Taking the stress out of Christmas, preserving the joy

Christmas isn’t about gifts, a blanket of snow, a crackling fire and carols. It's about family, and creating warm memories

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It was cold the other day – really cold. As I sat in a coffee shop with a cup of tea, preparing to answer a few emails during a break from Christmas shopping, I noticed four shivering teens – opting for fashion instead of warmth.

They ordered hot chocolates, then headed to a far corner of the room with an empty table. Once there, they carefully guarded themselves from conversation or human interaction by burying their noses in their phones, barely speaking to each other, let alone someone they didn’t know.

I observed their behaviour for a few minutes, noting they weren’t much different from everyone else sipping their lattes. I became intimately aware of the disconnect we struggle with each day.

Where was the joy on their faces? What happened to a season of cheer? A season of streaking down snow-covered hillsides in toboggans or sleds? Are those bygone days relegated to our memory banks, lying in wait for someone to recall?

I hope not.

Then, as I continued to observe those coming and going, I suddenly recognized why the Christmas season isn’t what I remember: a blanket of snow, a crackling fire and carols.

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And that’s because we focus on the wrong things.

By wanting to make sure everything is right, we’re forgetting the basics.

My editor told me the other day that she and her family – her kids are grown – no longer succumb to the rigours of the Christmas season. They decided several years ago they didn’t want to focus on the stress. Family and creating warm memories were more important.

“We give each other gifts throughout the year,” she told me. “We’d rather focus on what’s important to us – and that’s being together, making memories that will mean something different to each of us.”

I think she’s onto something.

My Christmas memories?

They’re simple, really: playing cards with my cousins, our laughter filling the kitchen as we snacked on goodies laid out on the big table. When plates were bare, everyone pitched in with the dishes before sledding, snowball fights and building snowmen. (Perhaps we had more snow when I was young or it just felt like more because I was smaller.)

Then, on Christmas Eve, as darkness cloaked the house, we eagerly anticipated opening one allowable gift – it was always pyjamas.

On Christmas morning, we were out of bed in a flash to see what had been left in the Christmas socks. Each of us had a brand-new can of silly string and we’d chase each other around the house, hoping for the perfect shot!

These days, our family is spread all over the country and when we can’t all get together, we rely on technology or hanging with neighbours and friends who find themselves with less chaos than others.

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We moved to a new community three Christmas ago and went for a fabulous walk on a quiet trail near our home. A kind-hearted man placed a pail of biscotti on one of the benches, wishing neighbours a merry Christmas, with the list of ingredients attached.

Nothin’ fancy.

As Christmas approaches this year, I can’t help but think of people throughout my life who, in some way, helped shape me. Family was always a big part of my life. When they couldn’t be near, they were always in my heart.

So, as the holidays come and go this year (and every year), I wish you peace, knowledge and inspiration. I hope you offer a smile whenever it’s needed – or even when it’s not.

Granted, it’s not much. But it’s the one thing we have to give without compromise.

Are you game?

I am!

Troy Media Columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

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