Stress free Christmas – is it possible?

At last I’ve succumbed and been inspired to write something about Christmas. Yes, I am aware that it is coming. But I feel kind of smugly successful at having, so far, not got caught up in feeling stressed out by the whole silly season. Part of my relaxed state of mind is, I think, due to avoiding getting too caught up in the pressure of consumerism (as much as is possible when you have a kid who is at an age where she still pretends to believe in Santa and we still let her, with a knowing parent-type ironic wink when he is mentioned.)

I’m not saying I’ve stopped buying presents – I haven’t – but I have stopped having lists of things in my own head that I would like, and wondering what I could be gaining from the seasonal spend up. Anyway, here is my list of suggested ways to remain fairly relaxed about Christmas:

If you have to enter one of those abysmal, enormous indoor shopping centres, plan this like a military operation.

Know your ideal amount of time (OK, I know, any time spent in one of these places is not “ideal” but set your minimum limit for remaining sane when “none” is not an option, and don’t go over it). Ensure you have a list of very specific ideas and a pretty good idea of where you are going to find them – if you are planning to wander around until you “happen” to find “the perfect thing”, this will undoubtedly end in tears, rage or possibly mass murder.

I went to “Knifepoint”, the affectionate nickname for my closest haven of mass consumerism. It’s true that I went 3 times in about 3 weeks, but each time I was in and out within 75 minutes, with the items on my list ticked off and in my bag. My short swift attacks on the shopping centre were stress free, one reason being that it allowed me to rethink about something I’d seen, in the calmness of my own home, and then decide to go back and get the item after all. As compared to trapesing around for hours trying to think of everyone I need to get a present for and what to get them and feeling pressured to get everything at once. Note that an important part of this plan is to realise in advance that once at the shopping centre you will not be able to think, so you need to have done the thinking before hand.

Also, obviously, do this as early as possible, in both senses of the word. I got my trips to Knifepoint out of the way  2-3 weeks ago.  I went in the mornings, so it was relatively uncrowded. Then, that was it. Any additional gifts required would have to come from the local shops. (see below.)

After trapesing around an indoor shopping centre Santa really needs some eggnog.

Wherever possible, when buying gifts, buy them as locally as possible.

I’ve done a few strolls into the local “village” shopping centre for gifts. (I live in Melbourne but every second suburb likes to call its local shopping centre “Such-and-such Village”. Having said that, I have to admit that our local shopping centre does feel a bit like being in a country town, complete with IGA supermarket and  still-daggy op shop.) It’s nicer in every way – less crowded, more relaxed, no long trips stuck in traffic on major roads, and you are supporting your local businesses.

Try to balance the consumerism by giving to those who don’t have anything

I always mean to do something charitable at Christmas time but being a selfish and lazy person, I don’t always get around to it. This year, however, we’ve made a few attempts to help others: my partner purchased toiletries for the Wesley Mission, and donated money to a mental health service, and I let my daughter choose and purchase a book in a local bookshop that is going to donate the selected books to Sudanese refugee kids living in the local area. I think it’s a great message to give a kid, (ie, mine) at Christmas, but also makes you feel good to know you’ve done something more worthwhile than buying gifts for people who already have an easy, cosy life.

Get in touch with someone you don’t normally get in touch with

Ok, so this sounds like a cliche, but I actually think it’s important. I have been thinking for a while that I should write a letter to my brother. Not the brother of the pirate text messages, but another brother (I have 4) – this one completely uncontactable. He doesn’t have a phone of any sort, landline or mobile, so no-one can contact him. This allows him to live in relative isolation, which obviously he prefers, though I can’t really say whether it makes him happy or not.

Anyway,  I probably won’t see him over Christmas, because I won’t be at my parents on Christmas day, and he doesn’t make any effort to see anyone if they don’t “happen” to be at my parents when he is. (which is approximately once a year, on Christmas day.) To be fair, I could make the one hour drive to go and see him another time….but it’s hard not to feel apprehensive about dropping in out of the blue on someone who clearly wants to be uncontactable. So, I wrote him a letter – just a few lines in a Christmas card, but I attempted to say something meaningful. Weird as it may sound, this was a difficult thing to do, partly just because it felt corny, and also  because I imagine him finding my friendly note patronising, so although I had the idea about 6 weeks ago, I only actually did it this week.

So I used Christmas as an excuse to make some contact with my brother.  I don’t delude myself that when he gets my letter he’ll squeal with happiness and rush out to ring me from a nearby pay phone. It wouldn’t surprise me to think he might just throw the letter in the bin, unopened. But I’m glad I wrote it anyway, since that kind of thing is what Christmas is supposed to be about. (Letting someone know you are thinking of them, not the throwing it in the bin part. But there is always a Scrooge somewhere in any Christmas story.)

A relaxed Santa, obviously not realising he is going to have his head bitten off soon.


Lastly: Take some time to relax before Christmas

I’ve always worked right up to the last day possible, but this year I took this full week before Christmas off. So far it has been quite lovely to just potter around at home with my daughter, read, do some leisurely op-shopping, watch a Harry Potter film for about the 4th time, sit outside in the sun eating icecream, and of course, cook. Day three of holidays and I’m feeling about as relaxed as is probably possible for this time of the year.

So, that’s been my successful formula so far. It will be interesting to see how long the relaxed state of mind can last!

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