The Christmas Pressure Cooker

A friend of mine once told me that her favorite Christmas was one when she had the flu, so they stayed home and did absolutely nothing. But what about the turkey dinner, I asked? What about the family get-together? Do not you miss the gifts? Nope, she said. None of that turned her crank. And then I realized that I did not always relish all that chaos, either.

Why is it that Christmas elicits such feelings? We look forward to the holiday with great anticipation, but we also dread all the work, and the visiting, and the noise. My mother-in-law, who once was the proud owner of over thousand Christmas decorations, is now the fed up owner of over a thousand Christmas decorations. Christmas, I think, has simply become too big.

Sometimes I dream of a small holiday, with just the four of us sipping hot chocolate around the tree. Then I realize how much we would miss all the ornery relatives-and the nice ones-if they were absent. But add four extra kids and four times as many adults to the picture, let alone negotiating which side of the family we spend which day with, and Christmas becomes a huge production.

This aspect of the season has a whiff of an austere aunt telling us to write our thank you notes: you just have to do it, and your feelings do not matter. So we entertain, buy multitudes of presents and rush to parties, even if we're tired and cranky. And this rushing deprives of us of something we want desperately at Christmas that we do not need unnecessarily at other times of year: quality time with our own families.

And Christmas is the only time of year that truly is about family. There are no swimming lessons or hockey games or play practices or exams. There's only family. So this year is going to be different, we vow. We're going to build memories, forge bonds, and show the affection that is sometimes lacking as we pass each other at the refrigerator. We have images of families huddled around the fire as we read the Christmas story, sing carols, and throw snowballs if only the weather would cooperate. When our kids would rather watch the latest DVD or play with their new presents, we get really annoyed. We demand too much of Christmas because we do not have it at other times of year. That's a lot of pressure to put on December 25.

Can Christmas live up to all the hype? Perhaps, but only if we come at it not with unrealistic expectations, but instead with a quiet and firm commitment to put first things first once more. Christmas can not make up for a whole year of busyness, but it can ground us once again so that we can ensure the chaos does not last all year. During the holidays, when we breathe that sigh of relief because there is no hockey, or gymnastics, or skating, or jobs, it begs the question why we make ourselves so busy in the first place. Maybe, if weave yourself ourselves more time during the year, Christmas could once again be a time to relax and laugh together. It's an extension of what you do, rather than the exception to the rule.

Christmas is about family, faith and love. But Let those things not be gifts that we unwrap at Christmas, only to tuck away again until next year. Let's build them into our lives, today, and reap the benefits of the holidays all through the year.