7 points to managing Christmas positively

A part of me can’t believe I’m actually writing this now, but all the signs are pointing to the arrival of Christmas – even though we haven’t actually had Halloween yet.  I’ve already seen adverts for Christmas jobs and had my first invitation to a Christmas lunch. I doubt it will be long before the onslaught of adverts starts, telling us that we must buy or do this, that and the next thing.   I’m therefore writing this post now to help you enjoy the Christmas period, regardless of whether or not you celebrate it as a religious festival, and to minimize the stress it can cause.  So here are 7 points to managing Christmas positively.

Ask yourself why you are celebrating Christmas and if you are unable to come up with at least one positive reason, opt out.

A positive reason means that you see a benefit for you, so, for example “it’s expected of me” is not a positive reason, “I know it makes my parents happy and that’s important to me” is a positive reason.  Be clear about why Christmas matters to you and if the answer is that it doesn’t, then feel free to leave the celebrations to other people and concentrate on other aspects of your live.

Set realistic expectations of yourself and set realistic expectations for other people.

This is the main reason I am putting up this post so early.  If you are reading it now, you have the better part of three months to work out what you want to do about Christmas and to alert other people to the fact.  In particular, you it’s generally a good idea to make people aware of your gift-giving budget and of how much free time you are realistically likely to have.

Note to parents of young children – there are lots of approaches to explaining to children why Santa is unlikely to bring them everything or indeed anything they wanted.  My particular favourite is to say that in your house at least Santa only fills stockings rather than buying the main presents.  Then you can set their expectations about what they can expect to receive and while this may well be less than they wanted, you can help to counterbalance any disappointment by emphasizing what you’ll be doing rather than what they’ll be getting.

If you feel any guilt about this then remember that learning to manage and appreciate money will be an essential skill for your children later in life so start now.

For parents of older children, in addition to setting expectations about what they will receive from you in terms of gifts, it’s a good idea to make it clear, what, if any, financial help they will get from you when it comes to buying cards and presents themselves.  For example, you may give them a budget to buy presents for family members but tell them that if they want to buy presents for their friends they will need to save up themselves.

Establish a budget and see it as a limit not a target.

As a minimum set a gifts budget and remember to include wrapping and shipping costs.  Keep it in mind that this is a limit rather than a target.  While the internet can be your friend, remember to shop early so you have time to implement a back-up plan.  For the record. I’d take “guaranteed delivery” with a pinch of salt.  A retailer may try their best but if their plans go wrong, at best, you’ll get your money back and maybe some compensation, you still need to sort out a gift.

I’d also be wary of assuming that “Black Friday” will be the answer to your budgeting prayers.  The fact of the matter is that retailers run these events for a reason and while there will certainly be some headline bargains (if you’re quick), you’ll probably find that, overall, the retailer is going to come out on top, plus, you will have all the challenges of dealing with Black Friday crowds.

Instead, focus on thinking about what engages your intended recipient’s interest and emotions and build your gifting around that.  I’ve created a list of budget-friendly gifts, which I hope will give you some inspiration and even if you’re totally uncrafty (like me), there are still some options for making hand-made gifts, which can provide a whole lot of joy for very little money. I've also provided some gift-wrapping ideas.

When considering your Christmas finances, remember to think about more general festive expenses, the nature of which will depend on how you spend Christmas, I suspect most people will find themselves spending more money than usual on transport, socializing and food, perhaps mobile phone bills will go up too.

Taking some time to think about the cost of Christmas has three main benefits:

It will help you to avoid overspending
It will help to you spend your budget where it matters most
It will encourage you to think about ways of saving money (and potentially stress as well).

One classic example of this is the Christmas turkey.  Why go to the expense and hassle of finding, buying and preparing a turkey when there are plenty of other options, even if you want something a bit different from usual?  If having a turkey, specifically, means a lot to you, fair enough, but if not, how about you just buy something else?

Set a realistic schedule including dedicated free time.

So much to do, so little time and by the end of it all you’re exhausted.  Sound familiar?  If this is your average Christmas then you need to take back control.  This is where advanced planning and expectation-setting comes in.  If you have a decent idea of how much time you need to accomplish essential tasks, then you have a much better idea of how much time you have left for other activities, however before you fill up your diary (or let other people do it for you), make sure to schedule self-care time and blank time.  Self-care time is obvious and at this time of year, it is more essential than ever.  Blank time could also be called overrun time, it’s catch-up time in case your scheduling is off.  Only once you’ve planned for this should you start letting your diary fill up and, as always, focus what time you have on the people and activities you love.

