Why I’m Feeling Relaxed this Christmas

It’s 2 days until Christmas and I am lounging in front of the fireplace, watching the snow come down, and enjoying a book and an eggnog latte. At least that’s how the fantasy has always played out in my head every year.

But most years at this point in the holiday season I have been frantically running from store to store looking for last minute items and staying up late at night to wrap packages while I bake a batch of cookies. By the time Christmas is over I am usually exhausted and feeling let down because the actual celebration hasn’t matched up to my exaggerated expectations.

Worse than the exhaustion I’ve felt after Christmas, I had begun to suffer from boredom during the holiday itself. Many years of doing the same thing, the same way had left me feeling stagnant and stale. I used to count the days until the whole thing was over.

But this year is different. My fantasy of reading a book and enjoying a fire is actually coming true today. I am relaxed and full of joy and love, which is exactly how I’ve always thought Christmas should feel. I’m also excited for Christmas morning and looking forward to sharing the joy with my family.

So what makes the difference this year? I think it’s because I’ve done a lot of internal work on myself through the year and have cleared out old expectations, attachments and attitudes.  As a result I’ve been able to make some significant changes to my habitual approach to Christmas:

Less decorating

I have a storage room full of Christmas decorations I’ve collected over the years and, to be honest, I feel very sentimental about most of them. I’m working on letting go of my attachments to them but I’m not quite there yet. So for now I’ve decided that I don’t need to display all of them every year.

This year I’ve chosen a few boxes of special decorations and placed them strategically in the house where they’re easy to notice each time I walk into a room. Maybe  each year I’ll pick a different box and delight in seeing some things I had actually forgotten about.

Fewer days of preparation

I used to start shopping a few months before Christmas and begin decorating on the weekend after Thanksgiving. But this year I didn’t even think about Christmas until it was 2 weeks away. Rather than feel stressed because I had so little time to get ready I actually felt more relaxed because I knew I had to limit my activities. I was motivated to choose only the things I most love about Christmas and let everything else go.

Less baking

Since we are trying to eat healthy these days I’ve changed my baking habits for the holidays as well. I used to bake big batches of pumpkin bread to share with neighbors and dozens of dozens of cookies for our family to enjoy. But I’ve narrowed my list to a few special treats that we only have at Christmas and I bake smaller batches. We still get to enjoy our traditional sweets but we have just enough to last for a few days instead of all month.

Fewer gifts

Two years ago my brother suggested that we stop exchanging gifts for Christmas, which inspired me to make the same suggestion to my friends and other extended family members. We now send cards to one another with personal notes and talk on the phone during the holidays.

With fewer gifts to shop for, wrap and mail, my stress level decreased dramatically and I’ve saved time and money as well, which is a huge benefit. Because we take time to write and call one another I don’t feel any less connected to my loved ones than when we used to exchange gifts. In fact, by being more relaxed I’m able to share even more positive feelings with each of them.

Experiences instead of extravagances

Once I discovered how nice it was to give fewer gifts I was able to suggest a change to my immediate family as well. We used to spend hours opening gifts on Christmas morning and I pressured myself to buy a huge number of presents so that there would be a big stack under the tree every year.

But this year we are exchanging “experiences” rather than material gifts, which means we will surprise each other with creative ideas for ways to spend special time together later in the year (like concert tickets, hikes, picnics, or camping trips) so the Christmas spirit will last longer than just one day.

There are far fewer packages under the tree but there’s more excitement about giving and receiving mystery experiences than we have felt about material gifts for many years. (Listen to my podcast about our experience gifts here.)

Embracing simplicity

In the past I put a huge amount of effort into making everything perfect for the holidays. I somehow thought that I could create the “magic” of Christmas by decorating every inch of my house, cooking elaborate and beautifully presented meals,  and giving awe-inspiring gifts to each person on my list.

But this year I’m finding great pleasure in keeping everything simple and allowing myself to be less than perfect. My greatest gift to myself has been time–time to read, meditate, exercise, watch movies, and laugh.

So this year I’m filled with joy and love and “Christmas spirit,” just like I always imagined. I have “unplugged” from the holiday conveyor belt and I’m hoping that you find a way to get free as well.

Stop for one moment and look around: there is beauty everywhere in this extraordinary world. So light the candles, turn up the music, pour the wine, savor the food, and share the love … it’s Christmastime again.