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Beating Holiday Stress

Hayley Williams, Waterloo Region ON

Three sets of grandparents, two sets of great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends… That’s a lot of love and it’s also a LOT of people to see over the holidays! Not to mention wanting to have time making memories with just our own little family. Add to that concerts, parades, shopping, volunteering, parties, and all of the other things that make holiday time so special. This time can become pretty stressful.

As we gear up for the holiday season, I’m looking at my calendar and seeing that ALL of our weekends from November through to the beginning of January are already completely booked! I get it, everyone wants to see our adorable children (don’t try to fool me, I know no one wants to see us parents anymore!), but the holidays should include some downtime too, shouldn’t they?

Well, it truly should depend on you and your family and what you hope to get out of the season. If you’re someone who is able to go, go, go and really enjoys being surrounded by people – then the fuller your schedule, the better! For those who prefer some alone time or feel overwhelmed by the crowds, it’s important to schedule in some down time. It seems that there is a delicate balance to be struck between honouring the wishes and traditions of your extended family, while also keeping the holidays light, fun, and stress-free.

Our holiday party season typically starts in November with work parties, parades, and school concerts, and then moves into more parties, parades, and special events in December! My dad’s side of the family usually celebrate with us sometime near the beginning of December. This year, we’re trying a brunch instead of the usual dinner so that people have time to travel from Toronto and my grandparents don’t have to worry about being home super late. Our biggest holiday party of the season happens on December 24th with my mom’s side of the family. My grandparents came over to Canada from Scandinavia, where Christmas Eve celebrations are the norm and so that is what we’ve always done. On Christmas afternoon, Oma & Opa come over and we have our celebration with my husband’s side of the family. December 26th, we typically try to do something smaller with my dad and his wife.

What we’ve done since our eldest daughter was born 7 years ago, is reserve Christmas morning just for our nuclear family. It was really important to my husband and I that we had time to celebrate and create memories with just us and our children. I know that this disappoints some of our relatives, but I believe balance is key – especially around the holidays!

All of our holiday parties are held at our house. Right now, it works out because we are the only ones in the family with young children and our children have severe food allergies, which can make it challenging and stressful to attend parties anywhere other than home.  Also, I’m a control freak, so…it works out for me to take care of everything! Something a bit strange that I do when we entertain large numbers of people is I collect the dinner dishes in a big bin and put them in the basement. Weird, I know. BUT, having people a hundred people in my kitchen cleaning things and putting them away in strange spots never to be found again REALLY makes me anxious. I am so much happier to have everyone visiting together and playing games, leaving the dishes to me and my husband later once everyone has gone.


The important thing is that I’ve figured out the things that make the holidays an anxious time for me, and made changes to lessen or remove them.

So, for us, keeping the stress of the holidays at bay is accomplished mainly by controlling the environment that we’ll be in, which also allows us to relax and not have to worry about our children having allergic reactions, as well as making sure to reserve that Christmas morning time purely for our family of 4, which allows us time to experience Christmas together in a different way.

I think it’s important to figure out what triggers your stress at Christmas time, and focus on changes that you can make to alter your holiday traditions to alleviate some of that stress.

Here are just a few ideas:

1) Come up with a schedule that works for you and your family, while also taking into consideration your extended family and friends and their schedules. You don’t always have to be the one to make concessions!

2) If you’re giving gifts, start early. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to find that perfect toy five days before Christmas! We sometimes find the BEST Christmas gifts on our summer holiday travels.

3) Don’t overspend. Give yourself a budget and start saving in January. Yes, January! That gives  you 12 months to save up what you think you’ll need to pay for Christmas. That includes gifts, food, travel, etc. You’ll thank yourself when your credit card statement arrives in the new year!

4) Add in some sort of volunteer work. I know, I know – aren’t we talking about how busy the holidays are and now I’m asking you to add one more thing?? I am! Because volunteering will truly make a difference to someone else and also offers a sense of fulfillment that you and your kids won’t get anywhere else during holiday time. Fortunately for us, our daughter’s amazing dance studio has an entire morning dedicated to collecting and distributing packaged food donations and so we’ve been able to embrace that opportunity and I truly love the lessons that it teaches our children.

5) Lower your expectations of yourself. You don’t HAVE to bake 5 different types of cookies! You don’t HAVE to do intricate wrapping designs on all of your gifts! Do what you can do, with the time and money that you have available to you.

6) DO bake those 5 types of cookies and complete intricate wrapping jobs on all of your presents! That is to say, do what you love at the holidays. If making a masterchef-worthy meal and decorating your house to the hilt while watching your fav holiday movie de-stresses you, then go for it!

Remember, the holidays are supposed to be FUN! A time to make memories. Ultimately the holiday season is about whatever you and your family want it to be about and if family expectations and outside obligations are just to great or too taxing, express that to those around you while offering alternate options that work better for you.

So tell us… what are some of your your family traditions and how do you manage stress during the holidays!



5 Responses to “Beating Holiday Stress”

  1. Omkalthoum says:

    Thank you Hayley for this article. It is so amazing how cultures are different and similar at the same time!! you remind me about how we celebrate back home, I miss those time:(

  2. Victoria says:

    Wow a wonderful article…We are a family or two so things look a little different. I try to focus on how much flexibility and on one time this gives with my daughter. I sometimes feel sad seeing clips of large families together celebrating.My daughter is adopted so we need to fit in visits with my parents my sister her kids and daughter’s bio family. This was a bit tricky at first but have now got it into a routine.
    Christmas Eve is always church and seeing my family. Christmas day has been mixed sometimes seeing family sometimes spending it just the two of us opening gifts and seeing a movie.

  3. Sally says:

    Thank you for sharing your tips on making the season merrier and not just stressful. Love the idea of stashing away the dishes – I too host and would rather visit and get everyone out of my domain. I can deal with the clean up later.
    I find the season sad, not sure why but I struggle with wanting perfection and making everyone happy. I have to start shopping Early and try to stay out of the malls when they start playing Christmas music or I find myself weepy. Thank goodness for online shopping.

  4. Teresa says:

    Thanks Hayley for some of your tips to make things memorable but fun and meaningful. We have wonderful opportunities to celebrate with our own family and extended families. Now as our kids are becoming adults and bringing their spouses/girlfriends into the mix, we need to be understanding and flexible as when to have our celebrations. I remember growing up, Christmas being a time of fun, laughter and spiritual reflections and that is what I hope it will be for future generations.

  5. Melodie says:

    Hayley, I SO appreciate this!! We have similar approaches (and family sizes) when it comes to the holidays and a few years ago we ‘rocked the boat’ and cut back on some family celebrations and changed things up a bit to meet the needs of our own family (which meant, reserving Christmas Eve for our little family). Now a few years into those changes we look back with relief that we did! We often find that one (or both, or ALL!) of us gets sick during the holidays and we’d end up missing something anyways.

    I love that we have big extended families that appreciate when we are able to make to a party, and other families miss us when we can’t – I try not to take that for granted!

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