NB: when thinking of your Christmas scheduling, remember that scheduling too much time can be as stressful as scheduling too little. This is an interesting article on how a woman organized her entire Christmas in 13 hours. For the record, I'm not advocating this approach and the author said she wouldn't do it again, but it does highlight the importance of spending your time where it matters.

Prioritize self care, in particular healthy eating

I’ve just touched on this but I’m going to emphasize it here because it’s so important.  Winter is hard on our minds and bodies and if you find yourself becoming mentally and/or physically drained, you will be miserable and be unable to help yourself or others and if you really start experiencing mental or physical illnesses then you will have an even bigger problem.  Therefore you must make self care a priority and in particular you must eat properly.  I would also suggest that you invest in good earplugs and/or noise-cancelling headphones, especially if you find yourself subjected to a constant barrage of Christmas tunes you could well live without.

Set your own rules and be prepared to ditch traditions, which don’t work for you

From what I’ve seen, the biggest frustrations of the Christmas season stem from doing what we think is expected of us rather than what we want.  Advertisers play on this, particularly when it comes to parents.  Your children must have this toy, all their friends will have it, they will expect to get it too, it’s your duty as a parent to buy it for them…  Most humans have an innate desire to get on with people so the power of expectation can be very strong.  Harden your heart to it. Set your own rules, showing reasonable consideration to other people and be prepared to stand by them.

When it comes to Christmas, my rule of thumb is go personal or go home.  I don’t do mass mailings of Christmas cards, if I’m sending a card it goes with a personal letter from me to the recipient.  I don’t do secret Santas because as far as I’m concerned if I want to buy someone a gift I shall and if I don’t I won’t and I don’t want someone to buy me a gift unless they actually know me and want to in which case they don’t need a secret Santa either.

Similar comments apply to social events.  If I think I’m going to enjoy an event, I’ll go.  I won’t go just because an elderly relative is going to be there, I’ll make time to go and see that relative in a situation we’ll both enjoy.

Pre-empt challenging situations and decide how to deal with them

Let’s be honest, while the idea behind Christmas is peace on earth and goodwill to all, the reality can be finding yourself dealing with people and situations you’d prefer to avoid and generally do for the rest of the year.  So let’s look at how to handle them.

Option 1 opt out

If there’s a situation which looks like it’s going to have more disadvantages than advantages, then just say no, even if you’ve said yes before.

Option 2 go into them with a positive and assertive mind-set

You have all the resources you need to control difficult situations, you may, however, benefit from a little guidance on how to do so.

Practice keeping your self control

You know yourself.  You may already know what triggers your frustrations and if not then you can probably work it out with a bit of thought.  Sometimes your frustration may well be justified but even then, it’s unlikely to be either positive or productive.   There are lots of approaches to managing your emotions, I’m going to suggest what I call the “Triple C” strategy.

Catch it, check it, change it

Catch your first response
Check if it’s reasonable
Change it if necessary

For example, you’re at a party and your aunt, who has never been the most tactful person, comments “So you still haven’t found a job yet?”.  This may be a very sore topic with you and your first reaction may be anger at her criticism, but when you check your reaction, you realize that actually she was just asking a simple question, albeit one you find painful, so you choose to change your reaction to one of calmness.

If, you decide your initial, negative reaction, was justified, then your best option is generally to close down the situation rather than reacting to it.  There are two basic ways to go about this.

Walk away, at least into quiet, preferably into fresh air

Prepare two conversation closers and stick with them

Closer one is for when you are prepared to discuss a topic, but at a time and place which suits you.

Closer two is for when the subject is out of bounds permanently.

If you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself dealing with someone who just refuses to accept this, then it’s time to walk, if necessary completely away.

This approach can be useful at any time of year but can really come into its own at Christmas and just having it under your belt can make you feel more confident and therefore more comfortable about dealing with challenging situations.  You’ll be even better equipped if you remember two final points.

Be realistic

Christmas can be a time for miracles, but don’t bank on it.  Be reasonable about your expectations of yourself and others and you’ll probably find the festive season much easier to handle.

Go easy on the alcohol

I’m not here to lecture you on the pros and cons of alcohol, all I’m going to say is that it will probably be much better for you to keep it in moderation.

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