Less Stress for the Holidays

James Mehring

Lyn and I each have very fond childhood memories of Christmas. We really looked forward to the family getting together, the big holiday meals, going to late night mass, and the gifts. But looking back at those holidays, we also can see all the time, effort, and stress those events caused on our families, especially our parents. Since Lyn and I started hosting Christmas four years ago, we have decided that as much as we both loved those holiday traditions as kids it is more important to keep these days as stress free as possible.

I would definitely put us in the camp of the “modern family" that tries to spend more time with our daughter. This trend is present in how we approach the holiday season. Since Lyn and I both work full time we just don’t have the time to fully recreate those good ole days. Even before our daughter was born in December of 2005, we tried to make the holidays as enjoyable as possible by cutting out the more stressful parts.

Trying to keep it simple hasn’t meant having fewer relatives and friends come over for Christmas. This year we only had one of Lyn’s uncles at our house. Last year, however, Lyn and I had our parents, her uncle, and friends. Whether there are ten persons or only four at the table for Christmas, we have tried to approach the holiday the same way.

Instead of whipping up the holiday Turkey and all the fixings, I like to grill and Lyn makes some appetizers. I think this allows us to spend less time in the kitchen before and during Christmas. Everyone can snack while we talk and open gifts. This year it worked out really well. All four of us had some appetizers and fruit in the afternoon. Afterwards, we spent an hour at a local park where our daughter had a blast, on the swing, going down the slide, and watching the ducks. It made the day even more special for Lyn, her uncle and I. We wouldn’t haven been able to do that if there had been a bird in the oven. What’s more, we avoided the food coma that leaves everyone glassy eyed and quiet after supper.

While I loved the sugar cookies, the nut roll, and all of the other holiday goodies that my family made when I was a kid, we have really cut back on the holiday baking. Lyn likes to bake (she makes excellent apple pies) during slower times of the year but we didn’t whip up a single treat for the holidays. I would love to do some holiday baking with Lyn and our daughter when she gets older. But the point would be to do it as a relaxed family activity. Remembering my holidays past and seeing other families, the fun of making all those treats can also induce a lot of anxiety. Baking can take up a lot of time and can create a mess that leads to more cleaning. And that’s just what working parents these days are trying to cut back on in order to spend more quality time with their kids.

Lyn and I also sit down ahead of the holiday season and talk about gift buying. We agree on a spending limit for all of our gifts and also set some boundaries on the presents we intend to get each other. So far this hasn’t spoiled the surprise factor when we open presents on Christmas but it does prevent any shocks from post-holiday bills.

All in all, I really don’t know how our parents were able to pull of the holiday celebrations. Both our moms had jobs at times during our childhoods. But neither Lyn nor I remember much scaling back during those years. While it made for lasting memories, I know a lot of stress accompanied all that effort. I can remember times when my Mom would barely get any sleep in the last couple days before Christmas because of all the preparation.

What Lyn and I have observed is that holidays can easily end up being less fun the more elaborate you get. It really isn’t so much the number of persons who come together to celebrate the holidays as much as it is the complexity and the pressure you put on yourself to make it a “perfect” day. Now that we have been working parents for a little over a year, Lyn and I fully realize that plans often go awry. Since we both spend most of our weekdays at the office our time at home is even more valuable. In order to get the most out of those precious hours around the holidays we are establishing our own family traditions that focus on enjoying as much of that time as possible with the ones we love.

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