I am not talking about the alcohol content of your spirits. But I am talking about the Christmas Spirit. Will we enter into the “spirit of Christmas” and what does this mean for us, if anything?
For Christians, Christ-mas is the celebration of love and peace brought to the world through Jesus Christ. In the commercialisation of the event, the true meaning is often lost or parked in the rush to make everything perfect for the day. These days it’s all “feasting to excess, dancing, and crowning the doors” – at least that’s what Gregory of Nazianzus said in 386 AD. So the complaint is not a new one and has been repeated throughout the ages. Sadly we know from statistics that this is the time of year with highest stress and unhappy consequences.
Where does all this stress come from and how can we deal with it? If we just start with our internal expectations we realise that much is self-inflicted. We want to have the perfectly decorated home including carefully chosen presents that will be much enjoyed by our happy and appreciative guests. All of whom will make the right comments and be in the appropriate jolly mood. They will put aside any quarrels and discord, they will be friendly and kind towards each other, be grateful for the bountiful feast you serve (catering for all tastes and special diets), and find congenial conversation with whomever they are seated beside at the table. Not one person will make a mean-spirited comment about anything all day and all will float on a cloud of happy appreciation of the joyous occasion. I could go on, but you have got the point…
And the external reality? We may like to project the dream in our heads, but it doesn’t always (ever?) quite play out like this. Not in my home anyway. By the time we have got to Christmas day our energy is at a very low point. We have braced the crowds, not even just shopping but to pick up the parcels ordered online, have made our home presentable and tried to command discipline with our loved ones to make it and keep it so until the big day arrives. We have attended work and private gatherings, socialised and already drunk and eaten more than intended, stayed up too many late nights, if not from partying then from trying to reduce the overflowing intray of emails and meeting end of year deadlines so we can take even a short break from work. All this adds up to what is sometimes called “cognitive overload” reducing our capacity to cope. Pre-Christmas exhaustion does not make for the best mood when little things go wrong, the parcel isn’t delivered, items on the shopping list are forgotten, people call to cancel, helpers retire to bed with man-flu. On top of all this, your long-awaited client is happy to commission a big new piece of work – deadline for proposal completion 31st December.
How do we keep our spirits up in such circumstances? How can we be our best selves when our beloved family gathers and we regress to unhelpful roles that we thought were long forgotten?
Here are some things to remember – put them on your todo list!
Be clear about your expectations – remain positive and don’t expect perfect. Go for “good enough”. Define clearly what’s good enough for you – keep it small and be aware enough to notice (a smile, a thank-you). Graciously accept offers of help (and possibly standards that are not up to your own). Be generous in your praise and attention. Especially attention. Presence is the greatest present. Listen, notice and be grateful for the things that really matter. For me this is just being together as a family on a rare occasion. Remember the 10-90% rule. 10% of life is made up of what happens to us. 90% of life is decided by how we react to the 10%. The great news is that we have a choice. On a “Spirit Level” where the upper level measures “feeling great” and the lowest level measures “feeling dreadful”, the top 2% of people are the happiest (and the most successful, often healthier, more productive, more fun to be around). Most people fall somewhere below the middle in their negative take on whatever the world brings. The bottom 2% are the so-called “mood hoovers” – people who suck the energy right out of you and everyone else around them spreading misery. Where would you rate yourself (for most of the time) – and where would others put you – do you dare to ask?
So we can choose to be present, accept and let go (of unhelpful comments), be generous, patient and kind. Practice what you preach we say – so that’s my challenge to myself, for the few days of Christmas festivities. In the spirit of Christmas.