Self-compassion, Wonder and Enchantment

About Christmas Stress and Miracles

Christmas can be full of miracles. But Christmas can also be full of stress. Both of these are a part of my Christmas experience.

First, I want to talk about Christmas stress.

I was really lucky that growing up, I had lovely Christmases. My mom loves to decorate for Christmas, and she and Dad always made it special.

I was really into horses when I was young, like a lot of girls.

Here’s a horse I saw at my walking park yesterday!

I had all these model, plastic horses that I played with.

One year, Dad and Mom built me a wooden stable and fences so I could house all my horses.

I loved it. I vividly remember breaking up dry spaghetti to make hay for my plastic horses to eat in their stable. My barbie and Ken dolls served as the ranch hands.

These are awesome memories.

But as I got older, Christmas got increasingly stressful for me. There are a lot of reasons for this.

One reason is that I have been a teacher or professor all my adult life.

And usually by the end of the fall semester, I have just finished preparing stressed-out students for final exams and final projects.

And I have also usually just completed massive amounts of grading myself.

To be honest, I need a big break after all that.

But in the past, I often found that about the same time I was exhausted and needed a big break, the expectations to do more Christmas activities escalated.

It has often felt overwhelming.

So, work stress combined with Christmas expectations can sometimes make Christmas hard.

But Christmas expectations and financial burdens can also do this.

For example, my husband and I were both in graduate school for a long time. And it was so worth it, but we were pretty poor for a long time.

That made buying Christmas presents really hard.

I am lucky in that my family has never expected fancy Christmas presents. But still, I think a lot of us feel pressure over Christmas expectations.

And commercial advertising can make this pressure a hundred times worse. Over the years, businesses have increased commercial marketing around Christmastime.

And this certainly adds to our stress, as we feel bombarded by commercial images of perfect Christmas gatherings and gifts.

It also complicated Christmas for me that we lived in a very small house for a long time, which made it hard to decorate.

Now, I loved our house and am so grateful we lived in it all the time we did. It was downtown, close to a bus line. And it was exactly what we needed while we were in school. We also had an amazing back yard.

However, its smallness made putting up Christmas trees really hard. Cramped living spaces stress me out.

And even if I had a lot of space to put up a tree, I would have felt too tired to do an elaborate one.

Decorating can be overwhelming, Man.

And lastly, sometimes at Christmas I struggle with pressure to feel a certain way.

Because I am a philosopher, I think a lot and express a lot of my emotions internally.

So even thought I often feel delighted by certain things at Christmastime like Christmas lights, cards, and cookies, I often experience that delight internally.

But I often feel like there is a lot of pressure at Christmastime to engage in vivid and intense external emotional expression.

Stressors like all of these that I have mentioned inspired me to draw and paint this picture a few years back:

I write all of this to be honest that I both love Christmas, and it really stresses me out sometimes. And I  don’t think I am the only one.

Now, if you absolutely love every aspect of Christmas, and it never stresses you out, that is awesome.

I am so happy for you. I get really jazzed about Valentine’s Day and love every part of it. But I know that day stresses out a lot of people.

So, I am so glad for all the folks that love Christmas.

And for folks like me who sometimes have a complicated relationship with Christmas, I see you and hold a peaceful space for you.

And this brings me to my Christmas miracle.

Okay, first you should know that I actually bought a Christmas tree and lights recently because we moved, and our house is bigger. So I thought, “Let’s see if I can handle a tree.”

And wouldn’t you know it. I took the tree out of the box. And it was broken. Unusable. I ended up having to throw it away.

And I felt like this experience was symbolic of my attempts to fit into normal Christmas expectations.

Then something amazing happened.

The other day, my neighbor was over at my house.

In the course of conversation, I told her about Christmas being stressful for me sometimes and how I just recently had to throw away my Christmas tree because it was broken.

And I told her that I might get a little Christmas tree next year that I could set on my window ledge. She said, “That’s okay, you get to do Christmas however you want to.”

Today I came back from a walk.
And this beautiful little Christmas tree was sitting on my front porch. It was from Santa Claus or my neighbor who, this year, I believe are one and the same.

I took my little tree in, set it on my window ledge and plugged it in.

It is beautiful, small, sparkly, and peaceful. It’s exactly what I needed, and it’s a little miracle.

But what is even more a miracle is the love of my neighbor. I am so grateful that she heard my Christmas stress and held a peaceful, loving space for me to be myself at Christmas.

And I want to hold that space for you, too.

Whether you need Christmas to be big, small, loud, quiet, fancy, or simple, you belong.

It’s okay

Christmas is about the love that comes into the world and holds us all. And it’s about the love and peaceful space we hold for each other.

This post is for you, Holly.

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You might also like this post: How I Started Believing in Santa Claus

And you might also like Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, which can help us cope with the pressure that we and other people place on us.

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