Nancy and I have always had the same goal for Christmas: a celebration that's more spiritual and less commercial. The problem is we haven't agreed on how to make that happen.
Several years ago, Nancy thought Christmas would be more meaningful if we made gifts for everyone instead of buying them. This sounded good to me because I wanted a simpler, less-expensive Christmas and because making gifts was always an important part of my family's holiday tradition when I was a child.
But as Christmas drew closer, I was having second thoughts. Rather than limiting the gifts to one per person, Nancy went overboard. She created several presents for each family member. And she didn't include me in the planning. I felt left out as she tried to do everything herself, and Nancy became more and more uptight.
All the tension finally came to a head the Sunday before Christmas. Nancy was so busy we hadn't even put up our Christmas tree. I wanted to help, but I was afraid to get in her way. On impulse, I tried to ease the tension by being affectionate. Boy, was that a mistake! She snapped, "Don't touch me right now! Can't you see how stressed I am?"
That afternoon I left the house for a while to let things cool down. Despite our good intentions, something had gone terribly wrong.
I've always wanted to experience the joy and spiritual significance of the season. But with all the presents to buy, meals to plan, and parties to attend, the "true meaning of Christmas" has usually gotten lost in the shuffle.
A few years ago, I decided things were going to be different. By making our gifts, we'd have a simple, meaningful Christmas. I wanted the holiday to be perfect, something everyone would remember. It was something to remember all right, but not all the memories are pleasant.
What started as a good idea became an obsession. Hand-crafted ornaments and jewelry, homemade bath salts, painted sweatshirts—you name it, I did it. My kitchen turned into Santa's Workshop as I spent all my evenings and weekends working on gifts. The plans for holiday meals quickly got out of hand, too, as I planned a Martha Stewart-style celebration for the whole family.
By the time Christmas rolled around, I was a wreck. December 25th became a deadline, and I was racing against the clock to get everything done. I was too anxious even to think about enjoying the holiday.
The fight Michael and I had just before Christmas was terrible. He was just trying to help when I exploded. In those miserable hours after our argument, I wondered, "If this Christmas is so perfect, why do I feel so awful?"
What the Twiggs Did
Despite the stress overload, that Christmas wasn't a complete loss for the Twiggs. They learned valuable lessons, including the need to get ready for the holiday together. If both of them gave input and took part in the planning, cooking, and shopping, Michael wouldn't feel excluded and Nancy wouldn't kill herself trying to do everything alone.
As they discussed changes they needed to make, Nancy recognized that her perfectionism makes it difficult for her to see when holiday preparations are overwhelming their family. Michael learned that because Nancy takes on more than she should, he needs to help her say no to elaborate celebration schemes in the month of December.
To avoid another Christmas disaster like that one, they decided that as long as they both work full-time, making all homemade gifts is not an option.
"We worked together to find other creative ways to give inexpensive, yet thoughtful gifts," says Nancy. The creative alternatives include shopping at garage sales and flea markets to find low-cost, one-of-a-kind gifts. They found videos featuring one relative's favorite comedian and picked up a book on bird feeding for the bird watcher in the family. Best of all, since most garage sales are held in the summer, the Twiggs completed their shopping long before the holidays actually rolled around.
"It left us free to do things that added meaning to our Christmas celebration," says Michael. "We made and delivered food baskets for the poor, visited a nursing home, and attended an outdoor nativity play."
Throughout the season, Michael kept a close watch on Nancy's stress level. At times when things seemed to be getting out of hand, he helped her set limits.
"At the last minute," he says, "she considered hosting an informal Christmas party for our Bible study group. I reminded Nancy that we already had a pretty full schedule. I helped her see that the party was an 'extra' we didn't need to attempt."
With careful planning, early preparation and teamwork, the Twiggs' efforts to enjoy a simpler, less-stressful holiday paid off.
"Although I tried to make that Christmas perfect, the following Christmas was actually the best one we've ever had," says Nancy. "By working together, Michael and I finally had the meaningful Christmas we both wanted."