XMas (aka How To Have a Happy, Stress-Free XMas)

Unfortunately, for a lot of people, Christmas is often a stressful time …

At this present moment in time with problems in the world economy, many people feel like the expense of Christmas is the last thing they need.

But it doesn’t have to be expensive, or stressful at all.

Doesn’t Everybody Love Christmas?

I always assumed everybody loved Christmas: the cards, the food, the presents, being with the family. Until I heard a radio show a few weeks ago saying that November, December and January are the most difficult months for people who suffer from depression because of the lack of light and, well … Christmas.

The UK’s leading charity for depression, Depression Alliance, reports that the number of help line calls they receive goes up by 40% over the festive season, so if you’re depressed at the prospect of Christmas you’re not alone.

Why Christmas?

Often, it’s because we set the wrong expectations

There might be some real underlying causes which when connected with the time of year can exaggerate any negative feelings: a death, an illness, a divorce, job loss, … many people would find it hard to enjoy Christmas if they have just lost their job. If it’s your case and you are feeling depressed, do consider seeking the help of a counsellor or confide in a close friend.

Setting High Expectations: Christmas Is Going To Be Perfect

In this article, I want to talk about those who feel sad or depressed because they want Christmas to be perfect and, let’s face it, it doesn’t always happen that way…

  • The food might not turn out to be cooked to perfection, exactly as planned.
  • The presents you’ve spent so much time and money on might not be the right ones.
  • You may be stressed trying to choose presents for a relative who is always very difficult to buy for.
  • Maybe you’re worried about what someone will think of your choice of present so you just decide to spend a bit extra to make sure you impress them, just in case.
  • With all the good intentions in the world, staying a whole day with family and relatives you rarely see is not always the most relaxing situation.
  •  …

Consequently, people fight. According to a survey, the average family will have their first fight at 9:58am on Christmas day, just 2 hours after getting up!

Set ‘Good’ Expectations for Christmas

Why do we build so many expectations on one single day! That, surely, is a recipe for disapointment. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all expectations are bad. The key is to set GOOD expectations.

1- Don’t set expectations on your friends and relatives.

If you do often have arguments with friends and relatives at Christmas time, understand that it can actually be a stressful time but you don’t want it to be, so just let it pass. Forgive quickly and reassure friends and loved ones who may be trying too hard to make everything perfect.

2- Have realistic expectations for:

  • how good your house decorations should look – if you enjoy making a really special effort every year and co-ordinating every little thing, then go for it!! If decorating worries you and becomes a chore, just let it go – decorate for the pleasure of it and celebrate the missing baubles instead of worrying about them.
  • how good the food should taste – you’re going to enjoy the meal no matter what, enjoy cooking it, enjoy eating it (it doesn’t have to be perfect) and most of all enjoy the company you have whilst you’re eating it!
  • how expensive the presents should be – remember, it’s the thought that counts, whatever you do, don’t spend above your means.
  • how beautiful the present wrapping should look – as above with the decorating. If you actually enjoy wrapping and perfect ribbons, then that’s great and you should enjoy it as part of Christmas. If you can’t bring yourself to enjoy wrapping presents no matter what you do, then wrap them simply and don’t stress about the wrapping needing to be perfect (it is probably going to get ripped to pieces very quickly anyway).
  • how elated you and your family should be – just focus on being relaxed and happy to be with loved ones. Celebrate your differences 😉 and understand that not everyone can be happy from 8am to 11pm on Christmas day!
  • how many parties you can attend (you don’t have to visit all your relatives and friends at every Christmas, just do what you can)

The commercial image of an incredibly happy family in a perfectly looking house is just that … a commercial image.

Think celebration and enjoying being together with loved ones rather than consumerism and shiny presents.

3- Reassure loved ones

If you know that friends or family tend to get stressed or find it tough to afford Christmas, then reassure them as early as possible and do so in a gentle way. You know them best but perhaps it would be worth finding a way to let them know that you’re not expecting much or anything at all.

We’ve done this this year between the adults in the family by agreeing that the main focus should be on the children. Otherwise thoughtfully chosen presents you can consume (ideally together) which don’t cost a lot of money can make for a more enjoyable celebration on the day (this can avoid disappointment, duplicates and wrong sized clothes).

4 – Enjoy Your Own Family Traditions

Being a half French, half English family, we have lots of traditions between the two cultures that we enjoy plus some of our own. The children love these little traditions including the christmas decorations, putting up the christmas tree, stockings, letters to santa, 13 desserts on Christmas eve, leaving a carrot for rudolph and a drink for santa by the chimney, leaving presents under the tree, Christmas crackers, the advent calendar, Christmas carols, getting up ridiculously early on Christmas morning, mince pies, Christmas cake … I could go on and on (you’d be surprised).

