Nearly every year around this time I post my brother's article about holiday stress and things you can do to alleviate it. The feedback I get has been evidence that the season isn't always jolly with ho-ho-hoes while we're decking the halls and splitting logs for the yule-tide fire. If you need a little encouragement in this regard, and a handful of practical wise words, read Dr. Ron Newman's Holiday Ups and Downs.
On the other hand, a few words in defense of holiday stress might be in order.
Stress, or the pressure that comes from responsibilities, isn't all bad. I'm not going to say it's fun. But it can be rewarding. Here are some examples.
We have made it annual tradition to write a Christmas letter that we send to friends and family. It updates them on what our children are doing and what we've been up to. There's a sense in which it keeps us connected to the people we care about, something which is healthy in a post-modern world where so many connections have been broken.
Even if you don't write a letter, just sending pictures or even a card requires addressing envelopes, staying organized, keeping current with addresses of people in your life. It takes time and could be perceived as a burden of sorts, but doing it has hidden benefits. One is that we're elevating this season in some way, marking the passing of a year by not letting it pass unmarked, unnoticed, just another season.
There are other things most of us do that we don't have to. We put up trees and lights, we go to parties, some spend an evening or afternoon visiting shut-ins and singing carols. And there's always the shopping that needs to be taken care of. If you're not in the right frame of mind, those lines can be stressful.
What I've found, though, is that years later the memories created by family traditions can comfort us like a warm blanket and hot cocoa. Here's an excerpt from an email I received yesterday from my daughter who is currently in China. You can see here the variety of traditions that were built into our family Decembers.
I really miss singing Christmas carols!!! ... I was just thinking of when we'd sing Christmas songs on the way to get the tree, and we'd sing Frosty the Snowman and we'd always get mixed up on the words. haha. Getting the Christmas tree and decorating it I think is my favorite Christmas tradition, the one I have most memories of... it was so special to all be together, singing, and being excited for Christmas... Christmas eve was always almost more exciting than Christmas, too, with the suspense of everything. watching A Christmas Carol as a family, reading together and putting out the cookies for Santa...
I share all this because even when the feelings aren't there -- you're tired or burned out or going through a hard time -- next year will probably be different. We don't scrap traditions because we're not in the mood. These traditions have hidden rewards and give continuity to ourselves and our families.
Please note: I do understand the emotions of those for whom the excessive commercializing of Christmas has become odious. The "reason for the season" was the birth of an infant born into a poor family in a stable, in a country oppressed by a foreign power. It's an almost crazy setting for the birth of king. And how that event turned into long lines at the mall I'm not quite sure.
All this to say that traditions have value. Each family benefits by shaping its traditions for another generation. It's a beautiful thing.