Whether it’s watching a holiday film like “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” or sharing midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the holidays should be a joyous time.
For many, however, the crush of the holiday season brings a sense of chaos, out-of-control spending, or even depression. How can Catholic families celebrate reasonably, while emphasizing the season’s meaning?
In an October 2016 story in The Messenger of Saint Anthony – a magazine published by the Conventual Franciscan friars of the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua – author Victor M. Parachin lists 40 ways to meaningfully celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Among them, Parachin mentions planning ahead rather than automatically doing the same thing year after year. “Gather your family and ask everyone what they really want to do and who’s going to do it,” he writes. “A little planning can go a long way to reducing holiday stress.”
Making a list of all the things required to make the holidays happen will help budget the family’s time. If the list looks too hefty, Parachin says, pare it down to something more manageable.
One of the most difficult tasks for parents is to avoid debt, due to the expenses of holiday meals and activities, decorations, gifts and travel. Parachin notes that rather than going into debt, it’s best for parents to keep gift-giving small and simple.
Another tip he offers is to spend five minutes every day in silence. “Spending a mere five minutes a day in silence before God can bring you closer to the spirit of Christ.”
Reading a Christmas poem and reflecting on its message can help center your thoughts and feelings about the holiday, he suggests.
In addition, keeping the spirit of the holidays alive year-round can help add meaning to the celebrations. “Remember that Christmas is not only a date but a state of mind,” writes Parachin. “Live by this wisdom from Mother Teresa of Calcutta: ‘It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.’”
Writing in Working Mother magazine, licensed clinical psychotherapist Mia Adler Ozair notes that we all must ask for help when we need it. “Whether it’s cooking or cleaning or mental and emotional support, don’t go it alone,” Ozair notes. “Don’t wait until it’s too late. You deserve to have the support and love you need during this time of year – and all other times as well.”
Self-care often is ignored during frantic holiday planning, but she believes it’s especially important this time of year. “Take some time for quiet relaxation before going out or hosting a holiday party,” she recommends. “Take a bath, read a book, get a massage. Try to get plenty of sleep (one good way: go to bed a bit earlier than usual) to wake feeling rested and ready for whatever comes your way.”
Avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption prevents next morning after-affects, including regretful comments to in-laws or ill-advised selfies, she adds. “It’s always fun to have a glass of wine or two, but knowing your limits will prevent embarrassing behavior you may be held accountable for later on.”
Focusing on gratitude – from Thanksgiving to Christmas – is particularly important to maintain the meaning of the holidays.
“Each of us goes through so much on this roller coaster of life,” Ozair says. “Take a moment to reflect on the idea that we are lucky to be here on Earth to experience yet another holiday season.”