Reclaiming the fun of Christmas


Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

If you get stressed out in the Christmas season, perhaps it's time to think about doing things differently, Jan Aitken writes.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
Here we are at the end of November. I say every year that I'll be more organised next Christmas ... yet somehow I've managed to "ignore" the fact that there are only 32 days until Christmas Day!!

I bet the work Christmas party is already organised. Invites for social functions will be turning up and children counting down the weeks until school finishes.

If you haven't thought about any of it yet then it's time to start ASAP in order to keep stress to a minimum. There can be so much to do - last-minute shopping for gifts and planning meals, decorating the home and tree, determining where to hide the presents so prying eyes won't find them, where you're going to spend Christmas Day and if you have holidays as well then you better start getting them organised! Accommodation, food, activities, travel plans, pet care ... and all this on top of already busy lives. I'm exhausted just thinking about it - it's enough to make me want to take a holiday!

The theory goes that the festive season is jolly and fun, but every year I see people and their credit cards getting stretched and stressed. Advertising has sold us the "perfect" Christmas: lavish gifts, happy relationships and stunning food. However, expectations around Christmas often don't match reality.

For many, Christmas and New Year have lost their fun. What has the potential to be a simple, relaxing and fun time is anything but. Getting together with relatives isn't always easy, not everyone actually enjoys Christmas and not everyone in New Zealand celebrates the holiday anyway.

Perhaps it's time to think about doing Christmas differently.


This can be tough, but the sooner you get a handle on this the better. You cannot control the weather, the traffic or the actions of other people. When you fight against what is out of your control, you often end up feeling more miserable and stressed out. Instead of stressing about what you can't change, acknowledge it and give yourself permission to let it go and move forward.


While it's not always easy, you do have the power to control your actions and reactions. You also have the ability to influence your state of consciousness, your mental processes and physiological responses. By effectively drawing upon your personal resources, you allow yourself the opportunity to regain control and feel more at ease. By focusing on what you can control, you become not only less stressed, but more empowered.


When you notice you're becoming wound up and stressed pause for a moment. Discern what is happening. Name the emotion. Try to observe your internal experience, just as it is, without any judgement. Encourage yourself to become more conscious of what is happening within you. From there, you can more clearly see what is happening around you.

Being mindful is a way to lessen the gap between the stressed-out version of yourself and who you are when functioning at your optimum level. Mindfulness brings you one step closer to becoming the best version of yourself.


Many families have traditions associated with Christmas and New Year and, while they can be an important and comforting part of the holiday season, they can become tired or boring. Sometimes we continue things that just aren't fun. Maybe it's time to make an inventory of your traditions and discard those that don't fit who you are or your values anymore. Maybe change something you do on Christmas Day, a particular gift you give someone every year or where you spend your holiday. Clean out a tradition that has become stale to make room for a new one.


Often Christmas and holidays are geared towards children having fun. The job of the adults is to do the organising and get stuck with the bills. If you're in this pattern, then think about what would make the holidays fun for you. This is a time for everyone to have some fun. It might be a movie you want to watch with your significant other every holiday season. Maybe you'd like to create a signature Christmas cocktail! Recognise that the great part of the holidays for adults is that you can decide what you want to do with your time off.


Children do seem to have fun at Christmas. Think about creating a tradition that reconnects you to the fun feelings you had as a child. This could be something like making pancakes in the shape of your initials, decorating gingerbread biscuits, making Christmas decorations, dressing up, or whatever reminds you of why you found Christmas fun as a child.


Realistically plan what you need to do each day, especially in the lead up to Christmas Day. This will help avoid the panic inducing "uh oh ... I forgot the ..." scenario. We tend to underestimate how long things will take, so allow yourself 15%-20% more time than you think you need for a task. This will allow you to be more relaxed and have more fun with whatever it is you're doing.


People who put a lot of effort into Christmas often want it to go perfectly. When it doesn't, feelings of disappointment, frustration and anger can surface. Travel delays, grumpy relatives, failed baking, gifts not being well received are all beyond your control. There are always things in life that don't go perfectly and the same is true for Christmas. Understand not everyone might be as passionate about the celebrations as you are. Avoid "forcing" fun on others - they are allowed their thoughts about Christmas, too.


Sometimes, the simplest things are the most memorable. Long after the toys have broken and been consigned to the pile in the corner, it's the conversations, the laughs, and the experiences shared that remain with us. Develop traditions that fit you and your values and remember to have some fun.

Finally, this is a good time of year to reflect and be thankful. We all have something to be grateful for: we're alive, for one thing. Life is precious. Spend time with people you enjoy being around, create traditions you enjoy and don't be afraid to mix things up a bit and keep the celebrations fresh.

Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself and have some fun.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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