Andy Williams called it “the most wonderful time of the year.” Others call it “the most stressful time of the year.” For most of us, it’s a bit of both. It doesn’t have to be, though.
This Christmas season, keep the stress in check and double your dose of wonder, with a little strategic rethinking about the Yuletide.
- Pray the Saint Andrew Novena. Yes, technically this started on November 30, but it’s a prayer, not a magic incantation. You can start it whenever you like. Regardless, this short (two sentence!) prayer, meant to be repeated 15 times daily, will still have the same effect: focusing your mind and heart on the most basic truths of Christmas in just seconds every day.
- Limit Your Advent Devotions. If you love having an Advent activity calendar and an Advent wreath, plus a Jesse tree … plus a Nativity to line with straw symbolizing good deeds … plus shoes to fill with chocolate on St. Nicholas’ feast day … plus parties to paint peg dolls of saints … plus St. Lucy bread to bake … plus stockings to stuff with thank-you notes for Baby Jesus … plus a dozen other Advent devotions, then more power to you. That’s awesome. If you could bottle your energy and sell it, you could make a mint.
If, however, your efforts to make Advent “special” and “holy” for your family have you lining up every week outside the confessional, telling Father about how you’re not sleeping or eating and are regularly fighting temptations to stick your three-year-old out in the snow with a sign that says “Toddler for Sale,” maybe it’s time to rethink those devotions. God does not expect you to do All the Advent Things. He just expects you to prepare your heart (and the hearts of those in your home) for his birth. Pick a couple of devotions that help you do that, and forget the rest.
- Skip the Christmas Cards. If you enjoy sending out cards, then keep at it. If not, no one will call you up in tears when a Christmas card doesn’t arrive. Everyone you’ve known since first grade, including the guy who does your dry cleaning, has already seen 500 pictures of you and yours on Facebook this year. They’ve heard the cute stories and funny anecdotes. They know about your promotion. They don’t need a 2015 “Best Of” — although Facebook will give them one anyhow.
If you can’t imagine not sending out cards, but also can’t imagine finding the time to send out cards, split the difference and do it after the pre-Christmas crazy. Remember, the Christmas season runs right up to January 11, the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Some would stretch it all the way to February 2, the Feast of the Presentation. There’s no need to rush. You’ve got time. Use it.
- Buy fewer presents and attend more masses. The non-Catholics on your Christmas list should probably still get cookies. But for Catholic friends, neighbors and godchildren, a Mass (or novena of masses) is one of the best gifts you can give. It brings them both temporal and eternal help and doesn’t clutter up the house with more stuff. You also can do this online, without ever leaving your house (or breaking your budget). My favorite places to obtain Christmas masses for my nine godchildren are the Divine Word Missionaries website and the Seraphic Mass Association, but almost any religious order or parish will do.
- It’s a good thing to want to make Christmas special for your friends and loved ones. Christmas is special. We’re celebrating the birth of God. That’s a big deal. But you don’t have to make a big deal of every single moment of Advent and Christmas.
In other words, you don’t have to wrap every gift in designer paper with Pinterest-inspired bows; plain old bowless boxes in paper from Target will do. You also don’t have to bake designer snowmen cupcakes for your daughter’s third-grade class; store-bought sugar cookies can be yummy too. And you don’t have to make your own Advent calendar; gorgeous handmade ones are already available for cheap on Etsy.
Likewise, every room in your house does not need a Christmas tree, every day of the 12 days of Christmas does not have to be filled with ice skating and hot chocolate, every invitation to every Christmas party does not have to be accepted and if you even think about making favors for people who attend your Christmas party, you are out of your ever-loving mind.
Attempt any one (or two or three) of those things (save for the Christmas party favors) and you’ll be fine. Attempt all of them together, and you’ve got no one but yourself to blame for the stressful season.
Emily Stimpson is a freelance Catholic writer based in Steubenville, Ohio. Her books include The American Catholic Almanac, These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body and The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years. A contributing editor to Our Sunday Visitor, Stimpson writes regularly about faith, hospitality and food at her blog, The Catholic Table.