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Why Are Holidays So Tense?

Dear CMR,

With Christmas around the corner, as a student, I’m a little overwhelmed – ok, really overwhelmed. I want to make things meaningful and enjoyable with my friends and family, but in the past things have been tense. Do you have any practical tips or things I can do proactively to make this Christmas season joyful and keep my sanity?


Overwhelmed and Worried

Dear Overwhelmed,

This is a great question. Thanksgiving to Christmas is hands down the busiest time of the year. Especially for students as you have exams to study for and take, papers to write, group projects to collaborate, festivities to attend, gifts to buy, cards to send, and cookies to bake!  On top of all that, some may be graduating, packing up, and moving to the next step in their journey. Is being busy an understatement? 

What does your “to-do” list look like? Is it filled with decorating your dorm room to win the $50,000 grand prize of The Great Christmas Light Fight?  Do you feel the need to attend every holiday event? Overindulge in shopping for gifts? Or do you fill it with service projects to feed the homeless?  None of these is necessarily wrong, but if we put all of them on our to-do list, we may end up having the wrong focus, feeling unprepared, unfulfilled, and stressed during the holiday season. 

The holidays are a red carpet to evaluate how we spend our time and consider how people fit into our lives.  Ask yourself: What relationship do I want to deepen this season?  Which acquaintance do I want to convey love and care for?  Maybe it’s a girl on your floor that has had a rough semester that needs a friendly presence or a guy you see in the café struggling to gather his food because of managing crutches from a recent break.  Maybe you need to convey to your parents your appreciation for their role in your life and their support of your education in college. Each of us needs to decide what we will place on our to-do list, specifically keeping the focus of loving and caring for others.   

"The holidays are a red carpet to evaluate how we spend our time and consider how people fit into our lives...Each of us needs to decide what we will place on our to-do list, specifically keeping the focus of loving and caring for others."

Why should we put some of our Christmas to-do items or even our studies aside to focus on people?

  1. People around you have rich stories and interesting backgrounds.  Get to know them, ask questions.  They may have cross-cultural holiday traditions that they’d love to share or a life experience that finds a connection with yours. 
  2. People around you have real needs.  They may need to talk to someone about a complex family dynamic that they’ll be entering when they reach home for the holidays, which will be not all cozy and warm.  They may need to be affirmed, or they may need someone to quiz them in order to pass the last exam of the semester.  Sometimes we have to have a real presence in their life to discover their need. 
  3. We are called in the Old and New Testaments to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:31).  The Lord knows the value of setting time aside to help meet the needs of others.  Use wisdom in doing so, and strive to balance your heavy academic load with people around you who may need love and care. 

How do we do this when our time is so strapped? Keep these suggestions in mind…

  1. Start with a neighborly presence. Be friendly and show value to people as you walk up and down your dorm/apartment hallways or in your home with family.  Be a presence.
  2. Look for ways to observe needs. I have found that when we help others, we deepen our relationships, experience joy, and create good memories to look back on.  One year, my family bought breakfast sandwiches to pass out to the homeless along a busy street on Christmas morning.  The act, though simple, brought us together to meet the needs of these dear souls and we had fun along the way.
  3. Speak words of love and affirmation to others through text messages, Christmas cards, gift tags that go beyond “Love, Tim.”   While you spend time with others around the table, in the stores, or in the car, don’t hesitate to find and express something you appreciate about them. 
  4. Express joy-filled laughter and special moments throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Joy and laughter are gifts from God (Proverbs 17:22).  There are so many personal and interpersonal benefits to laughter… boosts blood flow, increases immune system, burns calories, helps manage stress, and forms a connectedness between people.  Benjamin Franklin got it right, “Trouble knocked at the door, but, hearing laughter, hurried away.”

So as you write your to-do list this year, write it from the perspective of loving and caring for others.   Your sacrifice of not doing some things will be small in light of the great reward of rich relationships that awaits both you and those around you.  This should help you celebrate the holidays with true joy and keep your sanity in the process.

Matthew 25:34b-40 - “… Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me.  I was in prison and you came to me…. As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. “