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The real reason you get grumpy over the holidays — and 5 things you can do about it

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If you can keep your eyes on the manger, you're bound to cheer up

Long lines everywhere, too much on the to-do list, the obligatory Christmas dinner with relatives who get on your nerves, and another Advent come and gone that you never quite got around to observing the way you hoped. It’s enough to trigger grumpiness and zap anyone’s Christmas spirit.

But there’s a deeper reason why many of us don’t experience the Christmas cheer we long for and it’s this: our focus isn’t on the manger. In all the busyness and preparations, we forget what the feast of Christmas is really about and about how to tap into the joy and peace of the season. So this Christmas holiday, if you find yourself fighting grumpiness, here are five things you can do:

Book-end your day with prayer (and stick something in the middle, too).

Days are full at this time of year, but before you get out of bed in the morning, take five minutes to offer your day to God and ask for his peace and help. Do the same before you fall asleep, taking stock of your day and asking for healing while you sleep. Praying in the middle of a busy day will help your focus, as well. Consider praying the Angelus when the clock strikes noon. This ancient prayer calls to mind the Incarnation and Mary’s yes to God, which can help turn our own gaze back to the manger.

Grab for gratitude.

Being deeply grateful is an effective antidote to grumpiness. When we feel sorry for ourselves, when we believe we are owed something more, or that we’re lacking this or that, we’re forgetting God’s goodness. How are you blessed? Call it to mind. Write it down. Say it out loud. Being grateful doesn’t mean you don’t have problems; it means you have perspective.

Forget about “simplicity.”

Trying to simplify Christmas is a worthy goal, especially as it pertains to all the commercialism, but don’t overdo trying to make Christmas the equivalent of a get-away-from-it-all vacation. It’s the greatest birthday party of the year and deserves to be celebrated, which means it’s bound to be extra work and that’s okay. Cut back where you can, but embrace the festive nature of the season.

Do something for the needy.

There’s no better medicine for grumpiness than spending time with the poor. Buy lunch for a homeless person when you’re out shopping. Gather some warm scarves or coffee gift cards and hand them out. Even if you have nothing materially to give, stop for a moment, ask the person’s name and promise a prayer. Give to groups who are working to help many around the world who’ll just be trying to stay alive this Christmas.

Get to confession.

A good cleansing of the soul goes a long way in dispelling grumpiness, and it’s one of the best things you can do before the feast of Christmas. Whether you regularly partake in the sacrament of Reconciliation or you haven’t gone for years, you will find your mood much lighter when you emerge from the confessional, forgiven for all that holds you down.

Spend time with people who make you smile.

Even if they’re not among those you’ll be spending Christmas with, connect with people who make you happy — by phone, email, or video chat, if you can’t do it in person. And don’t forget the joy that little ones bring. Children make Christmas magical, so take some time from all the hustle and bustle to hang out with those who inherently seem to understand what celebrating the birth of Christ is all about.

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