a Balance for the Holidays
Tools for reducing the stress and celebrating the holy
Dr. Jerry L. Harber
are supposed to be a joyous, happy time, filled with warmth
and laughter. Yet, for many, the emotions present are often
tension, anger, disappointment, sadness, disillusionment, and
even incompetence. What happens that turns these holy days
into horrid days? And what can be done to keep that from happening?
Let's start with the first question. There are three things that combine to
produce the pain: pressure to have a perfect experience, unrealistic expectations,
and the expectation of intimacy. Let's look at each one.
The Perfect Experience. In our culture, holidays, especially
Thanksgiving and Christmas, are portrayed as "perfect moments." Fairy
tale pictures in commercials and holiday cards show us scenes that
for many rarely happen--snowy landscapes and horse-drawn sleigh rides,
flickering fireplaces and perfectly arranged candles, golden brown
turkeys and laughing family members toasting the season. The subtle
message is: This is how holidays should be; anything less is inadequate.
The reality of holidays is oftentimes holiday dinners that exhaust
the cooks and kitchens that take hours to clean; dinner rolls that
won't rise; misguided gifts; and people who show up late, "spoiling
Unrealistic Expectations. Trying to have the perfect experience
is unrealistic, but other impossible expectations exist as well. There
is tremendous pressure to spend too much money on decorations, food,
drinks and gifts. Others expect you to "get into the holiday spirit" by
entertaining at home or by attending more parties between Thanksgiving
and New Year's than you are invited to all year. Declined invitations
bring raised eyebrows or sad looks. How can you want to stay home and
have a quiet evening? You should be enjoying yourself!
of Intimacy. The idea of coming home for the holidays
is another cultural pressure we must face. The message
is simple: You're supposed to be with family during the
holidays, and you're suppose to enjoy being together.
The reality is often very different. Frequently the added
stress of the holiday season's expectations undermines
attempts at being together and enjoying one another.
The number of people seeking counseling increases after
the holidays because of the stress that uncovers flaws
in relationships during this time.
In spite of this dismal picture of the holidays, they need not be stressful
times. Here are some ideas that can make a difference:
by remembering what holidays are really all about:
· Thanksgiving is for giving thanks for what you have,
· Christmas is for celebrating God's gift of eternal life though Jesus
· New Year's is a time of reflection, renewal and refocusing on things
that really matter.
and rethink your habits and traditions associated with
· Make a list, write a narrative, jot some notes to yourself in which
you describe what you really want to do versus what you think you should do.
Traditions can be very helpful because they provide a sense of continuity with
the past. This in turn fosters a sense of belonging, security, relatedness, and
intimacy. And traditions provide a structure for important moments. But traditions
should be reexamined, because they may need to be changed, revised, even abandoned
if they don't achieve what they are suppose to achieve.
· If new traditions make more sense, replace the old ones. It's one thing
to visit everyone in your family when there are only two of you and one or two
families to visit. But, as families expand and/or change through divorce and
remarriage, another approach may make more sense and be just a meaningful.
those things that can not be changed, but change those
things that can:
· For example, your Christmas this year is not likely to bring the emotional
supports you needed from your parents when you were growing up. If they couldn't
do it then, they probably can't do it now.
· Decide to break the bad habits you have with siblings or other relatives,
such as rehashing old hurts.
· Intimacy and warm feelings come in momentary waves, not long-lasting
deluges; take what is offered and be thankful rather than comparing that to what
you wished for and making yourself miserable.
trying to follow these suggestions, you can actually celebrate
the holidays as what they are meant to be: holy days.