Goof-Proof Christmas

Tips to minimize stress and focus on what matters this Christmas

I'm a big fan of Christmas. I love the smell of a fresh-cut pine tree and never worry about the needles in my carpet. I love knowing all the children will be home and enjoying their favorite foods. I love the songs, the foods, the shopping, the presents…I even like fruitcake. Granted, not every holiday season has turned out to be the Norman Rockwell painting that flashes through my brain. Like most mothers I've faced the challenge of irritable children, frustrated in-laws, and burnt pies.

Though I seem to have an inexhaustible positive attitude about the season, I have experienced complete meltdowns. A run to my bedroom for a private hissy fit, lots of prayer followed by a deep breath, and I'm ready to go again. I totally sympathize with overloaded moms who dread extended family dinners and parties. It can feel as though Halloween through New Years is a continuous marathon cooking show specializing in spiders climbing cupcakes, Oreo dirt pudding, decorated cookie ornaments, 60 ways to re-plate turkey, and how to make a football stadium out of cheese and parsley. Add all the trick-or-treat safe gatherings, potluck suppers, choir practice, plays, cookie exchanges, shopping, and Santa Claus lines filled with screaming children dressed in red velvet, and you have the makings of a postseason nervous breakdown. (I'm exhausted just writing about it.) Throw in three children excited about Christmas vacation while sleep deprived and sugar infused, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Depression during the holidays is usually associated with people who are alone and possibly suicidal. I believe there is a larger segment of depressed people lurking in busy homes. Parents who are surrounded by wonderful children and a loving family can become mildly depressed. When hard work doesn't produce a "perfect" holiday, melancholy or mild depression can float into the holiday schedule. This mild depression is usually caused by a false image of the perfect Christmas. Parents may dream of Norman Rockwell paintings, magazine layouts that include cherubic children perfectly dressed, a banquet of food prepared by Mom in velvet high heels, friends gathered around a piano, and Dad lounging by the fire. Mild depression hovers when their homes show more reality than staged photos.

Even with all the hustle-bustle and frustrations, I still get a warm feeling when I think of the holidays. In order to survive and avoid total meltdown, I've discovered a few tricks that help bring reality a little closer to the pictures in my mind. Before I schedule my yearly inventory of holiday necessities, I place a tattered handmade card on my refrigerator. The edges are frayed and the glitter has worn off. The red and green letters are faded but still proudly proclaim, "DESIRE."

Debbie Jansen
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May 25

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