How to Survive Christmas
"What I don't like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day."
Surviving Christmas is not easy, in fact it could be termed an art form.
The expense, the chores, the shopping, family, parties, and emotional pressure to be happy can take its toll on the hardiest of people.
Nevertheless, all is not lost. There are a few things we can do to reduce tension over the festive season.
Coping with Christmas when you are bereaved
The main Christmas stressors
"Christmas is just like a day at the office; you do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit." Unknown
The main areas causing the most stress during the lead up to Christmas and during the festivities are:
- Family commitments; likes and dislikes, who to visit over Christmas etc.
- Lack of time for preparing, shopping, cleaning, decorating, writing cards, present wrapping, socialising etc.
- Socialising especially at work – for example the office party.
- The emotional and physical strain.
Let's take each category in turn and see how we can think, plan and reduce each of them into manageable parts. You can of course work your way through these in any order and adapt them to suit your personal needs.
In addition, you can also add your own categories and work through them in a similar way to the others.
Time and expenses
"Christmas is a time when you get homesick – even when you’re home." Anonymous
We all complain about the fact that there are never enough hours in the day. This is especially true at Christmas time.
However, we can reduce the time we spend on certain tasks by making a personal plan of the things you have to do. This does not need to be anything fancy, a simple piece of paper or notebook will do.
Basically you have four columns with the following headings:
- Day & date in the first.
- Task to be completed in column two.
- The third column could be used for the date the task should be completed by or a suitable date to work on the task - example Christmas shopping; write and post Christmas cards and so on.
- The fourth column should be used to tick off each item as it is completed and for any additional notes you need to make.
- It is also a good idea to leave a space at the bottom of the page if possible for important reminders such as:
Last date for posting Christmas cards is or will need one vegetarian meal for Christmas dinner.
- In addition remember to put in the dates of events that might be happening that you will attend, such as ‘school play on 15th’, office party, 21st and so on.
Be realistic about the amount of time you give to each task. For example:
- Choosing a Christmas tree will not need nearly as much time as choosing gifts. So get each task into perspective.
- Timing - when working out your planner place each task in a natural order. For example, buying in your Christmas Day food should be near the end of your schedule. Whereas writing out Christmas cards would be at the beginning. Lastly try not to cram too much into a short space of time. If you start your planner as near to the beginning of December as possible, you will have time to get all your tasks in at a pace that suits you.
This is one of the major factors to make Christmas a nightmare rather than an enjoyable season. So how do we reduce this factor into a manageable part of Christmas?
The best thing to do is to adhere to a budget that is realistic for you. This means only buying within your means and not what other people think you should buy.
If you are honest with people and say that you are on a budget for this Christmas, most people will accept that.
In fact some might even be jealous of your sensible approach. One to thing to avoid when Christmas shopping either for gifts or Christmas food is to avoid impulse buying.
We have all done it. We’ve spied something really nice, really cute and expensive, but what the heck, it's Christmas, only to regret the purchase later.
When you have this impulse don't act on it immediately. Wait patiently for 30 minutes.
During this time think about all the reasons for not buying this 'must have' item. The impulse will pass, just give it time. If you find yourself struggling over all to keep within your set budget, remind yourself of your budget aims. Be positive and tell yourself that Christmas will be more pleasant knowing you haven't chalked up a pile of debt.
Lastly, it is well worth starting to plan for the next Christmas early on in the year. By this I mean start a small savings account especially for Christmas.
Alternatively, put money into a shopping voucher scheme – it’s amazing how quickly these savers build up into nice amounts of money.
"Christmas, here again. Let us raise a loving cup: Peace on earth, goodwill to men, and make them do the washing up." Wendy Cope
There is an old belief that weddings and funerals cause the most arguments and fights within families. I would add a third – Christmas!
It always fascinates me the capacity some people have for ruining everyone's Christmas due to their selfish, childish behaviour. You know the kind of thing - the mother-in-law who doesn’t talk to you for months because she received her invitation to Christmas dinner after everyone else.
If you feel you are going to have difficulties with in-laws on Christmas day then plan ahead.
Arrange your table so that family members who dislike each other are furthest apart. Include everyone in the arrangements by delegating small tasks or ask them to bring small items to the Christmas meal to add the finishing touches - you can butter them up as much as you like when asking this.
