It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or at least it’s supposed to be. In actuality, countless people become entirely overwhelmed by the “demands” that the Christmas season brings. It’s hard to make merry when your to-do list grows exponentially leading up to the big day. Why do we put ourselves through this every year? It all boils down to our never ending quest for perfection.

Sure, if you’re a child, Christmas is magical. You write a list to send to Santa and simply wait for him to bring you all that your heart desires. But, for adults, this time of year can be one huge stress bomb. So many elements go into orchestrating “the perfect Christmas”, all of which conspire to create a toxic mixture of anxiety and exhaustion.

It might not be so bad if you’re the planning type. Organized people may actually enjoy the challenges presented by this festive season. Writing up and crossing off one task after another on a mile-long to-do list is an absolute dream for some. These folks are usually the first to send out their Christmas cards each year. But, for most people, pulling off the perfect holiday can be downright nightmarish.

If you’re like me, you thrive on the last minute. I do my best work when I have a deadline and the seconds are ticking away on the clock. But, for such an incredibly busy time as Christmas, this personality trait can practically guarantee disaster.

First come the decorations. I don’t personally enjoy dragging six million bins full of ornaments and baubles down from the attic. And, I never have the courtesy to pack everything up in a sensible manner after the prior Christmas has become a thing of the past. Therefore, hours are spent sorting through everything and trying to organize it all before displaying it in and on my house. At least I do play Christmas music and drink cocoa while decorating, so that does take a little bit of the sting out of it.

Then come all the parties. I’m not complaining about being invited to Christmas parties, of course, but attending too many of them can be quite stressful. Finding a fancy dress, booking a babysitter, driving to and fro, conversing with other party goers…it can be too much at times. And throwing my own Christmas party? Forget it. That would send me over the edge without a doubt!

And what about the Christmas cookies? Oy. Not only do you feel compelled to bake so very many batches, but for some reason, we become possessed with the desire to box them up and hand them out to all our neighbors. Funny thing is, they’re baking their own cookies and handing them out as well. Strange ritual.

The very worst is waiting until the last minute to buy presents and…even later to wrap them! My husband and I have cursed ourselves more than once for putting this tedious task off. No one wants to stay up until 3 AM the night before Christmas trying to wrangle every amorphously-shaped gift into cumbersome wrapping paper. The finished product of the gifts we wrap would make Martha Stewart clutch her pearls. We toss them under the tree, take a picture of the scene for posterity’s sake, and stumble up to bed only to be woken by three very anxious and excited children four short hours later. All the coffee in the world can’t help us perk up in time to watch our girls shred and peel the paper off the gifts that were paperless just hours before.

While we’re on the subject of gifts, the pressure to buy the perfect presents for our girls seems to increase with each passing year. As they get older, their wish lists seem to grow longer, more sophisticated, and very much more expensive. The teenager wants this brand and that. To review her wish list, you would think she believes that she was born into the Rockefeller family. The younger two have equally as pricey requests. No longer are stuffed animals and board games acceptable, they want electronics. Anything that plugs into the wall and costs three digits is satisfactory for those two. My husband and I have actually forfeited our wish lists in the past few years in order to free up more funds to purchase our daughters’ gifts!

The Christmas stress doesn’t end there. Once all the gifts are unwrapped and distributed to each respective girl’s room, it’s time to clean up the mess and prepare for our extended family to come over for Christmas dinner. We’re not talking about hamburgers and hot dogs served on paper plates either, Christmas dinner is “supposed” to be “special”. The same amount of work that goes into Thanksgiving dinner also goes into Christmas dinner, except that Christmas morning was crazy busy and we’re surviving on just a few hours of sleep. To me, Christmas dinner is the most stressful part of Christmas. We have the biggest house of all our family members, so we almost always have to host. Sigh.

Now that I’m an adult, I actually enjoy December 26th more so than December 25th, and here’s why. It’s all over. The cookies, and the parties, and the buying, the wrapping, giving, cleaning, cooking, hosting. All. Over. There is no more relaxing day of the year than December 26th. Some OCD people use that day to tear down and store their decorations, but not me, I leave them up until January 2nd. That means I have over a week to chill after the pressure of the Christmas season has come to an end. I love that week and look forward to it for the entire month of December.

In fact, New Year’s Eve has become my new favorite holiday. My family has a ritual that I’ve come to enjoy thoroughly. We go to the supermarket, buy a ton of junk food (and a few adult beverages), come home, change into our pajamas, watch TV, and gorge ourselves until the new year arrives. No one is invited to this “party” of ours and the pressure is totally off. I love it.

Our pursuit of perfection causes us to nearly buckle under self-inflicted holiday pressure each year around this time. It would serve us well to pause and reflect about why we do this to ourselves. I’m sure our kids, friends, neighbors and family members wouldn’t notice, or even care, if we cut some of the craziness out. Perhaps next year, I’ll treat Christmas a little more like New Year’s and just sit back and enjoy it instead of stressing out so much. Maybe that truly is the secret to making this the most wonderful time of year.

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