Domestic violence incidents spike at Christmas. In fact, all kinds of violence escalate at this time of the year. Brawls from heavy drinking, drug-taking and the tensions in families, keep police, ambulance and hospitals excessively busy.
Supposedly this is the happiest time of the year when people can take a break from their jobs, relax and enjoy spending time with their families. Yet for a growing number of people, this isn’t the case. If our celebrations are causing so much harm, is it time to rethink this annual holiday?
It’s not just our emergency services that are under pressure at Christmas. It happens in regular families. I didn’t grow up in a family that attended church, but I married into one that did. Christmas brought a clash of values, culture and traditions that made it a stressful time. Despite my husband’s and my willingness to be flexible we could never organise a Christmas celebration that pleased everyone.
We aren’t alone as we grapple with the issue of family expectation. We have Christian friends who struggle ethically with the requests their children make of them. Perhaps their children want to bring their unmarried partner with them at Christmas and stay at the family home in the same bed. Or bring alcohol into a home where there has never been alcohol or act in other ways that disagree with the values they were taught as a child. What is a Christian response?
These are difficult decisions and there is no one right answer. It depends on the age of the children and the strength of the relationship. These decisions can cause much heartache, angst and stress. All the while, this is happening against a backdrop of anticipation that everyone will be happy. We are often disappointed. What are we to do?
Here are three ideas to make Christmas less stressful this year:
Keep it simple
Some years ago, as we approached Christmas, my husband was having chemotherapy treatment. We decided to celebrate Christmas as simply as possible. We didn’t invite anyone; we didn’t go anywhere. I made our favourite casseroles the day before and reheated them on Christmas Day. We had a very relaxed time. In our memories, it remains one of our favourite Christmases.
From a Christian perspective, we can celebrate Jesus’ birth every day and any day. December 25th is an arbitrary date. No one really knows what day Jesus was born. If it makes things simpler, we can opt to celebrate Christmas in July, or April or September. We don’t need the government to declare a public holiday in order for us to celebrate.
Keep it meaningful
As our children arrived, we wanted to make Christmas meaningful for them. We didn’t want to keep traditions for the sake of the other adult relatives in our lives. We thought about how we celebrated our own birthdays and how we could celebrate Christmas as a recognition of Jesus’ birthday. When we celebrate our children’s birthday, we do so in a way that is age-appropriate for them at the time.
We don’t bring out their baby photos or discuss the idiosyncrasies of their births or early years. We celebrate with them as they are now. So on Christmas Eve we had a party for Jesus with fairy bread, party pies and cocktail frankfurts.
At Christmas, we can choose how we celebrate the relationship we have with Jesus now. We don’t necessarily have to remember all the details of his birth. We can be grateful that he was born and continues to be part of our lives.
Keep it flexible
As our children grew older, many things that were possible when we were all younger were no longer possible. However, we can still enjoy being together if we remain flexible to the changing needs of our families. We can examine our traditions and decide if they are causing us joy or stress.
We can examine the workload we take upon ourselves or expect others to take up, and ask: is all this work really necessary? We can let go of the “shoulds” and “should not’s” and discover what is important to our family.
This Christmas, let’s keep it simple, meaningful and flexible.
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html