Practical Ideas For Relieving Christmas Stress

It’s the most wonderful–and often stressful–time of the year!  Every family faces its own unique set of challenges during the holidays, but maybe you can find some helpful hints in the following list of stress-buster ideas:

Gift-Giving & Receiving

While the last post dealt with a fresh look at gift-giving, and many opt to do away with gifts altogether, giving gifts is usually still a very real part of everyone’s Christmas.

One of the hardest things is family members who give unwanted/an overabundance of gifts to our children.  A few ideas:

  • Be grateful. Grandparents and other family members have the very best intentions in their exuberance.  It’s not worth offending to make a militant proclamation about “what you will and will not allow” concerning someone else’s generosity.  But you can enthusiastically suggest ideas beforehand that make it easier on the gift-giver.  Things like, “You know, my children would really love _____”.  If a gift is given that you would rather your children not have, just politely receive it with gratitude, and then dispose of it later.  You may want to tell your children up front of the potential of that action if you know it exists.
  • Be practical.  If you have a lot of gifts to buy and/or you are at a loss about the receiver’s tastes, consider practical gifts like food baskets, consumable household items, etc.  We do a lot of homemade gifts and have found they are usually received quite well, and save us money too.  Here is a picture of the most recent cabinet doors we converted into gifts (sorry for all my relatives reading who will be getting these for Christmas ;-) :

(There are some other homemade and practical gift ideas in my ebook, “Easy Homemade Gifts”, which is only $2 right now!!!)

  • Drawing names within large/extended families can greatly relieve the pressure and decision-making process.
  • Gift Game. One gift-giving tradition called “White Elephant” involves wrapping an item you already own and then exchanging it in a game.  While this may sound tacky, most of us have some nice things (even newish?) that we are tired of that others may love.

A few other ideas we’ve implemented over the years:

  1. Fill a round, wooden cheese box (or other container) with wrapped baked goods and snacks.  You could also include movies, popcorn, music, etc.
  2. “Homemade” butters (made my mixing fruit or honey with butter), homemade flavored coffees, homemade cocoas and spiced drinks make nice gifts, especially for neighbors.
  3. Deeply discounted restaurant coupons from restaurant.com
  4. Carefully selected NEW items from a thrift store.

Entertaining/Food/Decorating

Whether you are hosting friends and family or taking food to other places, preparing food can cause major holiday stress.  Tips:

  • Think ahead, bake ahead. Though this isn’t possible with everything, try to choose menus/dishes/baked goods that can be prepared ahead and frozen until you need them.  This can save lots of time and stress.
  • Consider a non-traditional meal. With Christmas on the heels of Thanksgiving, many are relived to enjoy a different menu than the traditional.  Our family often makes a huge batch of seafood gumbo, creating our own Christmas tradition, not to mention, a soup meal is much easier to pull off.
  • Trade food items with a friend. Are you great at making one thing and she is great at another?  Consider making a double batch and have her do the same, then trade one with each other.  It’s generally less stressful to make more of one thing than multiple items.
  • Decorate simply. Some of you no doubt break out in hives just reading that.  But Christmas is equally beautiful with a little garland, some candle light and a tree.  Browse the internet for simple inspiration and let go of your “Winter Wonderland” this year ;-)
  • Simple Snacks.  Keep some hot cider and simple snacks on the counter if you have guests coming and going.  It helps facilitate the social aspect of things and buys needed time in the kitchen.

Other random tips:

  • Create meaningful traditions if you wish, but don’t hold onto stressful ones just for tradition’s sake.   Many people have a check list of “what has to be done” to consider it a real Christmas.  A certain extent of decorating, certain shows or events, Christmas cards, gifts for the entire church–things they like to do but can really cause extra stress.  Evaluate your season of life and if you find the holidays stressful, consider what could be cut out and then take a deep breath and do it!  (I’m trying to talk myself out of Christmas cards this year…I’ll let you know how that goes ;-) )
  • Make a list and check it twice.  A gift list, keeping up with what you have bought, what you are planning to buy and how much you’ve spent is a must.  A food list, an event list and any other reminders need to be kept in a place you can remember and refer to.
  • Say “No”. Parties can be fun but if you’re running around trying to make them all, it’s not so much fun anymore.  Pare down your family’s events to one or two really meaningful ones and let the rest go.  Life will go on, I promise.

I think the whole post on relieving Christmas stress could be summed up with “SIMPLIFY”.  Don’t let the expectations of others (or yourself) ruin what should be a delightful, joyful time of the year.  Purpose to relax and enjoy this season with the people you love!

22 Responses to “Practical Ideas For Relieving Christmas Stress”

  1. jt says:

    Thank You for writing that we should be thankful when people give us gifts for Christmas even when it might be a little to much stuff.It made me sad to read some of the people’s comments in your last post about their anger and lack of humility and thankfullness towards relatives who may have gone a little overboard with gift giving.We need to be a good wittness to our unsaved relatives and I think an ungrateful spirit can wreck our witness very quickly.

