It's the night before Christmas …
And your little black dress won't zip, buttoning last year's trousers has you talking like an elf, and you're too exhausted to care that the credit card just triggered the smoke alarm. Again.
If you woke last January 2 wondering who put "happy" and "holidays" together in the same refrain, you're not alone. For many couples, the frantic pace of the holiday season threatens to turn tidings of comfort and joy into trials of fatigue and frustration.
Sleepless nights, impossible schedules, financial worries, and sugar-cookie love handles don't have to sabotage your Christmas season. With teamwork, a healthy dose of realism, and some dedicated planning, you and your spouse can share a happy, healthy Yuletide.
The stockings were hung …
Couples who don't dread the holidays seem to have this theme in common: Leave nothing to the last minute.
Commit to a 30-minute planning session in the next few days that will put you and your spouse on the way to accomplishing together what you decide is important this holiday season. Match calendars on a regular basis and coordinate your efforts. When the pressure's on, your partnership is the greatest resource you share.
Put your health first
A long winter's nap …
Don't sacrifice sleep to satisfy the demands of your holiday calendar. Giving up too many nights of restful slumber invites short tempers, frustration, and a round of holiday colds and flu. Work together with your spouse to get the rest you both need.
Never underestimate the value of a good nap. If dinner's under control, one of you can watch the skillet (and maybe the kids) while the other catches a 30-minute power nap in the recliner.
If you have small children and you're visiting relatives, take turns resting when the kids do. Chances are they'll fall asleep sooner sharing a quiet bedroom with you than if they're left alone, and you'll all reap the benefits of renewed energy.
If it's past midnight and you've already sewn the donkey's ears to Joseph's robes twice, go to bed. Working late for two hours on a project you could accomplish in 45 minutes if you were fresh is a waste of precious sleep time.
Not a creature was stirring …
The mice may be sedentary, but you shouldn't be. Health experts agree: Regular exercise lifts your mood, bolsters your willpower to eat moderately, reduces stress, and burns extra calories. Make a conscious commitment with your spouse to stick to your exercise routine during the holidays.
If you have to miss an occasional spin class or appointment at the gym, be creative. Instead of sitting in a stupor while waiting to pick up the kids from Christmas choir practice, go for a brisk 15-minute walk in the church foyer or up and down the auditorium hallway.
Most play is really exercise. Shock the video controllers right out of your children's hands when you suggest sledding, a snowball fight, ice skating, or building a snowman on a Sunday afternoon. Take a walk around the neighborhood with your spouse to deliver the annual goodie baskets, do several laps at the mall, sign up for the local Christmas Classic 5K, or make 10 trips up and down the basement stairs to retrieve wrapping paper and decorations.
Staying with family? They may leap at the chance to watch the kids for an hour while you and your spouse go for a run or a walk after dinner. Weather permitting, shoot baskets in the driveway, play tag, or choose sides and play touch football. If your basement is indoor-sport friendly, play sock-hockey (or sock-soccer) with rolled-up tube socks.
Whatever you choose, keep moving. Work out together when you can, and cover exercise time for each other when you can't.
Like a bowl full of jelly …
Good food is a wonderful part of the holiday tradition, but remember it's just that—a part of the celebration. The real reason we gather at the holidays is to share the message of the season and enjoy relationships with friends and family.
Here are some tips to help you keep food in perspective this year:
*Keep healthy snacks on hand, such as fresh fruit, raw vegetables, almonds, and yogurt.
*If you and your spouse rack up extra holiday calories by sampling (and resampling) while you prepare special recipes, try this: Pour sparkling water and fruit juice in your nicest stemware, garnish with lemon, lime, or orange slices, and sip away while you bake cookies or stir that plum sauce. You'll still feel "treated" and you may avoid hundreds of extra calories.
*Eat normally the day of the big party, and include a light, healthy snack before you go. You'll be more likely to enjoy socializing and less likely to overeat.
*Don't make unrealistic bargains with yourself. If you love your aunt's triple-fudge chocolate pie, plan to savor one piece—but not three.
*If you're traveling, pack healthy snacks and sandwiches. You'll save time and money while avoiding fast-food French fries.
*If you're hosting, be sure to offer some healthy choices and don't be a food-pusher. If you're a guest, graciously decline third and fourth helpings by commenting on how much you enjoyed your first.
Visions of sugar-plums …
Having realistic holiday expectations doesn't mean extinguishing your hopes for those glowing, "post-card" moments. It means expanding your definition of "post-card moments" to include the times when you're under the mistletoe and the baby cries, the turkey is two hours late and the guests are an hour early, and those slippers you worked so hard to hand-knit will fit only if Grandma's left foot is a size 6 and her right a size 10.
If you know that "perfect" is a pretty big deal to your spouse, remember that love, laughter, and genuine acceptance can help to defuse less-than-ideal circumstances that threaten to become melt-down moments.
Remember, billions of dollars and careful scripting are required to make those holiday movies turn out perfectly every time. Don't hold yourself (or your spouse) hostage to the pressure of unrealistic expectations.
Tips for keeping it real:
*Opt for sending e-mail greetings (with digital photos attached) to the "wired" recipients on your list.
*Shop early. When you can do so safely, shop online.
*Embrace traditions that link you in a meaningful way to your family, your heritage, your church, and your community; abandon those with no better defense than "I guess we've always served a seven-course meal on Christmas day."
*Politely decline responsibilities you can't handle.
Put money in its place
Like a peddler, just opening his pack …
Nothing can hijack the joy of Christmas like financial worries and overspending. How can you focus on the spirit of the season, and not on the purchases?
*Agree on a budget before you start shopping and stick to it.
*If you don't have one, open a Christmas account at your bank this year.
*Suggest a family name draw if your list has grown too long to manage.
*Place a premium on simple handmade presents or personal gifts of time; if you value such things, your children will too.
*If this isn't the year for diamonds or custom golf clubs, agree with your spouse to "share" a holiday gift; make one meaningful purchase for the household that you can both enjoy throughout the year.
Happy Christmas to all …
Remind each other, with words and actions, what you're really celebrating this Christmas. Determine together to observe the holidays in ways that are most meaningful to you. Resist the pressure to do more and spend more every year. With teamwork and a plan, you may even remember what "happy" and "holidays" have in common.
Renae Bottom, a teacher and freelance author, and her husband, Mark, have been married 26 years.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.