If it makes Christmas 'merry' it's worth it. Delegating is also a good idea for two other reasons. You can delegate small tasks to bored, hungry kids who will otherwise get on everyone's nerves. Delegation also means that you can conserve your energy (and patience) to focus on the major tasks.
If you are invited out to Christmas dinner by both sets of in-laws what do you do?
The best policy is to be upfront and honest with your relatives.
Talk with both sets of in-laws to say that you have a problem of two invites and you are going to have to choose one or the other. Make it clear that you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but a decision has to be made and can they think of any solutions?
You could suggest that you visit one set of in-laws on Christmas Day and the other on Boxing Day and swap the following year – or if you’re brave enough invite both sets to your home the following Christmas.
People are often tempted to invite the in-laws who will make the biggest noise if you don't visit them. They believe this will calm the waters.
Personally I would invite the most reasonable of the in-laws. The reason being, bullying in-laws always have something to complain about at any time of the year. Therefore, they’re highly unlikely to stop bitching just because it’s Christmas.Go for the nice in-laws and have a real Merry Christmas.
If both sets of in-laws are horrors then don't accept either. Have a nice quiet Christmas on your own with your partner and let the in-laws stew in their own chestnut sauce.
If you are fortunate to have charming in-laws from both sides then you don't need any advice. They will be so nice about it that you will have your problem solved for you.
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The Hectic Season
"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall." ~ Larry Wilde
Another stressor for many people is the obligations and socialising that we may be expected to participate in over the Christmas season.
The rule of thumb should be attending the events you feel you would most enjoy and refusing the rest.
In addition if you are one of those home-loving people who enjoy a lovely quiet Christmas without the parties, then this is okay. Socialising during Christmas can be a nightmare for many people who just don’t enjoy it.
You have the right to say 'yes' or 'no' to any invites you receive. Don't be pressured into the wrong decision because of emotional blackmail such as “oh come on its Christmas”, “it's only once a year”, “party pooper”; and so on. Ignore them and do what you feel comfortable with.
At this point it would perhaps be handy to give a few pointers on how to say “No”:
- Firstly, beware of your tone - don't be aggressive but neither should you be apologetic.
- Use a polite but firm tone of voice.
- Keep an upright stance and good eye contact.
- The simplest way to say 'no' is just to say 'no' or 'no thank you. However, most of us do feel the need to say a little more.
- The easiest phrase to remember when saying 'no' is: "I'm not available for that date" or "My schedule is full for that time".
- Remember you do not need to give an explanation to anyone about why you are not available. But if you feel really pressured simply state that: "I have made other commitments". At this point change the subject or walk away.
- If you really feel uncomfortable saying 'no' to a particular person such as your boss, then it's okay to say something along the lines of: "can I think about this and I'll get back to you?" Don't rely on them forgetting. But what this response does give you is a little time to compose yourself and prepare an answer for your boss.
As mentioned previously. Beware of the 'emotional blackmailers' and 'hecklers'. They will repeat and repeat a request and give you every reason on the planet why you should attend. Keep patient. Firmly and politely re-affirm your answer. If you have to, politely excuse yourself and go to the nearest loo or exit for a reprieve.
Saying 'no' is not as difficult as you may think. Remember that it is the social invite you're rejecting not the person. Bear in mind also that the festive season is a long one. So many Christmases are ruined simply because we have burn out before the big day dawns. Sure there are people who seem to be able to go to every event under the sun and still look and feel a million dollars. That's great for them but not for the majority of us. Added to this, it is not compulsory to have a permanent grin on your face just because it's Christmas - just be yourself, it is much less stressful.
I hope this article has been of some help in making your Christmas less of an ordeal. The festive season should be a time of joy and happiness for all of us.
One de-stressing technique that I use when I find myself getting crazy over the Christmas season, I think about things such as:
- all those who would love to have a family to get annoyed about
- Who would love to have a burning turkey in the oven.
- Who have never had manic kids tripping over the dog and knocking over the Christmas tree.
- Who would give anything to be in my shoes.
This is more than enough to shake off my groaning and make me truly thankful that I have so many wonderful things to grump about.
© 2010 Helen Murphy Howell
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