The other day I found myself wandering through the aisles of Target, looking for the perfect gift for the $5 and under gift exchange I was having with my cool new friends. It had to be universally appealing to both guys and girls, and establish me as the sort of person who was fun, and had good taste, and so forth.
“Ha! And you were planning to write an article about how to reduce holiday stress,” said a mocking little voice inside my head.
I took a deep breath, set down the novelty salt-and-pepper shakers which were $1 over budget, and headed for the food aisle. Did it even matter what I bought, anyway? The whole point of a $5 gift exchange is that the gifts aren’t going to be that great (but it’s fun to exchange them anyway). Most likely, no one will even remember who brought what… and yet it was so easy to stress over it.
Why do we even do the Christmas thing? Why do we designate an entire month of our year to stress and panic and plan and go to an overwhelming array of parties and give and take presents and feel the weight of guilt? Isn’t there a better way?
“Jesus is the reason for the season!” As Christians, we are treated to what feels like near constant reminders that all the “frou frou of Christmas” doesn’t really matter. What matters is that God sent his Son, Jesus, to earth. That is what we need to focus on.
But why, then, do we bother with trees and gifts and parties? Should we just scrap it altogether?
Some people think so, and some have. But when I read my Bible, and note all the week-long holidays that God commanded his people to take, all I can think is, some things are worth celebrating.
As individualistic, work-obsessed Americans, we rarely allow ourselves a good holiday. And what could be more worth celebrating than the coming of our Messiah?
The celebrations and holidays in the Old Testament were meant to have a dual purpose. They were supposed to remind the Children of Israel of an important event they were commemorating. And they were supposed to be times of rest and connection with people.
With that in mind, I compiled a list of seven ways to focus on rest and connection this holiday season, simple tips to reduce overall stress.
1. Continue having your personal devotions
Making your personal devotions a priority is the best way to reduce stress in your life. It can be so easy, in the midst of holiday festivities, to let it slip. Don’t. Maybe this means you’ll have to get up fifteen minutes earlier, or go to bed fifteen minutes later, or skip out on one game of Settlers of Catan with your cousins. But it will always be worth it.
2. Take walks with people
Another thing we tend to let slip during the holidays is exercise. Our bodies need fresh air and exercise to deal with stress, and walks are a fantastic, easy way to achieve this. Since you don’t want to miss any of the fun, invite a friend or relative to go with you! This can double as a great way to connect one-on-one with people, and not feel like you’re “missing out” on special holiday times with your loved ones.
3. Remember: It’s the thought that counts with gifts (really)
There is so much pressure to get great, meaningful gifts for everyone, but this is just dumb. We can’t read people’s minds and know exactly what they want. Ask the people in your life to make wish lists, and get them something from the list.
4. Don’t buy gifts for everyone
The children in your life are the only ones who really care. If you have a family gift exchange, you’ll need to buy gifts for family members, but consider drawing names to reduce the amount of gift buying. Your friends most likely don’t need gifts from you. If you wish to honor a pastor or teacher with a gift, get a generic holiday food basket and write a nice card.
Most people don’t care that much about the actual gift. Keep an eye out for the people in your life who do care, though—the ones who have gift receiving as a love language—and save the really thoughtful gifts for them.
5. Buy simple gifts, even if you’re basically giving everyone the same thing
Food is always a great gift idea, whether you buy it or make it yourself. No one will turn down frozen baked goods.
Also, books make fantastic gifts. Your friends who love to read and your local librarian would both be delighted to give you recommendations for all your family members.
And finally, mugs. Everyone loves mugs. You can find clever ones all over the internet. Fill them with candy for extra flair, or pair them with a cute USB mug warmer.
6. Be strategic about what events you choose to attend
If you are tired and stressed, you are not having a holiday, and you will not be able to connect with the people who matter most to you. For instance, unless your family members are in the Christmas Pageant, consider skipping it, and having a family Christmas movie night instead.
7. Remember to celebrate
Like the festivals and holidays that God established in the Old Testament, Christmas is supposed to be a time of rest and connection, as well as a remembrance and celebration of the wonderful gifts he has given. In this case, it was the gift of his only son, Christ Jesus. That’s what Christmas is. Not a time to stress, or worry about getting the perfect gift, or try to make it to all the holiday events. But a time to celebrate.