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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

You Don't Have to Fake the "Merry" Through Christmas

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

This is not a "Bah Humbug" post. 

It's for the people who are suffering loss, dealing with financial burdens, trying to heal from broken marriages and relationships, struggling each day in pain with health issues, and for those who have difficult families. 

Christmas comes once a year, but our problems don't go away just because it is the Christmas Season. It doesn't always bring joy, but we feel like it should. After all, isn't this the season of miracles? Many of us wonder when we'll get our miracle, especially if we're praying for a loved one to live, a spouse to come back, and bills to be paid. 

For those of us who are going through these situations, we feel a myriad of emotions. We don't want to bring others down with our misery, so we fake smiles, go through the motions of buying gifts and decorating like we're robots. We cringe each time we hear Christmas music, or specific songs. We attend parties and feasts because we feel obligated and don't want to hurt people's feelings. We eat another dessert we don't need or want because people keep tempting us, or pushing us to "live a little" and we "deserve a break". We stress over whose house we will visit and how long we will stay there before we go visit more relatives to keep from hurting feelings. 

Others feel obligated to keep tradition alive even when other family members no longer care. We want to send out traditional Christmas cards, decorate with our favorite things, and argue with family members if someone wants to decorate with a different theme. We take our annual trips, work hard to make sure meals are perfect and struggle to hold it together when things don't go as planned. We have to "work" at making Christmas special and perfect because we want to create lasting memories. If you are having to work at it too hard, something is wrong. Let the memories create themselves naturally. 

Then there are the family members who refuse to get along with each other, who say mean and hurtful things just to get at each other. Or the boastful ones who live the perfect life, the trouble makers who can never get on their feet and always need a loan, the complainers who are never satisfied with the food, what is prepared or how it is served. Don't forget the bossy ones who have to dictate in what order everything is done. I might have missed a few personalities, but you get the general idea. 

Does any of this sound familiar?

I have always been one of those cheerful individuals during the Christmas season, and now I realize I might have been quite annoying to some. I start listening to my Christmas music as early as October, at least by November. I hated it if someone is down and depressed, and I viewed it as my responsibility to try and cheer them and make them feel better. I loved sending out my personal Christmas cards. I loved decorating, watching Christmas movies, reading Christmas stories, and going places to view lights and experience Christmas events, such as ice skating, carriage rides, touring Biltmore at Christmas, seeing the festival of lights, the Nutcracker, the dinner theater and Christmas events at church. 

My enjoyment of these things have not changed. I still love them, but my view of them is somewhat different.

Over the last three years something about Christmas has changed for me, and I believe God has allowed me to experience these things so I will be able to identify with people that I could not identify with in the past. Since I've been on both sides of the fence, I want to offer some suggestions for both the "merry people" and the ones feeling obligated to "fake the merry". 

To the ones feeling obligated to "fake the merry", you need to set boundaries.
1) Don't allow others to force you to listen to Christmas songs that bring painful memories or stir anger and strife inside you. Leave the room, put on earphones and listen to your own music, suggest a different Christmas CD that does not make you feel yucky. Your feelings matter and your request to not hear something should not hurt someone else. They need to be respectful. Just make sure you are courteous, but stand your ground and set the limit. 

2) Don't visit extended family members that cause division, arguments and fights. Offer to visit the nonviolent family members at a different time and have your own private little gathering. It will be more peaceful, and you might actually enjoy it. You could also limit your stay and leave before people start getting tired and bored with each other. You need to protect yourself and your loved ones, especially your children. Don't spike the eggnog and serve alcohol, if someone in the family can't handle it. 

3) Some traditions need to change as our family dynamics change. If grandma's health is failing, it's time for a younger person in the family to host the gathering and cook the meals. Be prepared for a few complaints if you change the traditional menu. Don't get your hopes up that they will love it. Just do what works for you, as long as you don't serve someone food they are allergic to, and move on. 

4) If you don't have time to decorate, don't force it, scale back on the decorations or offer to let your children or grandchildren do it for you--or nieces and nephews. You could even offer to let a youth group from your church decorate for you. 

5) If you don't want to do Christmas cards, don't. If it makes you feel good, set aside the postage money ahead of time and send them out. Don't do it out of obligation. This only builds friction inside you. 

6) If the commercialization of Christmas bothers you, avoid it. Order things online ahead of time and have it delivered to your doorstep. Make and bake gifts. Create crafts or do something that makes you feel good. 

7) If you are having financial difficulties, tell family members you would prefer to draw names, or only give to children, or not give gifts this year--just enjoy the gift of company. You have nothing to be ashamed of so be honest and tell them you have a strict budget. You don't have to go into details and explain things. If family members keep asking questions, tell them you are fine and that you would like for them to respect your wishes. 

8) Jesus is the reason for the season, but He is also the reason for 365 days throughout the year. Don't feel like you have to get all hyped up to celebrate the birth of Christ if you have a close relationship with Him throughout the year. Be thankful and mindful, but don't feel obligated to make it "feel" special or different. Jesus is more interested in how you live your life throughout the year. 

To the ones who are very merry, you need to respect other people's boundaries.
1) You can try to cheer someone, but if they really want to be left alone, leave them alone. Let God be God. He will deal with them. Your responsibility is to pray. You will only annoy them further and that only ignites feelings that could be avoided.

2) If someone wants you to change the music, do it. You will have plenty of time to listen to the Christmas music you like when you are alone, in your car, on your cellphones, and at home or when you don't have company visiting. You don't know why that person doesn't like something, and even if you do, it isn't your place to judge them or to decide when they should get over something. 

3) If someone doesn't want to come over because of family strife with others, don't try to pressure or manipulate them to do what you want. Offer them a chance to come over at a different time. Sometimes we need to love at a distance. Don't judge. Just because you would handle the situation differently, doesn't mean the way they are handling it is wrong. 

4) If someone in the family is dealing with a financial burden, don't make them feel worse by offering to buy gifts for others in their name or loan them money. Let them keep their dignity. Don't ask a bunch of questions. They will tell you what they want you to know. If you want to still give gifts to the children, offer to provide wrapped gifts with each child's name, but put no return name on it. Ask if this will be okay. Some families are so large, the kids may not know which aunts or uncles provided them. 

5) Don't use this time to preach to people. If the opportunity arises, share your faith in a one-on-one way that won't push them away, but will make them want to hunger for more. It's fine to pray over the food, but don't make someone feel as if they have to do the praying aloud. 

6) Don't judge and criticize family members that have made poor choices in your effort to make them see what they are doing to themselves. Stay off of topics that are "pulse buttons" with individuals known to explode about certain things. Don't tease a relative that rarely takes teasing in a good way. 

7) Don't stay married to your traditions. Be willing to compromise and allow others to introduce new traditions. If you're the only one who wants to continue doing something the way it has always been done, recognize that it is over. It is now a cherished memory. That is what memories are for. 

8) Don't go into someone's house and immediately start rearranging their kitchen, ordering people about, or taking over the organization because you don't feel it is organized. Ask what the hostess would like for you to do if you came over to "help out". No one wants to deal with a "know it all" or a bossy relative. By the same token, if you are the hostess, don't expect people to come over and just jump in and do things. They may not want to step on your toes or know how you want things done. 

9) Don't tell new parents how to parent. Offer suggestions, but be prepared to accept the fact that your suggestions may be ignored and don't get an attitude about it. Parents will learn by trial and error and they need to figure out what works best for their family. Don't feed grandkids, nieces and nephews things that their parents have said they can't have. Ask first. 

Above all, remember that Jesus wants your Christmas to be as peaceful as possible. Treat others as He would.