Surviving Christmas image

Surviving Christmas

I’m not sure why, but getting to the second half of October seems to have started everyone off talking about Christmas. One of my children has written how many days remain until Christmas on our kitchen notice board. On Friday evening I walked up to the pub to see some un-churched friends of mine, to find them talking about Christmas, and the stresses and strains of trying to keep everyone happy: So and so has to be included, but doesn’t like the same things as thus and such, and so on and so forth – you know the kind of thing. What advice would you give to people in your church? they wanted to know. I attempted an answer, but also had to admit that I, too, had been thinking about Christmas as I walked to the pub, wondering about the expectations of the different branches of my own family.

As Christmas is still more than two months away I find it somewhat depressing that it seems to have bubbled up to quite such an extent in people’s thinking already. The reality is that the shops have been stocking Christmas trinketry since September, though it is still somewhat obscured behind the Halloween trinketry; but, somehow, getting into the second half of October seems to mean that Christmas is close enough for the anxieties about how to manage it to come to the surface.

As Christians we know this is all pretty crazy. While we joyfully celebrate the incarnation we recognize the arbitrariness of the timing of Christmas, and our freedom in Christ to either celebrate or ignore it. We know, and lament, the commercial hijacking of the festival. We know the value of family, and of demonstrating hospitality to ‘the widow and orphan’. Yet, we too, so often get as caught up in the stress of the season as anyone else. What to do?!

Of course, an increasing number of people do choose to opt out in some way – maybe by avoiding the hassle of cooking by going to a restaurant for Christmas dinner, or by disappearing on holiday somewhere. Given the option, I’d be very happy to go skiing for a few days and forget Christmas altogether, but I’m not sure I have that option. Assuming you don’t either, there are a few we can do in order to maximise the potential benefits of Christmas and minimise the downside.

Here are some of the things on my personal list of Christmas-coping strategies:

1. Christmas comes round every year, so you may as well be prepared for it! If nothing else, this means being financially prepared. Over the past few years I have got into the habit of setting money aside each month specifically for Christmas, and this has been a big help in reducing Christmas shopping stress.
2. If ‘not being conformed to the pattern of this world’ means anything it must mean that we do not have to buy into the complete Christmas package. We don’t have to spend as much as our neighbours do. We don’t have to try to create perfection – which is where I think a lot of Christmas stress comes from. We should have realistic expectations and not hang so much on a single day. Our hope hangs on Jesus, not on a day.
3. We should honour family and be generous to those in need, but remember we are not obligated to do things simply because of an arbitrarily defined date. (See Col 2:16).
4. It is good to celebrate and good to party! Celebrate what you can, how you can, and if you are fortunate enough to be surrounded by family and friends whom you like and the cupboard is full of food and drink you like, all the better.
5. Remember than in just over two months it will all be over. God is good!

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