These are the things to enjoy. If you can enjoy the simplest and most beautiful things at Christmas and make plenty of room for family and friends, then the rest will take care of itself and you’ll have a great Christmas!!


XMas (aka How To Have a Happy, Stress-Free XMas) — 10 Comments

  1. I’ve noticed that Christmastime has been more stressful for me in the past few years. I think some of it has to do with getting everything right, but for me, it has to do with just getting everything done on time. Since I’ve gone to grad school my time around Christmas has been limited. Even this year I only had a two day window to really do any Christmas shopping plus get a tree and decorate it. In an already stressful time I just get more added stress. I think a lot of the stress does come from expectations, but I often think of what others expect of me. Personally, I don’t need to do much of anything or have any big expectations for myself for Christmas.

    • Hey Steve,

      I know what you mean and expectations (or even thoughts as I just commented on an article on your site) can be very powerful. Even if we think we have things under control there are so many influences around Christmas time and different things going on that it’s sometimes difficult not to get caught up in all of it. We have a cat and a young puppy so it seems the new look for the Christmas tree in our house is a massacred one!

      … and you’re right even if you’ve got your own expectations sorted out for Christmas, often you’re still affected by and want to try and satisfy the expectations of those close to you… but if you can be the most relaxed among all of the madness it will at least project to others and hopefully they’ll be encouraged to be more relaxed too.

      Anyways, I hope you’re having a fantastic festive season & very best wishes for some even cooler adventures in 2012!

    • Wow – thanks Jennifer (and now I know your first name too – perfect!)

      Hope you’re having a great festive season & best wishes for 2012,

      take care,

  2. Hi Isabelle and Alan,
    What a perfect timing for this article! With almost everybody rushing and starting to feel the stress and pressure of the coming holidays, this is indeed a timely reminder.

    Christmas time is my favorite season. I love the feeling of festivity. The only cause of stress that I will have on this occasion is if I don’t have enough funds for those Christmas goodies that I love.

    I’m relieved that I’ve gone past the wanting perfection stage and just want to enjoy the season with family and friends and of course goodies on the Christmas table. 🙂

    Happy Holidays!

    • Hi Theresa,

      thanks & I’m glad you like it – I could write articles all year round about people rushing around too much, everybody seems to be. At XMas though, those people trying to do everything at 100 miles per hour could fall victim to stress and that’s such a shame, especially because it’s supposed to be the opposite – a time of appreciation, relaxation and reconnecting with loved ones.

      Funds are over-rated – replace funds with thoughts and find creative ways to give to one another and you’ll love this XMas even more than ever!!

      take care & best wishes for the festive season & for 2012,

  3. Alan,

    I love this article. I never understood either why people get so stressed at this time!! The only reason I get stressed is because I am a procrastinator. That does not mix with getting everything done on time, does it? BUT I do this year round so Christmas is no different, lol.

    I think I don’t stress because I love to eat. And this is the only time of the year I bake like a mad woman! Hee hee!

    I look forward to this time of year. Hubby and I have small families and rarely see them. This is our time to reconnect and see nieces and nephews that have grown taller than us, lol. And we get to sleep in and eat and read a book and relax.

    I wish people would realize perfection is just in Christmas cards and get over their anxiety. January will come, a new year to start fresh. Nevermind trying to look and act perfect for judgeMENTAL people. Surround yourself with those that care and you have fun with and Christmas will be joyous!

    Merry Christmas!


    • I like it … judgeMENTAL… lol. Personally I like really simple small traditional gifts, humble appreciation, total relaxation, and as you say some time to enjoy eating and drinking with the extended family.

      When I was young my parents would always let me have a sip of their wine at XMas dinner which added to my tiredness from getting up crazily early that morning would make me really tipsy and giggly until I’d crash out and fall asleep on the sofa.

      These days I get up crazily early with my own kids and I still can’t sleep all night because I am excited to see them enjoy XMas the next day – I’m now 38 and don’t drink alcohol anymore (I’m giggly enough without it) but am still bound to fall asleep in the afternoon just because I’m knackered!!

      Anyways, have a great XMas with your nieces & nephews,

      take care,

  4. As i read this article i thought wow this is so true. But a few years ago i would have said HOG WASH. Christmas has to be perfect. Decorations must be everywhere. Dinner must have wine and cheeese and good crystal and and and…
    Over the past few years, due to unemployment and putting our money more in experiences like travel we have cut back on xmas festivities and focused more on family. Albeit, we try to always have an outstanding xmas diner but just don’t have as many dishes now. The stress level has gone down significantly. Friends complain about how stressful and busy they are at Christmas time and i say do less but they say they can’t and i say “OH WELL”. Merry Christmas

    • Exactly!!


      thanks for such a wonderful and inspiring comment Annie – here’s to focussing on what’s really important in life,

      have a great festive season (I’m sure you will),

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