  2. R. F. says:

    I was also very greatful to see you address ungratefulness in gift giving. Our pastor recently told a story of when he was a young pastor just starting out. A wealthy older gentleman in the church offered his home with pool, and other extravagance for his family to use. They never did. One day he pulled our pastor aside and asked “Why are you robbing me of my blessing?” Our pastor was confused until he went on. “God has richly blessed me so I may be a blessing to others, but you are not accepting the blessing thus resulting in me being denied the blessing of giving to you.” It is a blessing to give as well as recieve. When we do not recieve well we rob the giver of his blessing.

    Ladies please be grateful for the people wishing to bless you and your family.

  3. Julie says:

    Kelly, I wasn’t able to completely eliminate Christmas cards this year, but I did cut my list way down. I decided to only send to people who are not on facebook. Most of the people I’ve sent cards to in the past are friends from high school, former neighbors who’ve moved away, extended family, etc. Most of those people are now “facebook friends”, so I keep up with them all year long. I decided that was the main purpose of Christmas cards (for me)….to stay in touch with people. That’s one way to cut down on Christmas stress…think about why you do certain things and see if there is a less stressful way to achieve that purpose.

    • Ginger says:

      We started sending a Christmas email several years ago. I figure: I love getting the family pics in the mail, but I really just want to see what your family looks like; I’m not going to frame it. ;) So emailed pics (and I can send plenty instead of just one) is preferable in my opinion. And email is free. And I don’t have to address envelopes. Or print letters.
      Gee, I’m saving a fortune in time and money. :D lol

  4. Katie Grace says:

    Amen! What a wonderful blessing that so many people love my children enough to give them gifts for them to enjoy! What are we teaching our little ones when we display ungratefullness when others seek to bless us? We accept all gifts with thankfullness, even if they are things we don’t need, like, or already have! Last year our toddler got the same toy from 4 different people! We kept two, one for her and one for the baby, and the other 2 we gave to charity.

    My inlaws have been abundantly blessed finacially. They get great joy from giving our children gifts that we are unable to provide. They ask us each holiday/birthday what we would buy if money wasn’t an issue and that is what they get our children. This year that will be a child’s wooden craft table with chairs. My parents provide mostly clothing, which is greatly appreciated.

    Having grown up very poor, I learned to be thankfull for everything that was gifted to me. Some Christmases there were no toys under the tree, just necessities (clothes and shoes) and some candy and books. I’m truly grateful that my children are able to have more.

  5. That’s a great list of recommendations! We adjust the length of the list by each year’s special circumstances. This year, as the kids have grown and become such huge helpers, we are doing lots of things out of sheer joy. I have been thinking a lot about some previous discussions here and elsewhere about eliminating things so that we don’t miss the point of this time of year. For us, the Christmas celebrations and festivities don’t ever distract us from Jesus. He is the very breath of our family and so we feel that we do not need to eliminate anything from our family traditions. We do encourage gratitude for every aspect of our lives, and Christmas time is no different. Our children truly are grateful and even though we are richly, abundantly blessed, they would give it all away without even thinking about it. I’m sort of bouncing from topic to topic here, but all these things have been bumping around in my spirit for the last couple of days. I guess I am just thankful for the fact the we have such freedom in Christ as His People and it is a blessing to hear the testimony of others in this place. May each of you have the most blessed Christmas season ever as we all receive clearer revelations of Who He Is and who we are in Him.

  6. Amy says:

    This year my parents, and great grandmother are combining their resources with ours to purchase one large, special gift for my three children to share – something we wouldn’t normally buy if we were paying for it ourselves.

    I’ve invited the family over for Christmas, but instead of a big dinner we’ll be having finger foods. I typed up a list of ideas (cheese platter, cold meats, crackers, veggies and dip etc.) and have asked each family member to bring something from the list. We’ve done this on and off for many years and everyone really enjoys having a relaxing meal instead of slaving for hours in a hot kitchen!

  7. Kelly L says:

    Really excellent points.
    And I too am glad about addressing the lack of gratitude many of us inferred. Should God choose to use others, even non-believers to bless us, who are we to tell Him “no.” It is written in the Bible that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above.
    My parents love buying us ridiculously expensive Christmas gifts. I used to feel uncomfortable because I do not feel led to spend so much on gifts. (Although I made stupidly gourmet meals to bless my family during the holidays because it is like a restaurant for them.) Now I just thank God that He used others to bless us, and receive it as unto the Lord.

    Kelly, I am looking at these tips again when I do not have macaroons in the oven so I can borrow some of them! Thanks!

