Holiday Stress or Cheer?
"Christmas is cancelled!" My friend declared over a glass of wine last night. "I already can't fathom it and it's only November 23rd!" She then regailled me with the onslaught that was becoming 'The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Two of her sisters aren't speaking because the elder one recently came out and wants to bring her girlfriend, but the younger sisters' partner is stuck in 1951 and doesn't 'approve'. Her divorced parents have both claimed Christmas Day, so she has offered to host and is now stressed about having 18 for dinner, seven of them being children age between two and 16, all with fun dietary eccentricities. "Oh and the 'Gimmies!" Her three children have already written and rewritten their wish lists for Santa Claus four times. And the drama goes on. Sound vaguely familiar?
I can relate to my friend. A mixture of anticipation and dread washes over at the thought of it: the magic and carnage. The holidays seem to compact all the familial pros and cons of the year into a 24-hour marathon. Relatives overindulging our children with toys and sugar, partners overindulging in too much holiday 'cheer' (buckets of Scotch), the friction of the nuclear family's values interacting with those of the extended, and that sense of anticlimax when all the presents are open and the proverbial child is hungry for more. We all look upon Christmases past with different feelings. Maybe they are fond memories of baking cookies or decorating the tree, maybe it's Uncle Philip storming off, locking himself in his room and refusing to come out until everyone recants the 'theory' of global warming. Nevertheless, we all have high hopes at this time of year, even if we dread it. We don't cancel it because there is the hope it might be all we wish it to be. Our inner child has that expectation, maybe not for gifts, but maybe that the family conversation won't move to politics and we can just enjoy each other's company, or that dad won't get too loaded on the sauce, or that our partner will have picked up on our 10,000 hints about that perfect gift. I think the root of Christmas is that it reignites the feeling of being a child. This is actually really wonderful, it's nice to feel that childhood excitement again but we can also tend to regress and play the parts of Christmases passed. We've been talking about this a lot together this year because for us, some how last Christmas seemed to be the smoothest we have had and despite the probability for big potential landmines, it managed to be a really peaceful time, and really, that's the point isn't it? So we discussed the questions below and explored last year compared to other years. So let's explore why Christmas becomes so stressful and tools for managing that.
Let's start with your families Christmas values. Think about these questions with someone that you think is on the same page.
1. How much are gifts the focus of the day and are comfortable with that?
2. How have gifts positively or negatively affected last years' holiday?
3. How do we want our children to understand the concept of gifts?
(and these are just our, we would love to have feedback! Please email us and we will open up the dialogue and include your input and experiences.)
1. In previous Christmases, I (Arizona) was single-mumming it and did a traditional American style Christmas. Santa would leave presents after Nikko was asleep. Before dawn (I am talking 4:21 AM!) an overly excited child would burst into my room screaming with excitement. I am NOT a morning person. If this hadn't been someone I had birthed, I would just assume throw him out the window, but since I had put in the effort of those nine months and kept him going this long, why stop now?) SO... in the spirit of Christmas, drag myself out of bed. The tree is alight with all the magic and wonder that exemplifies childhood. The joy and excitement on his face makes getting up this early worth it. Then comes the inevitable shredding of everything under wrapping paper. And then like that. It's over (p.s. 99.9% needs batteries which I forgot to buy). Cue: Christmas Morning Meltdown No.1 . Then comes the play, well, it's not really play. He jumps like a fiend from one toy to the next, frustration and chaos on the brink of each transition as 'a box won't open' or this is 'the wrong Darth Vadar Lego." and in the chaos we forget about breakfast and he is flying high on the candy canes and piles of chocolate. Enter: Christmas Morning Meltdown No. 2: The Sugar Crash. In the midst of all of this, I am asking myself why I bothered at all. It feels utterly Thankless. I am trying to remind myself that he's a child and I am the adult, but all the while feeling like he does. Tired. Overwhelmed by 'stuff'. Hypoglycaemic and disenchanted. Christmas Morning Meltdown No.3 The Anticlimax. That's all there is? Now we have to wait for all that fun for a whole year. Well at least we can all go from casual conversation to a big fight over the Christmas Lunch.
Last year was out first Christmas with Boniface. We celebrated with his family in France, here are some things about the Holiday there: There is a family meal in the evening and when the family goes out for a walk, or to church, Pere Noel (Father Xmas) swings by and brings a few things. Since we were traveling, I didn't go crazy for luggage convenience but this turned out to be an unexpected blessing. The children are sent to bed with the joy of knowledge that the whole next day they get to play with their new item. They are given a stalking with some nice treats, (a few chocolate coins, a clementine and some little games, similar to what you would find in a party favour bag). We made this a nice event by doing it together over a glass of wine then curled up fire side. I think the giving of the main gift in the evening made it much easier for Nikko to fall asleep, he also slept to a very civilised 7:03 am- so neither of us were tired and grumpy. A friend asked about how I explained 'Santa' and I said that he came in the evening this year, but to be honest, I am questioning the idea of Santa...Should he get all the credit?!' I still want the magic to be there for my kid so maybe it's that Santa brings a stalking? Also, giving less things meant that he really focussed and got enjoyment and really engaged with what he had. I think more is less in terms of 'things' for kids and was reminded of this again last year. Doing the stalking together was such a treat! Especially after always having done that part alone. We made it a romantic moment for each other and often couples get lost in the swirl of family and don't even speak to each other on the day. We carved that time out and have decided on making that a tradition together.
Another thing we have talked about is the spirit of giving. The whole point of Christmas for us is a special time to remind us how lucky we are. For us, within the concept of gifts, it needs to be understood that there is a real joy in giving. This year, we have decided that we will discuss how fortunate we are with Nikko. I know families who would go to soup kitchens and volunteer, which I think is amazing but he is still a little too young for, so this year I want him to give in a way that he can understand. Together we are going to go through his old toys, wrap up and donate to children in need. From this I hope he understands that remembering how lucky we are is part of Christmas and that doing things for others is essential.
Our Take Home Tips:
Don't go wild with presents.
If you don't want to change up your Father Christmas tradition, could Santa give one present and then could you space out others from Mum and Dad throughout the day so it doesn't feel like an onslaught?
Don't over sugar an over-tired, overstimulated child- disaster for all.
Enjoy the traditions you make within your family
How can you teach your child the joys of giving?