I remember my first Christmas as a parent. I maxed myself out trying to do all of my standard decorating, shopping, wrapping, and baking that came with the holiday season, as well as adjust to life as a new mother. I was on a learning curve, but I gave myself no margin for error, and no room for rest. A few days before Christmas, I found myself bursting into tears with a group of friends, rambling about everything I still had to do. “When did Christmas become a burden, instead of a blessing?” I blubbered. “This is not the way it’s supposed to be.”

After a few supportive hugs, one friend challenged, “Is it that big of a deal if you only bake one kind of cookie instead of your traditional three?” “Would your guests really be offended and leave if your house isn’t spotless?” another friend inquired. Their questions made me think. Perhaps I had turned Christmas into a burden. If the blessing was gone, it was my doing.

That was 20 years ago. Though my kids are grown, and there are different kinds of adjustments to make as a mother, I learned a lot that first Christmas as a parent that I still practice. I love everything that Christmas symbolizes, including the preparation that leads up to the celebration of the birth of the Christ child. If, however, in the midst of the preparation, Christmas begins to feel like a burden, instead of a blessing, then I am overdoing it. If delight turns to dread mid-month, then I need to slow down and let something go so I can enjoy the hope, peace, and love that are a part of the season of giving. I can start by giving myself a break. Because it’s not about me, and finding the perfect gifts, having a perfectly decorated house, or throwing the perfect holiday party. It’s not even my birthday.

Hope whispers, slow down.

I have discovered I am not alone in my struggle to keep the holidays meaningful, instead of filled with mayhem. Many of the clients I work with report increased stress during the holiday season, simply from trying to do too much, too fast. We put so much pressure on ourselves. Expectations of perfection during this time of year are also on the rise, as people seek purpose in purchasing the illusive perfect gift for everyone on their list. Social anxieties are at an all-time high with big holiday parties. Top that off with shopping for the perfect outfit, and we are setting ourselves up for an emotional holiday hangover!
Want to avoid that mental fog? Slow down. Let go of something. Take some deep breaths.

When I am feeling flooded with to-do lists or unrealistic expectations this time of year, I give myself a break, take a walk and look at Christmas lights. They are one of my favorite things about the holidays. Even as a child, I was mesmerized by the twinkling, sparkling bursts of color, outlining the homes on our street. For some reason, it brings me peace. It grounds me. That one simple act has always calmed my anxious spirit and helped me gain some perspective. I think it’s because the lights remind me what I am really celebrating; the birth of Jesus, the light of the world.

Christmas is the birthplace of hope. Remembering it’s about him, somehow brings me back to remembering it’s not about me. And that takes a lot of pressure off.

What helps you slow down and enjoy the Christmas season?