have permission to do Christmas exactly as you would like to. You have permission to take shortcuts, get dinner from the freezer, have Christmas dinner out so you don’t have to cook, not have a Christmas tree, not host the drinks party you always host. Or to do it all. It is up to you. You make your own rules. Don’t be tied to anyone else’s idea of how Christmas should be.
- Presence. The key to enjoying Christmas is staying present. Don’t be looking back with regret at what you could have done better or continually projecting forward thinking of all that you still have to do. Be in the moment. Sit with the kids as they open their presents – the turkey can wait. Have a Christmassy coffee with a friend — don’t rush on with your shopping. Take time to enjoy being together. These are the things you will cherish. This is how you have a Christmas you can enjoy.
I know. It all sounds so easy when it is written down like that doesn’t it? It sounds logical and obvious.
But, I know how hard it is to hold onto these ideas as the big day nears and Christmas starts to loom large. When you are rushing about and not thinking straight.
It is for this very reason I have created an Advent Calendar to help you remember these ideas, and practices every day in the lead up to Christmas.
The Alternative Advent Calendar (subtitled: calm in the chaos) is a daily email sent directly to you every day from December 1st — December 25th bringing peace into each day. Each email contains a reminder about how to access calm and not enter into the pressure and anxiety Christmas can bring. Each day draws on one of these practices and unpacks it further, guiding you through the month, enabling you to create a Christmas you can cherish.
**This article was written by Elli Johnson and originally appeared on the Hippo Chronicles.