3 steps to less stress this Christmas

Christmas stressI was trying to start a family tradition of heartfelt Christmas giving. Sigh.

In that spirit, I enthusiastically decided to participate in our church’s annual Shoebox Drive for Samaritan’s Purse. The idea is to fill shoeboxes with toys, toiletries and other items for distribution to needy children in Third World countries.

With my (then) small kids in tow, I eagerly picked up two shoeboxes one Sunday in October.

This is the spirit of Christmas, I thought. I’ll take the kids to the store. We’ll lovingly and carefully choose each item for the shoebox. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry. This will be wonderful.

Fast-forward to late November and just a few days before the cut-off date for returning the shoeboxes.

I suddenly realize that heartwarming moment in the aisles of Target just isn’t gonna happen. Nope. Instead, I make a mad dash to the Dollar Store, quickly throw things into my cart and frantically assemble the shoeboxes the night before. Can you feel the Christmas love?

It gets worse.

The next day, I completely FORGET about the shoeboxes.

It’s official. I am a horrible person.

The shoeboxes actually ended up on a shelf in my garage, where my husband stumbled upon them — TWO YEARS later!!

Apparently waiting on a shoebox from my family is akin to Samaritan’s Curse.

Over the years, I’ve had many #traditionfails. Here’s a few more …

I know! I’ll buy a new ornament for the children each year they live at home and then present them with a beautifully wrapped box of all 18 ornaments that they can hang on their first grownup Christmas tree!

Until I forgot to buy them for three years.

Or, how about I start a Christmas cookie decorating tradition with my daughter?

Until my controlling, perfectionist tendencies drove me to set some insane standard of culinary excellence for my four-year-old. The first — and last — attempt at that may have scarred us both for life.

My kids are now 15 and 12. I’ve learned a few things from my mistakes. Perhaps it will be helpful as you attempt to establish your own holiday traditions and have less stress this Christmas.

Work within your personality. I’m a writer. I make deadlines all the time. But somehow in my personal life, I can’t kill the procrastinator in me — especially around the holidays. Rigid deadlines don’t work for me. Samaritan’s Purse is wonderful. But I’ve learned I have to choose ministry opportunities that make sense for my schedule and my family. One year, we bought gifts for a needy family and delivered them to our church to be given anonymously. I could do it in my time frame and my kids liked the more personal nature of this kind of giving.

Ask the kids what they like. When I finally did, I discovered they loved opening the Advent Calendar each day. They liked decorating the tree together and reading the same books about Jesus’ birth every year. They loved opening one gift on Christmas Eve. They enjoyed giving to a family in need. As moms, we often kill ourselves trying to concoct new traditions. By talking to our children, we may find we have already created the ones that mean the most — unintentionally.

Keep it simple. Christmas is about Jesus. We don’t have to create an elaborate Christmas Angel out of cotton balls or build a sleigh in the backyard to make the holiday memorable. We put so much pressure on ourselves as moms. In the process, we suck the joy right out of Christmas — and lose focus of the Person we’re supposed to be celebrating.

P.S. Just so you know, one of the shoeboxes finally did make it to the church. Somewhere right now a child is enjoying outdated toys and expired shampoo.

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  • This is such great advice! My kids are still little (2 and 4) and I’m already feeling the pressure of starting traditions and making everything just perfect during the holidays. I haven’t even started that stinking “Elf on the Shelf” thing because I’m scared I’ll forget to move it for a day. I agree, simple is better. Of all things that are part of the holidays – Rudolph, Santa, presents, tree, etc – I just make sure that my kids understand what it’s really all about, which is the birth of Jesus.

    • {Melinda} Sounds like you are doing a great job, Gracielle. 🙂 And yes, I’m so glad my kids are too old for Elf on A Shelf. Sounds exactly like the kind of activity I would try so hard to do well and then completely forget about it. I don’t need that kind of pressure!

