It’s the most wonderful time of the year. So they say. However, for millions of people this is as much as myth as “and they lived happily ever after”.
Prioritizing this as THE most wonderful time is a lot of pressure for one season to sustain but there are valid reasons why it makes many of us feel like dim bulbs in a world full of sparkly lights. This is a busy time of year. The disruptions to our familiar routine is unsettling Also, the extra expenses and subsequent money stress cause most people’s bells and nerves to jangle. As if that wasn’t enough, during the holidays our homes go into upheaval, both inside and outside, as we replace or add to our decor. Topping off the list are stressors related religious celebrations. For some, attendance to Christmas service, Mid-night masses, and Hanukah celebrations are familiar, comforting and bring joy. But for others its just another obligation of time and tradition that induces stress and guilt.
However, I suspect it is the forced interaction with people during the holidays that triggers the most anxiety. For 11 months of the year one can deftly avoid office parties that push us into interactions with virtual strangers and can even dredge up excuses to duck the relatives we don’t like, are uncomfortable with or bring up negative emotions and memories. But for one month plus a couple of weeks it feels as if the holidays obligatorily push us into one another’s personal space, like waste in a trash compactor, until we feel the joy in life is squeezed out of us.
The holiday myth is that we are happier, more cheerful, and most thankful during this of the year. But I believe the truth is if we view joy and thankfulness as a year long endeavor and handle our own needs well, the pressure cooker of the season can be somewhat released.
How? The answer is relatively simple. We give ourselves the power to choose. I choose whether I want to put up decorations on the day after thanksgiving or on the 24th of December. I choose which parties I go to, make my apologies for the ones I don’t, and refuse to unwrap the guilt others offer me for my choices. I decide whether I want to be with the relatives, and how much time I spend there. While I respect and appreciate tradition, I choose to not let it control my holiday.
Ultimately, it is more important for our mental, emotional and physical health to stay intact than it is for us to become slaves to other people’s expectations, past memories or decades of tradition.
Some will call me selfish and others will champion me as a girl with good boundaries. But the fact is, I can only give my best to others if I am at my best. So, with deference to the needs of my immediate family, the power to choose and deep respect for my own personal limitations, this year I will attempt to wisely and prayerfully allocate my time and resources well. Then this month becomes just one of 12 in a wonderful year.