Christmas 2023 is almost upon us. How are you feeling about this time of year? Are you happy and excited as you contemplate the festive season? Or is your mind full of stress and anxiety as you focus on all the extra work that you unwittingly allow to be placed on your shoulders?
For many people, Christmas is a time of increased anxiety, high expectations and trying to please a lot of people at the same time. It can also be a time of financial strain, making it more difficult to get into the festive mode.
There are invitations to other peoples’ homes or people expecting to be invited to yours. It can seem overwhelming at times.
Let us explore some of the negative thoughts that can flood your mind at this time of year.
It has been the tradition for many generations on the farm to have the farmhouse and all the sheds washed and cleaned inside and out in preparation for Christmas. All the buildings would be whitewashed; it is believed this was done in honour of the Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Whilst very few buildings are whitewashed now, the tradition still continues far and wide with regard to cleaning for the festive season. It would seem the focus now is to avoid criticism from visitors — heaven forbid there might be some dust on the mantelpiece.
Do you feel anxious and uptight to have your house ‘perfect’ for Christmas? Where does the anxiety stem from? The good news is you have the power to make Christmas a happy and relaxed time.
By the simple act of changing your thoughts, you will change your experiences.
Let your house be a home as opposed to a show piece. How much will it matter in 10 years’ time if your mother-in-law didn’t like the stuffing? Take a deep breath and try to look more objectively at the entire situation.
Yes, it is lovely to have the home clean and tidy at any time of the year, it is nice to sit down to a delicious Christmas dinner, but not at a cost to your emotional health and wellbeing.
If the onus has always been on you, try delegating this year.
Write the list and ask another family member to do the shopping, giving you time to concentrate on other chores.
Do you have children? Even the young ones can be asked to help tidy up. Teenagers can prepare vegetables and hoover. It is not OK for everybody to sit back and let you do all the work.
If you are slow to ask for help, you need to explore that. For many, it can be a lack of faith in others getting the job done ‘right’. Focus on the true meaning of the season, which is about love, kindness and being there for each other.
There is a tendency to max credit cards and overdrafts in an attempt to have the perfect experience.
Christmas comes at a cost for many. There is a tendency to max credit cards and overdrafts in an attempt to have the perfect experience. Emotion can and does take over from logic for many people. The need for that perfect Christmas experience can place huge strain on parents. Buying presents can be a nightmare instead of fun.
Pleasing people comes into this equation. There are people who do not appreciate a gift unless it costs an arm and a leg. How is one supposed to live up to their expectations? The answer is, do not even try.
When it comes to Christmas shopping, set a budget so you do not lose the run of yourself. A gift isn’t measured by its price, it is measured by the loving thoughts put into it. If people do not appreciate it, that is about them, not you.
If finances are very strained, remember that St Vincent de Paul is on hand to help. Instead of feeling guilt or stigma, try being thankful that they are there and can help to make your Christmas less stressful.
Christmas traditions vary from generation to generation. There is a sense of comfort and a connection to those gone before us. Changing times mean that some of those traditions die out and people can find it difficult to come to terms with that.
However, some traditions can bring stress. Are you and your family expected to host other family members each year or leave your home for dinner elsewhere? You can break this tradition — it is OK to say ‘no’ and just have Christmas for you and your immediate family. People will get used to it and life will go on. In fact, it is a great opportunity to create some new fun traditions.
Onto a more serious topic: the difficulties of addiction. People who are in recovery or struggling with an addiction may find this time of year extremely difficult due to the extra indulgence in food and alcohol.
Andy Borowitz has described Christmas as, “a baby shower that went totally overboard”. Watching people enjoying themselves as they get into party mode is never easy for the person struggling with addiction. It is a constant reminder of what they cannot have if they wish to remain sober and healthy.
This is not a time for procrastination or self-criticism, or indeed going down the road of victimhood. It is important to continue to avail of all the support that has kept you sober and clean thus far.
Remember too that your family and friends need to know if you are finding it difficult to stay strong during Christmas. Reach out to them. You will be glad you did when Christmas is over and the new year beckons.
This is a very difficult time for those who are grieving. The empty chair around the table is a stark reminder that the family chain is broken and that Christmas will never be the same again.
It can help to keep a lighted candle beside a framed photo, especially during dinner. A new tradition for the grieving may be a visit to the grave on Christmas Day. People get comfort from placing a wreath on it or a lighted candle (usually battery-powered). It is a way of connecting with your loved one and brings a kind of inner peace, despite the pain of loss.
Do what feels right for you in your grief. The early years are hard, so be gentle with yourself. The traditional Christmas dinner may be replaced with something simple the first year following the loss, maybe even the second. That is OK. You do not have to feign happiness or a hearty appetite if it is not there. If you only feel like soup and a sandwich, then have your soup and sandwich. Other family members may be able for the turkey and trimmings; do not compare your grief journey to theirs. Our grief is as unique as our fingerprint.
Often the days leading up to Christmas are more difficult than the day itself. Turn off the radio if the Christmas songs are too much for you. Choose to be mindful rather than mind-full.
Christmas is about love and goodwill to all humanity. Be willing to receive as well as to give. Whilst acknowledging there can be difficulties during the season, make time also to focus on gratitude. It helps us to maintain a degree of positivity. It allows a beam of light to break the darkness.
I will leave you with the following quote from the 1954 film White Christmas: “If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep. Then you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”
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