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • This is SUCH great advice…for so many situations. Consider your personality and strength, figure out what people LIKE to do, then keep it simple. Seriously, I need this on a sampler. If I followed that advice in so many areas I’d be better off!! Samaritans Curse…bwahahahaha. That really made me laugh!! 😀 –Lisa

    • {Melinda} This is something Kathy and I have learned the hard way. We both spent years trying to do things the way we thought they “should” be done. But then we were miserable and always feeling like we were falling short. Not just at Christmastime, but all year long. It’s no way to live!

  • I am with you – keep it simple, simple, simple. Christmas can be stressful enough without trying to add in all sorts of expectations. I always plan extra vacation days around the 10th of the month so I can get all my packages in the mail and all my decorating done and then some extra days around the holidays itself.

    • {Melinda} What a great idea, Adrian … I think planning some “margin” into our schedules around this time of year makes such a difference in our mental state and our ability to enjoy the season. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Maybe this will help: my mom actually DID do the whole “buy an ornament every year” thing. She gave them to me when I graduated from college. As a single gal, I didn’t exactly put a priority on decorating a Christmas tree. If I decorated, I normally just plugged the tree in and called it “good.”

    When I got married, my husband didn’t have a matching box of ornaments from HIS mom. It was weird. It made those early Christmases even harder because it became the focal point of all the ways our families were different during the holidays.

    When we moved, somehow that box disappeared. Neither of us knows or remembers or even CARES what happened to it. All we know is that after that, we found it much easier to create our own Christmas memories and stay at peace with each other.

    So… you totally did your kids a favor by forgetting to buy those special ornaments for three years. Their future spouses are thanking you right now for reducing THEIR stress in Christmas seasons to come.

    • {Melinda} Oh, Susan .. I am feeling a load of guilt being lifted right now! This comment is why we love you so much! 🙂

  • This is golden advice, so often I decide a tradition sounds great and then fail to consider if it will work for me and my family. A tradition is something you all want to look forward to for many years to some not dread every year. Great post

    • {Melinda} I realized that I was getting all stressed out about doing things, then realized that no one was really enjoying it anyway! I find my family is more excited about doing Christmas events if I just concentrate on a few we all seem to like. Everybody’s happier. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by!

  • So true. My big thing is to promote the Food Drive at school. I tell my students hunger stories that are true and try and break their hearts of stone. It usually works. The last two years, though, the donations have been dropping? Why? Because too many in our community are falling through the cracks and need the food we’re asking them to donate.

    • {Melinda} We just did an event at the Homeless Coalition and the kids seemed to really enjoy seeing how they could make an impact just by being there and showing they cared.

  • I totally agree, why would we stress out and not enjoy the holidays? Keeping it simple is something I seriously hope to do this year. And more especially make sure my family I keep JESUS in the centre of it all. Thanks a lot for sharing, do have super blessed weekend!

    • {Melinda} Yes! Keeping Jesus as the focus can be so tough with all the distractions. It takes intention — so easy to get caught up in “doing” instead of slowing down and being in a mental place where we can worship and focus on Him.

  • AMEN to THIS!!! I love love love this post!!! You are SO RIGHT about each and every piece of advice here… thank you for the encouragement and the affirmation to do what works best for what means the most to my kids and going with what I can do!!! Bravo! And CHEERS- to a holiday without stress!

    Thank you- you blessed me with this. 🙂

    • {Melinda} It’s taken me SOOOO long to figure this out. This Christmas has been the most relaxed yet. I’m doing it the way that works for me and my family and totally have lost all the guilt. It took a while for the guilt to go away even after I started letting go of all the “stuff” that wasn’t working.


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i’m melinda


I’m a woman who was radically changed when the God I thought I knew since childhood opened my eyes to the overwhelming depth of His love for me. I love speaking, writing, and pointing women to the Father so they can experience for themselves the healing power of His incredible, captivating love.

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