Do you sometimes feel that Christmas has become an insane season of too much expense, too many parties and too much food? Do the Christmas holidays bring you little joy and large amounts of stress?
The good news is, making things more meaningful is simply a matter of taking charge and deciding to focus on the true reason for the season. Here are 10 steps to a less stressful, more spiritual holiday.
Commit yourself to having a spiritual holiday
Author and editor Susan Taylor notes that “the holy season is a profound and powerful time to commit ourselves to new beginnings, to start new practices, to choose again what we want planted in our heart for the coming year.” She learned this truth during a time when the holidays filled her with “longing—not for things but for a spiritual experience of the season.”
Taylor was tired of stressful holidays that left her “feeling excited but exhausted, full yet empty, surrounded by family but lonely.” So she committed herself to finding ways to feel greater love and joy and to have a deeper connection with the meaning of the season. As a result, her holidays have become a highly anticipated time of the year.
Now, she invites others to join her in intentionally choosing “peace and joy and making a point to express love in ways that go deeper than the material gifts we may give.” She says, “Let’s practise kindness and forgiveness and have compassion for the folks who try our patience the most. Let’s love when it isn’t easy. Let’s open our hearts.”
Put something different under the tree
Think more about non-material gifts. “You don’t need money to embrace the abundance of this sacred season,” says T D Jakes, an author and pastor in Texas. “During the holidays and all the days afterward, give something greater than what can be bought with money.”
Some ways of doing this include visiting someone who is clearly lonely; volunteering at your church, a homeless shelter or at a women’s refuge; or inviting one or more people to your home to share your Christmas dinner.
Jakes says that “rather than engage solely in superficial festivities, we can choose instead to dig deep into our own humanity, displaying our good will and getting back to the simplicity of holy days that highlight, above all, a peasant Boy born in a manger but destined to make a difference in a world so in need of light.”
Work on yourself, not on others
A great deal of tension occurs during the holidays when family members get together and one member tries to “fix” another. Resist any urge to criticise, correct, attack, belittle or pass judgement on a family member or friend.
Adhere to this wisdom from Mikhail Baryshnikov, one of the greatest ballet dancers in history: “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” Try the Baryshnikov approach and compete only with yourself this holiday season by asking yourself the following questions:
- Can I be a little more patient with an impossible-to-please mother-in-law?
- Can I be a little kinder toward an obnoxious brother?
- Can I be a little more loving toward my partner?
- Can I be a little more helpful to a sister?
- Can I be a little more compassionate toward an uncle?
- Can I be a little more understanding of my mother?
- Can I be better today than I was yesterday?
- Can I be a little more forgiving toward a hurtful relative?
- Can I be a little less judgemental?
Be like Mary
Some 2000 years ago, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a frightened, single mother-to-be. But she chose to focus on nurturing the life growing within her. Be like Mary and nurture the spiritual life growing in you.
Use the season and its ample opportunities to permit Christ to grow in and enlarge your life. Bishop Fulton J Sheen often reminded people to let “God do in your soul what Mary let Him do to her body, namely, let Christ be formed in you. . . . As He was physically formed in her, so He wills to be spiritually formed in you. . . . . If you knew that He wants to use your mind, your will, your fingers and your heart, how different you would be.”
Set specific spiritual goals
Early in December, sit quietly and establish specific spiritual goals for yourself during the Christmas season.
“Last year I wanted to have a more meaningful holiday,” says Ricardo, an accountant. “So, right on the first of December, I spent an evening thinking about ways to do that and then put it down in writing. This was my holiday spiritual goal list: To pray daily for a minimum of 10 minutes; to smile at everyone I encountered; to read daily from Scripture or other spiritually edifying literature; to send a sizeable Christmas donation to a group working with the poor in my city; to write a thank-you note to someone who helped me in the past.”
Nurture your own spirit
When we’re in a good place emotionally and spiritually, things tend to go more smoothly during the various holiday festivities. Spiritual self-care can reduce stressful feelings and even eliminate them completely.
Consider Anna, who annually hosts her ever-growing family gatherings. “On Christmas Eve, the entire extended family—now numbering nearly 25 people—comes to my home for our holiday meal. I prepare appropriately and then, an hour before the first guests arrive, I absent myself from the house and take a 30-minute meditative walk alone. During that time, I soak in the wonder of nature as I meditate, pray and reflect on how blessed my life is and has been. This allows me to centre down and exude a genuinely positive spiritual tone for the evening and for everyone present.”
Make room at the inn
One December in rural New Mexico several years ago, a severe snow blizzard struck holiday travellers, stranding them on an isolated highway. Living nearby was Randy Glover, who was talking to his wife, Christine, on a two-way radio.
As they spoke, the radio picked up the voice of a stranger, who explained that he and his family were stranded in their car on the highway. Realising that they were only 200 metres away but unable to see his house because of blinding snow, Randy radioed directions. The family of six made it into the comfort and safety of the Glover home.
Then Randy learned that there were other vehicles stuck on the road and so, putting on ski goggles, he went out and invited the stranded into his home. One by one, the travellers came.
Eventually, 44 people were packed into his house, ranging in age from 4 to more than 70. Frightened, frustrated and tired, they were welcomed warmly and fed from two huge pots of bubbling soup. One of those stranded was a grocery delivery driver who, given the extreme circumstances, removed grocery items from his truck so everyone could have food until the roads were finally cleared two days later.
This story is a reminder to make room at the inn. During the holiday when it’s customary for people to be with family and friends, open your home to someone who’s unable to be with others.
Train yourself to see Christ in the poor
That was the wish of Jesus who said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). The poor—those whose lives are in struggle mode—are all around us, yet we often don’t notice them or refuse to see them.
One woman tells of walking by a homeless youth while rushing about doing Christmas shopping. As she was leaving the shopping mall, she noticed an impeccably dressed “classy man” also leaving and was surprised when he stopped to speak with the homeless youth. Listening, she heard the man offer a “Merry Christmas” to the youth and then press some money into his hand. It was an important lesson for the woman, who says, “I didn’t even want to make eye contact with the homeless youth, but this gentleman reached out to him, greeted him, touched him and gave him some money. Through witnessing that act, I immediately gained a deeper understanding of compassion.”
Bring joy to your world
As you go through the holiday season, bring love, peace and joy to your part of the world. Be guided by this definition of love from Augustine of Hippo: “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Be love in action
This will truly bring joy to your world and wonderful reason for this important season.