How to take “Must” out of your Christmas – 5 steps that will save your sanity

Are you ready to take back your Christmas and get rid of stress that threatens your sanity?  Try using these 5 tips to take the "must" out of Christmas.

Are you ready to take back your Christmas and get rid of stress and hurt feelings?  5 ways to enjoy, not just endure, this holiday.

It was a Christmas morning, very early in my marriage.  And this memory still makes me cringe.

My new sister-in- law had just finished opening her gift – a sapphire necklace.  Moments before, I’d watched my other sister-in-law open up a diamond tennis bracelet.

Now it was my turn. I could feel all eyes on the oddly-shaped box I held in my hands, a gift from my new-ish husband. 

Slowly, I pulled back the paper to reveal…a shiny new carpenter square. Merry #$#^&! Christmas!

Carpentry tools for Christmas
Every woman dreams of tools for Christmas – not.

What I know now

Looking back from over 40 years with my husband, here’s what I realize now: That tool meant my young husband heard me. He remembered I’d mentioned a few months earlier that I wanted to learn woodworking

But back then, sitting around that tree, I couldn’t hide how hurt and embarrassed I felt.  I hated him.  I hated myself for feeling that way.

But most of all, I hated this stupid, crappy, crazy-making holiday. 

But since the rest of the family loved this holiday. I had to figure ways to enjoy, not just endure, Christmas.

The problem with Christmas

I don’t even like diamonds.  Yet that didn’t register as I sat with a cold metal tool in my lap while my sister-in-laws modeled their new jewelry.

It’s like another personality takes us over this time of the year. A person who thinks those loving couples we see on the soft-focus Jared commercials or happy families gathered around a massive and beautifully decorated tree are real.

And then, those same overblown, unrealistic Christmas expectations derail our relationships, sanity and our credit scores.

Why is Christmas so screwed up?

Google “Why I Hate Christmas,” and you’ll find over 400,000,000 responses.
Boiled down, most complain Christmas has turned into Christ-must. says Christmas is a major source of stress and loathing for one reason.

“Our materialistic society places an inordinate amount of emphasis on buying mounds of gifts, purchasing expensive decorations, and imbibing and over-eating as the main elements of a ‘Merry Christmas.’

How about some coping skills to save our sanity if not the family dinner?

5 Simple Steps to Take back your Christmas

You can’t do anything about radio stations playing endless carol loops for six mind-numbing weeks.  Or Christmas decorations in stores starting before Halloween.  Or the disturbing zit that appears after you eat your first box of holiday fudge. But we do have the power to lessen stress in a few areas.

  • 1. Desensitize yourself to this damaging word

    Banish “should” from your conversations. Do not let that word push your buttons. Try not to say it to yourself or to others.

    And if you do hear this word, ignore it.

    You’ll endure pushback when you ignore a “Should.” The rest of the herd hates it when someone strikes out on their own path. Family, friends and jingling ads will try to nudge you back into line.

    When you feel that push, follow Tiny Buddha’s advice.  Realize that “Should” is motivated by a lack of acceptance (self or of others) rather than encouragement. 

    Accept yourself and others and curb the urge to explain, fight or apologize.

    Instead casually respond with: “No, I/we won’t be doing that.”

  • 2. Let go of what weighs you down.

    I have friends who lovingly pick out paper, cards, ribbons every year. Their wrapping skills are artistry, and those things add to their enjoyment of the holiday.

    Others view Christmas cards and decorations as an unnatural disaster of titanic proportions.  According to the EPA, US household garbage increases by about one million tons between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, with Christmas blamed for most of it.

    Make your own decision. Does it feel good to curtail wrapping, decorating, save the environment? Then go for it.

    Love picking out cards and/or wrapping presents?  Then read the next tactic.

  • 3. Concentrate on your favorites or create new ones

    My husband relishes picking out the tree, finding the best side when positioning it on the stand, and untangling the lights. My adult daughter hangs the eclectic decorations for the perfect balance of funk and fantasy.

    I, on the other hand, could care less but I cherish watching them work together. Especially while savoring a mug of spiked eggnog with nutmeg sprinkles – shaved directly from the nut.

    Or create a new tradition to short-circuit the post-gift envy/disappointment that settles late on Christmas morning.

    Our family now binges on a comedian or watches a funny movie together. This year we’re watching comedian Tom Segura.

    A few years ago, it was Larry the Cable Guy.  One year, we watched a double-feature: The Hangover followed by Bridesmaids.

Is gift overwhelm exhausting you?
  • 4. Get control of gift giving and receiving

    I love frozen Girl Scout Samoas. Caramelly, coconutty gooeyness – yuuuum. But eating the whole box in a single sitting would make me vomit. And ruin Samoas for me permanently.

    Over-the-top gifting can destroy Christmas excitement as effectively.

    A fellow blogger captured the problem as her preschooler excitedly unwrapped the first few Christmas gifts.

    “But about five presents in, the light went out in her eyes… She could no longer get excited because she was absolutely overwhelmed.”

    That mom shared a 4-Gift Solution that works for children and adults to avoid overwhelm.

    1. Something they want
    2. Something they need
    3. Something they wear
    4. Something they read

    And Julie at gave great ideas for cheap and useful stocking stuffers for all ages.

    Or give gift cards.  Then they can pick out exactly what they need when they need it.

    Unexpected gifts are another stressor.  Head that off by stocking up on for consumables – things you make (or pass off as homemade).

    For years, I was known for the sugar-spiced walnuts I “made.”  I bought the nuts from a little Chinese restaurant, tied a ribbon about the mason jar they came in and made my own holiday label with a personal message.

    And once Christmas is over, consumables don’t add to your clutter.

  • 5. Plan a post-holiday reward

    The day after Christmas can be a black day, especially if you’ve been stressing since Thanksgiving. Have something to look forward to.

    I planned a post-Christmas trip to Sante Fe to take a “never-ever-been-on-a-snowboard” class that challenged and exhilarated me.

    Maybe present yourself with a luxury weekend: massages, mani-pedis, and a girls’ sleepover at a luxury hotel in town.

    Or immerse yourself in the outdoors at a state or national park.

How does this work for me?

Our family members who like each tradition take charge of it. I’m on eggnog and other foodie things.  My husband Hank is on lights and decorations.  Our adult kids and other family members fill in where they want.  My brother-in-law loves testing new recipes and hosting Christmas dinner in his outdoor man-kitchen.

Christmas tradition - tree hauling
Hauling home the tree – someone’s favorite chore

As far as gifts, my husband and I made this deal after the disastrous carpenter square Christmas.

  • He starts going through catalogs in the fall
  • Then he marks exactly what he wants; the size and color. 
  • And he models everything on Christmas morning.

What does he get for me?  Usually perfume or some other item I also pick out and mark in a catalog, so I have something under the tree.  Then he gives me lots of gift certificates for Target, Marshalls/TJ Maxx and Stein Mart.

And I use them all year long.  I’ve still got $70 left on a Stein Mart card eleven months later.  Every time I buy something with the cards, I make sure he knows I consider it a gift from him.

“What do you think of these new workout pants you just got me for Christmas?  I love them!”

It doesn’t’ completely make up for how rude I was when I unwrapped the carpenter square, but I’m trying.


What frustrates you about Christmas? What did you do to take back your Christmas?

Please scroll down and leave a comment. We are all learning from each other!

Please help me out.  Typos get by me.  See one? Please let me know so I can fix it!  Thanks,   Linda