By Katie Ziegler

Five Ways to De-Stress the Christmas Season

It seems every year the pressure surrounding Christmas gift-giving spins more and more out of control. And a season meant to be filled with goodwill and cheer quickly derails into spite, and rudeness, and an obsession with stuff.

A few years ago I was Christmas shopping with my mom. We pulled into the parking lot of a Borders Bookstore (because it still existed back then) and were patiently waiting for a parking spot with our turn signal on. But someone whipped around the corner and took the spot from us, and then proceeded to say some very unpleasant things to us as she got out of the car. It was astounding! And infuriating! So . . . anti–Christmas spirit! (My mom has an expression for these types of holiday encounters, but unfortunately it cannot be repeated in polite company.)

The exchange prodded me to think about why we participate in this madness around Christmastime at all. We all know Christmas isn’t really about the gifts we give each other; it’s about the Creator and the Son he sent as a gift to us all. That should be the focus, the pivot point at which every other holiday tradition is geared around.

But perhaps giving gifts is important simply because it’s a reminder of the ultimate gift. Or at least it should be. What it shouldn’t be is anxiety inducing. So here are five postures that can take some stress out of gift giving.

1. Be simple.

Set a budget and stick to it. This doesn’t mean being a Grinch, but it does mean being honest with yourself about what you can afford. No one needs to go into debt over Christmas gifts. They don’t need to be elaborate. They don’t need to be the best gift ever. They don’t need to be abundant. One thoughtful gift can speak much louder than several gifts.

My family does a Christmas Exchange in which everyone is responsible for giving a gift to one other person. This is a great way to lessen the stress of having to buy for a multitude of people. Also, when everyone has only one gift to open, the focus of the day can be on other things.

2. Be generous.

During the Christmas season, in particular, it’s so easy to think only about ourselves. But Christmas is actually a lonely and difficult time for many people. And lots of people can’t even provide for their family’s basic needs, much less buy extra gifts. So be generous with the many people for whom Christmas cannot be celebrated with abundance, or at all. And be intentional about finding ways to bring cheer to others.

This focus on others not only gives them the opportunity to celebrate the holidays in ways they may not have been able to otherwise; it also gives us a broader perspective that can keep us from sweating the small stuff.

3. Be thoughtful.

My aunt embodies thoughtful gift-giving. Throughout the year, if she sees something that someone would love, often she’ll purchase it and keep it for a future gift. Not everyone has the foresight—or ability—to do that. But I think we can all agree that waiting until the week before Christmas (or Christmas Eve, anyone??) creates added stress.

Thinking ahead allows you time to really think about the person you’re giving a gift to—their interests, passions, talents. It also allows you to think of a gift that has some meaning behind it and thus won’t just be added to a pile of accumulating stuff. You might even be inspired to use your creative side, if that’s where your gifts lie.

4. Be gracious.

Braving the shopping centers can be daunting. People cut you off in the parking lot, cut in line, and want special treatment from retailers. Nothing dissipates Christmas cheer and creates stressful situations more than grumpy shoppers.

We can’t change other people’s behavior. But we can control our attitude and response. Making a conscious decision to allow people the benefit of the doubt, give up parking spaces, and offer smiles as well as kind words and gestures to other people puts you in a better mood, and may brighten someone else’s day as well.

5. Be mindful.

Giving gifts is a lovely tradition, but again, it’s not really what Christmas is about. Filling our time with things that truly matter is the number one way to take the stress out of Christmas. Reflecting on the birth of our Savior and anticipating his return are much more fruitful endeavors than constantly thinking about what to buy.

By all means, be generous to the people you love. It’s fun to wake up on Christmas morning and have something to open! Just don’t let that become the focus of the season.

This is my first Christmas as a mother, and my son’s first Christmas altogether. As I continue through Advent and head toward Christmas, I will be taking my own advice as well. I’ve certainly failed at it before and probably will again. But it is important to me that I model to my children how to be a good steward of the gifts God has already given me, and how to approach Christmas without letting presents take over.

You might also find these resources helpful for Advent and Christmas:

Daily Advent readings from Thirsty

The Gospel of Christmas: Reflections for Advent

Katie works as a writer on InterVarsity's Communications Team.

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