With the kids often yelling and everyone telling you buy something here. It’s the most stressful time of the year. BY JAMIE HUMPHREY
Here we go again…the stress of the holidays. I feel like I need to close my eyes, brace myself and hold my breath until it’s all over. When did I become such a GRINCH?! Somewhere between becoming an adult, becoming a mom and losing my brother way too soon. I didn’t always feel overwhelmed during the holidays but the past few Christmas seasons have been more about keeping up with the “to-dos” than stopping to commemorate the night divine when Christ was born.
Growing up, my mom made Thanksgiving and Christmas magical. She would decorate, have wonderful crafts for us to make and invite friends over to celebrate with us. I would be giddy just thinking about the holiday season. I have loved Thanksgiving the best because not only it is all about family, friends and thankfulness; it is also the true signal that Christmas is close. I can remember Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving and Christmas after Christmas being filled with happiness and fond memories.
When I became a mom, I felt a shift of responsibility come on my shoulders. I was now the one that needed to create magic for my daughter. I think that is when I realized how much work and planning my mom had done to make things so special for our family. I was unprepared and caught off guard at the enormity of it all.
Thankfully, Serenity was only eight months old for her first Christmas and my mom (of course) planned for our family to be in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the Christmas week. It was a magical week in the snow with my immediate family, my husband and our baby’s first Christmas.
But the following Christmas was tainted with my beloved brother’s death just two months prior. I was three months pregnant with Justice and Serenity was 20 months old. I will never forget what happened. On Christmas Eve I realized the following day was Christmas and we did not have a single present for Serenity. I managed to get Christmas Eve pajamas for Serenity but that was it. How could I let that happen? I was caught in a fog of shock and grief. My brother had died, I found out I was pregnant unexpectedly and we were in escrow on our first home. I was being dragged through time without a chance to catch my breath. I sent Eli out late on Christmas Eve to find SOMETHING to wrap for Serenity. She really would not have noticed or known anything different if there were not any presents on Christmas Day. Oh, but I would know. I felt like a failure as a mom to be expecting another baby and I couldn’t even manage to get my current baby a Christmas present. I did not have the magic in me!
Eli came home that night with a little cash register he found at CVS. It was the only store open. He also got me a present. He got me a mug and a Starbucks gift card. I was so grateful the next day that I had a present to open. As for Serenity…she LOVED that cash register. It made a dinging noise when you hit the “enter” button. She literally played with it for YEARS. Thank you, CVS for being there for parents in need. For real.
Why do I share this story? This is the point where holidays became traumatic. It became too much for me. The past five Christmas seasons have been tough. I have been sick for every one of them. Very sick. I feel the pressure to cook for Thanksgiving and have a grateful heart but, in reality, I ache missing my brother. It’s just not the same. I go through the motions and wait for the day to be over so normal days can come back with their soothing monotony.
Then the Christmas dash slams into me. Family portraits. They are overwhelming because I have to choose the right outfits, the perfect photographer, the exact location and the best pose. Then I have to order the cards, address the envelopes and send them all out by the right date. It’s exhausting, stressful and expensive! Why don’t I just stop sending them? Well, last year I did. But the guilt has lasted a year. Must. Send. Out. Christmas. Cards.
The parties. The gifts. Blowing our budget out of the water. What to buy for the kids’ teachers?! Do I give a gift to my hairdresser? Does that friend expect a gift? What if they buy me a gift and I don’t have one in return? I guess I should bake cookies. I guess I should let my kids decorate cookies for Santa.
Christmas decorations. Do I really have to decorate my mantle and set up a tree? Then I need to take it down and put everything away. We have Christmas parties to attend. Should I throw a party, too? Elf on the Shelf. New Christmas traditions that require more time, creativity and effort. In reality, all I want to do is sleep the season away.
For some people, getting together with family is stressful—especially within divorced families. It can cause a lot of anxiety and stress to equally split the time to accommodate more than one family. And the presents! So many people to buy for! And of course we all want to make sure we get each person the perfect gift.
There are some of us that are alone for the holidays. The loneliness feels like a wet blanket. It’s all encompassing and makes the heart sick. On normal days, the loneliness fades into the background and isn’t exaggerated like it is during the Christmas season. Even when watching TV, the shows and movies are all about family and friends finding love and cherishing time with each other. To desire a home filled with people and love when the reality is loneliness and solitude is beyond difficult. Please don’t be too worried about me. I am trying to prove a point that the holidays are not always happy and jolly times for some people. If you count down the days until Christmas with the joy of Will Ferrell in the movie Elf, you may feel like this blog is just one big “BAH HUMBUG” and you think I should stop spoiling the excitement for you. Yet, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience a high incidence of depression. One North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season. Let’s all purpose in our hearts to offer extra grace to those who seem like they need it this holiday season. Keep your eyes open for those who need to feel the Father’s love in a new way. Keep your eyes open for the lonely that might need a family to spend the holidays with. I made some decisions that I tend to keep this holiday season.
I will commit to:
- Eat right: It’s so easy to binge on food and sugar. It’s okay to enjoy the holiday goodies but to throw a balanced diet out the window isn’t wise. I know I’m sensitive to sugar intake so I need to be intentional to stay healthy. And what a bummer to gain 10 pounds over the holidays. I’ve done that before and it’s a drag.
- Exercise: Usually the holiday hustle comes and exercising is the first thing to go by the wayside. I need to keep up with my routine to keep my body and mind strong. It is a great stress release and will help combat feeling blue. I can prioritize working out and the excuses can just be quiet.
- Plan ahead: I know that I need to get teacher gifts, send out presents to family in other states and get the kids’ gifts. I can make a list and start NOW! It’s not too late and never too early to start planning ahead. I’ve recently changed shopping for my kids to 5 simple gifts: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read and something to eat (added by my little boy who loves food). Since I already have this matrix I can hop on Amazon and get shopping done in one sitting. Also, my family chooses names for the adults and we buy one present for the person we draw. SO MUCH EASIER and financially savvy.
- Set realistic expectations: I’m already stressed just thinking about all I need to do for Christmas. I don’t think it is necessary for me to be super-hostess and plan a Christmas party at my house. I need to be okay that even though the thought is a good one, it’s just not realistic. Maybe I can throw a spring party when things are more manageable for me. Also, I need to be okay saying no to parties or events that would just be too much. I can trade a night of the kid’s taking pictures with Santa for a night at home with my little family watching It’s a Wonderful Life and drinking hot chocolate.
- Remember the REAL reason we celebrate: Ah, let’s leave it all at the feet of the TRUE reason for the season: Jesus. Oh but for the precious blood of Jesus. His birth that brought God in the form of a baby through a virgin named Mary. He is the Son of God. Salvation is born. Salvation has come. I want to rest in the awe and wonder of Christ.
If you love this season and thrive at all the holiday requirements, own it! You thrive, girl! I’m happy for you! But for those of you who struggle to keep up with the fast pace of the holiday season, I will leave you with this:
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 NLT
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jamie Humphrey has been married to Eli for 9 years. Together they parent Serenity (7) and Justice (5). The most important things to Jamie are her faith in God and her family. When asked to describe herself in 3 words she replied: funny, emotional and passionate.