Christmas and Perfect Gifts

Late December can stress people out. Statistics are not on our side, as many people become more anxious, more depressed, angrier, more impatient, and generally more stressed this time of year. While I believe many efforts are afoot to spread happiness, cheer, goodwill, warmth, and charity during the Christmas season, there are also many ways this time can drag us down. In this post, I suggest three things to avoid and three things to give as the "perfect gifts".


#1 Focusing on you

This is a little trick we can play on ourselves if we're not careful. We spend hours and days planning, decorating, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and making sure things are just right; but check your motivation. Ask yourself what you're really seeking. Are you seeking approval from your extended family? Are you trying to impress your new in-laws? Are you inviting friends to your Christmas party so you can show off how financially successful you've been this year? Be honest. Look into your heart with a spotlight and binoculars and pay attention to what you see. It has been my experience that stress and anxiety during the Christmas season is most often caused by my tireless and unwavering efforts to focus on me. But it's not about you or me. 

I suppose the only way to truly know if your motivation is self-centered or focused on others is to analyze how you respond to a situation that reflects poorly on you. I mean, what do you do when your party falls short of perfection? Do you get angry? Blaming other people (whether it was their fault or not)? When the inflatable snowman collapses in the front yard twenty minutes before the party starts, does your blood pressure spike to 200/120? It shouldn't, because the decorations are cool, but they're not the point. What if your favorite Christmas meal doesn't turn out right? Burned turkey? Nasty potatoes? These are unfortunate things, but your response to them is very revealing.

I played sports throughout my entire childhood and into college. I was told repeatedly that sports do not necessarily build your character, they reveal it. Once revealed, you have a choice about how to mold your character, but revealing it does nothing by itself. I believe the Christmas season can act in a very similar way. Let the stress and chaos reveal your motives to you, and then it's up to you to decide to change them or not. I hope you'll reflect and decide that your motivation should not be you.

#2 Overbooking

This is good advice for the entire year, but especially at Christmas. If you are plagued by the desire to be at every event, every party, every parade, every play, every gathering, and every "doorbuster", then you need to read this. Often we define overbooking as scheduling two events at the same time such that you cannot attend one of the events. However, for my purposes, I will define it as booking so many activities that you forget why you're doing them because you don't have time to think.

The great thing about Christmas is that it comes every single year; and most likely, whatever event you want to go to will happen again next year (if it was any good). So schedule some free time into your Christmas calendar for the sake of sanity and peace on Earth. Purposefully have nights with no planned activities so you can sit around the house with your family, sip hot chocolate, and make fun of each other. I advise making one rule: no smartphones! (See definition of "nocializing")

As I alluded to earlier, a nasty side effect of doing too much too fast is that you don't enjoy it fully--you don't have time to think about it or absorb the experience. You're too busy thinking about how you're going to get to the next event! It's similar to ordering a fantastic meal and then trying to snarf it down in 34 seconds! Would you really enjoy it? No, no you wouldn't. Take a deep breathe of Peppermint Mocha, close your eyes and listen intently to "Silent Night", and soak up the silence of a cold, starry night.

#3 Idealizing

Even if you've done a good job avoiding #1 and you are focusing your attention on others this season, you could still fall victim to the idealization myth. You're life is not a Christmas movie. It might not snow on the night of your party--it might drop 1.5" of freezing rain. Your meal might not make the top ten list on Pinterest, and you might not wake up Christmas morning looking like a magazine cover family. No, let's rephrase that--you will not. Life is real, not fake. Quit idealizing things just because it's Christmas and pretending that entropy has been suspended for the season--it hasn't.

Expect some delays. Anticipate imperfection and embrace it. I'm not saying be happy that your flight got cancelled. That's stupid. But roll with the punches and don't let circumstances determine the quality of your holiday experience. Make the best of what happens. God announced the birth of Jesus, but He did not promise all of our problems would disappear when we celebrate it!


#1 Time and attention

If you've properly avoided overbooking, you should have some time to devote to people. These people should include your family and some friends, but you can't spend time with everybody in one year! Christmas will come again next year. When you are with your kids, don't just give them gifts and walk away expecting them to play by themselves. Play with them. Buy gifts that encourage interaction.

Marriages can suffer during the busy Christmas season, but don't let it happen. Schedule a special date night with your spouse for Christmas. Get alone and get away. Do what your budget can allow (and if you don't have a Christmas budget, make one!). If Christmas is going to be awesome in your house, Mom and Dad need to be on the same team!

Christmas is centered around the idea of unmerited giving. When the world was not worthy of God's love, He extended love to us in the Person of Jesus Christ (see 'Then Jesus Came'). I think it is an exceptional idea to spend some time during Christmas giving to strangers. I can't say I've done a good job of this in the past, but I intend to get better. Take some time to talk to someone at work who's having a rough time. Pay attention to the problems of others and think of ways to help. What about the person who makes your coffee? Have you taken time to think about them?

Luke 6:31-35 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if you do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. [Emphases added]

#2 Mercy and forgiveness

Many movies and plays are based around the idea of forgiving people during the Christmas season. It's almost become cliche; but don't let the idea get old. If you've been at odds with a friend, make that phone call and get things in order. Have you been angry for months or years because someone wronged you? The best gift you can give them (and yourself) is to forgive them. Unforgiveness will eat you alive! I am not so stupid to think the simplicity of forgiveness makes it easy. In fact, I believe truly forgiving someone may be one of the most difficult things a person can do. It can get complicated, because maybe the person is not sorry. Maybe they're still living in a way that is hurting people; but you still need to forgive them. If nothing else, it will be a gift to yourself and to God.

Mercy means treating people better than they deserve. Sadly, during the Christmas season we are tempted to treat people worse than they deserve (think customer service associate). Quite the contrary, we should be thinking of ways to treat people mercifully. Maybe it's your kids. Maybe it will be your colleague. Whoever it is, mercy is a better gift than chocolate or egg nog.

#3 Affection

There are so many reasons why people struggle to express affection. I have no intention of dissecting why this is the case; but it is. If it is difficult for you to express love and affection, make a goal this year of being inconvenienced for someone. After all, that is what a gift is, right? Hug your family. Kiss your spouse and children. Put your arm around your nieces and nephews. Appropriate physical touch ought to be a gift we can give each other. It is one of the most tangible ways to validate our love. 

So maybe you're awkward--people will understand. They will see you trying and think better of you for it. Maybe you're parents weren't the hugging type--get over it. You are not your parents.

Affection is more than touching. Smile. Look people in the eyes. Talk to them. Encourage them. Say positive things. Get off your soap box and start caring about what other people think.

Perfect gifts are not wrapped in paper (and I'm not talking about the Mercedes with a red bow).

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Stressed out guy image from
Broken ornament from
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