Here we go again. If you’re anything like me, your Facebook feed is crawling with reminders that there are only [insert ridiculously low number here] more shopping days until Christmas. Your television set is overflowing with heartwarming holiday commercials and movies. And your to-do list has increased tenfold overnight as you have suddenly realized all that needs to be done to get ready for the crazy time.
Isn’t this fun? No wonder we look forward to it all year long.
For many of us, the holidays, far from evoking a picture print by Currier and Ives, leave us feeling more like that guy on the bridge in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” There is so much to do—the shopping, the cooking, the parties, the programs—and scores of well-meaning experts full of advice for how we can do it better than ever before.
Several years ago I stumbled on a radio show featuring a female guest talking about how much women tend to burden themselves during the holiday season as they try to ensure a perfect celebration for their families. In short order, she began to hawk her line of products designed to help one have a simpler, more down-to-earth Christmas. I changed the channel.
If you are finding Christmas a daunting rather than inspiring thought this year, it might be time to scale back. The first and most difficult step is giving yourself permission to do so. But you might be surprised to find, once you have let go of one item on your Christmas to-do list, how easy it is to let go of more. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Forget the Christmas Cards
In this day of social media, most of your family and friends probably already know what you’ve been up to all year. They probably also get enough cards that they won’t notice the absence of yours. It’s okay to take a vacation from sending cards. You could always send Epiphany or Easter cards instead. Or don’t send any. I promise Hallmark will welcome you back with no hard feelings next year.
2. Skip the Baking
Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.
3. Eat Out
In the same vein, instead of cooking Christmas dinner, go out or have it catered. Or pop a frozen pizza in the oven. No one will be the wiser.
4. Scale Back the Decorating
Forgo outside lights. If you normally put up multiple Christmas trees, cut it down to one, or even none. If your regular practice is to chop down your own tree, get an artificial, pre-lit substitute this year. It will look just as nice and won’t require any special attention once it’s set up. Hang some mistletoe, throw some candy in a dish, and call it a season. The snow globes and figurines can hibernate in their basement boxes until next year, and when you pull them out again, they’ll seem more special than ever.
5. Scratch ‘Christmas Party’ Off Your To-do List
You don’t have to throw one, and you don’t have to go to one. Instead, make some popcorn, light a fire, and turn on your favorite holiday classic. Watch it alone or with the people who don’t care what you’re wearing or whether you cleaned the house. Don’t forget the eggnog!
6. Shop Online
Avoid the crowds and do your shopping online. Pay the extra money for gifts to be wrapped and mailed directly to the recipients, send gift cards, or simplify the process even more by informing your usual recipients that in lieu of gifts this year you will be making a donation to your favorite charity. Anyone who balks could benefit from the object lesson.
7. Don’t Skimp on Church
While you’re pruning some of the extra weight from your Christmas to-do list, make sure you leave the one thing needful alone: church. If there’s anything not to skimp on, it’s worship. If your church observes the season of Advent with special services, attend them. If you’ve never given much thought to Advent, start now.
Advent is a time of preparation, restraint, and quiet—a perfect combination for the overstressed, overscheduled Christian. Find a church that offers Advent services, and make a point of attending them. As Christmas nears, find a Lessons and Carols service to attend. There is no better way to drown out the seasonal noise and refocus the distracted modern mind on the miracle of the Christ child, and when it comes to church you don’t have to do anything but show up.
Christmas is not a mountain to conquer. Its observance is not dependent on your efforts. No matter what you do or don’t, Christmas is going to come, the same way it came for the first time more than 2,000 years ago, and the same way it continues to come today no matter what we do to mark it. So why not do a little less this year and let Jesus take care of the rest?