This year, as in years past, when I ask friends or clients how their holidays were, many of them say that they're just glad it's over. When did the holiday season become a chore? And moreover, why is it such a burden?
I remember when I was a kid in the 70's, we celebrated Christmas very simply. Sometimes my grandparents came into town and other years it was just me and my parents. My mom always cooked a nice lunch/dinner and we had a tree in the living room. I'd always get up super-early and drag my folks out of bed so that I could open the presents that Santa brought me the night before.
I now know intellectually that my parents had to go buy the gifts, wrap them and put them under the tree some time during the night. My mom had to buy groceries and cook the meal and my dad had to put up the tree. When I was old enough, I helped both of them with these things and it always was a happy time. We enjoyed these traditions and spending special time with each other.
When I got married, our holiday plans alternated between sets of parents, but it was still pretty simple. Our holiday now involved an hour and a half drive in the car, but other than that, it was a treasured time. When we had our daughter, Christmas became magic again with the reappearance of Santa. A child's enthusiasm and sense of awe adds so much to the season and is a great motivator to do some of the little "extras," like decorating the house.
Now, my daughter is a teenager and has stopped believing in Santa, so that particular magic is gone. She still looks forward to our traditional drive out to my in-laws' house on Christmas Eve and then either back home with my mom or going to my dad's on Christmas Day. My parents are now divorced, which really just means a little more schedule-juggling, as they are very understanding. But I suppose each of these things that look so small individually do add up and cause some stress during the holidays.
Of course, the holidays are more commercialized now than ever. When I was a kid, I actually enjoyed the commercials that came on near Christmas. With the advances in technology, it seems we are now bombarded with advertisements on TV, the radio and the Internet, even if it is a small ad in the corner of an article that has nothing to do with the holidays. This commercialism has gradually grown over the last decade, making it seem like it was always this way. Store decorations go up in October, though I have heard reports of decorations being spotted as early as August on store shelves. Our current societal messages of "more, more more!" bombard us constantly, but the volume is definitely upped during holiday time. This makes the season seem longer than it used to be.
Also, families are now more spread out from each other due to going off to college, work or making a lifestyle change. The result is that some family members often don't live in the same towns, states and sometimes even countries as the rest of their relatives. This can cause problems when it comes to coordinating travel or accepting that a family member or two will be absent during the holidays.
For families who are in close proximity, certain dynamics can cause friction, leading to a family member being uncomfortable in the presence of another. Sometimes, relatives that are only seen once a year can make a situation awkward, especially if one feels forced to spend time with people they are related to, yet barely know. And of course, not everyone actually likes all of their family members.
Add to that certain expectations, from decorating a tree or home, to buying thoughtful gifts to making a huge dinner from scratch, and this all adds up to a heck of a lot of stress! Perhaps this is why there seems to be a collective sigh of relief toward the end of December. I have already heard two people state that they are "not doing Christmas at all" next year and am writing this article on December 26!
Of course, there are the blessed few who honestly enjoy the holidays and all that comes with it. They usually have good relationships with their families and friends, keep the "obligatory" stuff to a bare minimum and focus on what's really important to them. These things are the beloved people in their lives and/or the spiritual focus of the season.
If you're one of the people who sighed with relief, perhaps now is a good time to take a look at what you would have done differently that would have made the holiday experience better for you. Write these things down while it's still fresh and explore how you can make next year better in some way. The holidays aren't going away anytime soon, so why not take steps so that you don't have to sigh with relief next year? Maybe you will sigh with contentment instead.