    • Kelly L says:

      Ooh, another thought, gingerbread houses that several kids could work on together. They can do them right after Christmas and keep until you are sick of them. ;}

  8. Charity says:

    I just have a hard time seeing the overabundance of things given to my children, by people who complain the very day Christmas is past, that they have no money and can’t pay bills because they “had to buy *all those kids* presents”, as a “blessing”. It’s a little hard to swallow all that without chocking. We want to have the right attitude and are very thankful when someone does/gives something to us or our children, but when they complain about it, well, what should we do? Give the stuff back? Pay their bills because they spent too much money on things for our children that they didn’t even need? In all sincerity, what is the right thing to do?

    • Kelly L says:

      Charity, that would be a very hard situation to be in. Maybe before Christmas, you could give family a couple of group ideas for all of your kids together. You could offer it to them with the thought “Since I know we have a large family and it could be burdensome to buy for all the kids individually, I have a few ideas of somethings you could get them corporately.”
      You could include a board game for every age group (like an age range (2-5)), a read aloud book for each age group, a craft idea for each age group or something along those lines.
      If they then choose to put themselves into debt, it is off of you. You cannot make anyone do anything, it will only lead to frustration.
      I’ll pray for you and your dh to hear from God the best way to deal with this difficult predicament. My ideas are only suggestions, His idea is the perfect resolution.

      • Charity says:

        Unfortunately we have tried the ‘group list’, to no avail. We have also suggested gift cards/memberships to our local zoo/aquarium, since that is something the children would love, a memory to be had, and not something tangible. We have suggested as well, gifts cards to places that are a treat for the children to eat at. We’ve suggested gift cards to certain stores, and the relatives giving them could even come along with us to watch the children shop and pick out things. We’ve recieved resounding NO!’s on all suggestions, so I guess at this point we should just realize they are going to do as they wish, and we need to continue to recieve the gifts with a thankful smile and then do what we need to with the gifts when we are alone. I just wish I didn’t feel so guilty over it, but because most of our relatives are professing unbelievers, I am always trying to be so careful to not hurt their feelings, or be a bad example to them. They are just really tough people to deal with. One side of relatives wants to know if each gift has been used/worn, and they tend to give inapproriate things (even to my husband and myself..se* toys, por*, print-outs on sterilization for the both of us, info on abortion, applications/info to public schools for our children (even though our oldest child isn’t even “school age” ect.). (They greatly dissaprove of our lifestyle and vocalize it regularly.) So, we are always in a tough spot to answer them truthfully. We have had to tell them we can’t except some things from them. They are also very difficult to give to. Since our budget isn’t where we can buy for everyone, I make all the gifts. They aren’t appreciative of a homemade batch of cookies, or loaf of bread, or handmade picture frame of the children with their handprints surrounding it (last years gift). We have had them roll their eyes and last year they even threw the gift away right in front of us. They even said we were “trying to get off cheap”, when they saw our packages wrapped in paper bags from the grocery store, even though my children had spent so much time decorating them so cutely. My children and I are making bird feeder/house out of 1/2gallon milk cartons this year…we will see how it goes. It has given us the oppertunity to talk with our children about giving in the right spirit, even when someone isn’t receptive, but it is tough to see our wee one’s so excited to give something to someone that they spent time making and then watch as the recipient throws it away and acts ugly about it. I know it all sounds far fetched and absurd, but it is the truth, even put quite gently. Because of the bad situation I grew up in, it is a bit different situation with my parents (it isn’t safe for me or my children to be around them), but I still feel I should honor them, as scripture instructs, and my husband feels he should honor his parents as well, even though they are rarely kind, compassionate, or even civil. Again, most of our relatives aren’t Christians…we desire to be a light to them, but we continue to hit a wall, especially at this time of the year because they are so impossible to deal with. We just want to do the right thing, and we believe that sometimes that means loving the people that are unlovely, and honoring those we’ve been told to honor, even if they aren’t very honorable…we just don’t know how. We don’t want to cut them off, because then who would be an example of Christ to them?

        I appreciate your response and your prayers Kelly L, and I will continue to bathe this in prayer as well.

        • Kelly L says:

          Charity, my heart hurts for you and especially your children. I will start praying for peace, and hopefully will remember everyday, peace in your house so the enemy cannot manifest through your family. What worked for me is praying that the enemy cannot have his way through our family in our home. We actually notice a huge difference when we forget to pray when some people come over. We also pray the following verse over our home.

          Col 1:13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves

          Also, please remember guilt is a tool of satan. Have no part in it or your children will start too.

