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Ok, admit it. It’s just a few days till Christmas and how many of you would say you’re actually closer to “Bah Humbug” than “Ho ho ho?”

Ironically, for millions of people, the “happiest season of all” is the most stressful, painful, and difficult time of the entire year. Depression, familial conflict, substance abuse, shortened tempers, suicide, domestic violence, loneliness, child abuse, grief, and physical ailments of all kinds peak during the holidays. So what can we do to successfully make the season bright?

Here are 12 gifts you can give yourself (and others) which do not involve various kinds of birds, dancers, milkmaids, or musicians. These simple actions and principles of appropriate self-care and mature consideration of others are sure to help you handle the holidays in healthy ways:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. There are tremendous pressures and expectations to be happy this time of year, even though we may be experiencing sadness, grief, and loss for loved ones or stress and angst regarding difficult circumstances we are going through. Face and own what you are feeling inside–we simply feel what we feel, but we do not have to let our emotions control us. Remember that emotions are neither right nor wrong but knowing the truth liberates us to deal with our feelings however we choose.
  2. Be realistic. We may not be able to do it all, buy it all, and get it all. People, families, and traditions change. We may not have an idealized, romanticized Hallmark or Currier and Ives Christmas. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the subtle traps of comparison and envy from others’ social media posts.
  3. Address issues. Many people dread facing people with whom they have unresolved conflicts, relational entanglements, or family estrangements. It is not realistic, or perhaps even healthy, to expect personal and relational problems to just evaporate or automatically be resolved just because it is the holiday season. Resolve to try to work through problems, forgive, and reconcile. Life is short.
  4. Set healthy boundaries. Stick to budgets to avoid financial distress which may take months to dig out from. Resist materialistic advertising pressures. Don’t passively permit yourself get into overcommitted schedules which may be physically and emotionally exhausting. You can’t do it all, and everyone is already too busy. Learn to say no without being a grinch–who says you have to attend every event and accept every party invitation?
  5. Plan ahead. Try to think ahead about gifts, menus, baking, etc. to reduce your stress and be actually to enjoy the precious holiday moments. Many people miss out on golden moments [especially with children] because they are too busy and/or stressed to notice, revel in, and appreciate them.
  6. Adjust your expectations. We are simply human. No one can fulfill everyone else’s dreams, hopes, and wishes. No child [or adult] should feel bad that they didn’t get everything they wanted. After all, isn’t it Jesus’ birthday, not ours?
  7. Attend to health habits. Far too many people way overindulge in many things that are not good for them. Nearly everyone gains weight through the holidays–leading to the ubiquitous New Year’s resolutions and health club membership purchases in January! We all know the routine: proper diet, ample rest, and regular exercise. You will definitely feel better emotionally when you feel better physically–and will be in much better shape to cope effectively with unforeseen stressors as a result.
  8. Be mindful of weather conditions. Seasonal Affective Syndrome is a real thing for lots of people. This time of year has less sunlight, colder temperatures, and grayer days which exert a negative effect on people’s mood and well being, leading to cabin fever for many people. Maybe Scrooge needed therapy and meds!
  9. Be creative. A great way to resist getting into debt and caught up into the stress of crass commercialism and modern materialism is to be creative in your gift-giving. This year consider giving gifts of your time or service [coupons of various things you can do for a loved one which they can redeem]. Make a donation in someone’s name to an orphanage or homeless ministry. Make or craft personalized presents–many times these are more treasured than store-bought items. Think of nontraditional but personally meaningful experiences, activities, trips, etc. you can give that people will appreciate.
  10. Be sensitive to others. For many people who have an unanticipated empty chair around the table this year, be particularly mindful of how you can pray for and bless them. Many people struggle and suffer in silence. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you be mindful of others; giving thoughtfulness and consideration to those in need. Qualities of kindness and goodness can be spread throughout the entire year–think of gifts which can keep on giving.
  11. Reach out. Think of who you can minister to in your circle of friends, church, and neighborhood. Invite those who are alone and/or grieving to your celebration. Volunteer at a care facility for persons with disabilities, at a retirement center, and/or a recovery mission. Giving of yourself and of your time to those in need is a refreshing way to give true Christmas cheer to others in need.
  12. Focus on the Christ-child. Often lost in the toys, tinsel, and trappings of Christmas is the Reason for the season. Celebrate the blessed and miraculous birth of our Saviour. Don’t let anything or anyone distract, deter, or destroy your birthday party for Jesus. Remember his loving message, mission, and ministry: HE BECAME LIKE WE ARE SO WE CAN BECOME LIKE HE IS! Joyously celebrate Christmas and have a truly blessed New Year!