          You really are shining examples of Christ to continue to have people over who have done such horrible things to you and yours. That is why the enemy is attacking so hard. Keep being salt and light!!!! “Do not grow weary in doing good for in due time you will receive your reward.” Galations 6:9

          Christ’s (partial) joy set before Him was us (Heb 12:2) yours could be the salvation of your family! This is the thought that keeps me going with my family (who look like saints comparatively)

          Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb 12:2

        • Heather says:

          Hi Charity, Just my two cents but I say there comes a point when you depart and shake the dust off your feet and move on. I am in complete agreement you need to honor your and your husband’s parents but sometimes the most honoring thing to do is respectfully let them know where stand- telling them you love them and pray for them and forgive them but that you will not allow yourselves to be subject to their oppression. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is put some distance between you and spend time praying for them but not being with them.
          As for the presents, since they already complain about them afterward, maybe you could remind them in advance that it was difficult for them last year and that this year you don’t need anything, that your children have plenty. It makes me so irritated when people look down on those “poor sad families with all those kids” and buy things out of pity just to flatter themselves. Grrrr!
          If your husband agrees, I would (respectfully/kindly/firmly) tell them no thank you, your little ones don’t need any more gifts (unless you think it’s too late and they’ve already gotten the gifts). Or if it’s afterward and they complain about it maybe you could tell them from now on that’s what you’d like- nothing. As far as them giving you and your hubby inappropriate gifts, if you haven’t yet, I’d very openly reject them.
          Sounds like they know what you believe and like to get a kick out of making a mockery of you and want to see how long you’ll put up with it and be sweet about it. I think you should always have a kind attitude but not allow them to walk all over you. Being with them and letting them continue to do what they have been doing will probably just make things worse.
          It’s so sad that they do that with your kids presents. I see it as casting your pearls before swine. When we’re striving for Christ-likeness, we have to have His discernment and sometimes that discernment guides us to do things that our modern “lovey” Christianity doesn’t teach (like church discipline, for example). Jesus turned over the money tables and made no apologies for it. I think it’s damaging for your little ones to see rejection in their face at such a young age, even if you are trying to teach them to give even to thankless people.
          I will be praying for you too, that the Lord will give you and your husband clear biblical wisdom and boldness to deal with them.

          • Charity says:

            I understand what you are saying Heather, and I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Trust me, there are plenty of times I want to be rid of dealing with these relatives, but because of their unbelief in Christ we feel like in most cases we should just keep ‘turning the other cheek’. And, there are always other unbelieving relatives watching how we react to these situations that have said they notice a difference in us and in our response. Glory be to God! Also, since we have moved 4hrs away just a couple months ago, it has really cut down the interactions we have we them.

            As far as our children facing rejection, that is so tough to see, but at the same time, they will have to learn how to deal with hurt feelings, and such as they grow up, since we live in a fallen world, full of sinful humans. We don’t want to subject them to this, but do want to guide them to the right reactions when it happens. (This year we do have a couple different ideas as far as presenting gifts that the children have made to relatives that are likely to be unthankful and unkind.)

            Thank you again for responding, and thank you most of all for your prayers!

  9. Ginger says:

    I love that your top answer to the overly-generous-grandparents-who-buy-a-bunch-of-junk was: be thankful. That’s so hard to learn.
    I have also learned to be specific and once my kids get past age 2-3, I make it clear that they don’t need any clothes. (Not that they don’t, but we definitely don’t need any clothes from the mall.) Even pajamas are a problem. Super thin material and big scoop necks for my preteen girl– not good.
    One year I asked for clothes b/c I didn’t want so many junk toys. Big mistake. I’d much rather have the toys that break a month later. :D
    I also try to encourage consumable gifts. ;) Once they’re used up, they’re gone. Love that.

  10. Heather says:

    For photo cards, if you decide to do them, there is a special going on at http://www.seehere.com. You get 24 cards printed and shipped to you for $2.49 total! Use the coupon code 25cards. Just make sure you put 24 in your cart, not 25. The deal actually lasts til 12/31. I found this on http://www.southernsavers.com which also has TONs of other wonderful deals and couponing help.

  11. Taryn says:

    My husband gives the children and grandchildren gift cards. I no longer go Christmas shopping(or send cards/decorate made-in-China). I let my Christian-in-laws know years ago that we didn’t expect anything from them. I set them free from the competing-grandparents syndrome. I don’t buy Disney, Sesame St.,etc.- the grandchildren’s other grandparents can do that. My mother managed a school bus company and is hostile to homeschooling as is my social worker sister. They also are hostile to our Bible Christianity so they gave some strange presents-Ghostbusters, Disney(Disney and the Bible-1996), etc.-they can be generous. I don’t want to buy anything that my beautiful daughters-in-law won’t like. James 5:16b- The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.(KJB)

  12. Renata says:

    Thank you for this post full of wonderful ideas for gifts. I am terrible at gift giving – I always find I don’t know what to get someone (even my hubby at times).
    I love the signs you’ve made – they are just beautiful!

  13. [...] deep and ask yourself, “what gift would make you truly happy, deep down inside happy?”  Is it some big expensive gift?  Oh sure, grand gifts are always [...]

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