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5 Ways to keep Scrooge out of your Christmas

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Catherine W. Idzerda
December 9, 2011
Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
And I’m feeling like a gun-fight-o,
And as far as the holidays go …

What’s my last line?


I’m not so gung-ho?


Let’s be honest: The season can make you surly.


Christmas celebrates the birth of a poor child to a poor family in a stable. Mind you, there’s a good chance there was room at the inn, but no innkeeper in his senses would rent a room to a couple who looked like they couldn’t scrape together the cost of bus fare.

Then, the Magi traveled a long way to see the infant.


Today, the Magi would have to attend a round of holiday parties, spend a tense afternoon with the family drunk and his enabling wife, spend another afternoon with their cousins they see only once a year and who make fart jokes at the table and, finally, spend a bunch of money they don’t have to give gifts to people they don’t like.


In the end, they’d probably give up on that trip to Bethlehem.


Christmas doesn’t have to be that way.


In an effort to serve our readers, we present the top five ways to avoid holiday-induced stress and the resultant surliness.


1. As far as the holidays go … I’d rather not owe.

Money is a major stressor during the holidays.


Rod Benstead, director of Consumer Credit Counseling of Beloit, a United Way agency, said people become wrapped up in the emotions of the season.


“It’s easy to become unaware of spending,” Benstead said. “You’re making spending choices that wouldn’t make sense during the year.”


Parents think they can buy happiness for their children. Rational adults begin buying presents for the cats—and from the cats.


Recognize that money and emotions go together, and, keeping that in mind, create a budget, Benstead said. Remember, the amount you spend is not a reflection of how much you care about your spouse, your partner, your children or your pets.


Benstead said he doesn’t make judgments about what people buy, he just wants them to do it thoughtfully.


“So, it’s OK for the cats to go out and buy you a present,” Benstead joked. “But just make sure they don’t have a lot of cat nip and get carried away. The bills of Christmas past are out there.”


2. Aunt Susie is well into the Bordeaux.

Or well into the brandy old fashioneds, the beer or the hard cider. A holiday spent witnessing a family member’s alcoholism is an emotional smorgasbord of misery, grief, rage, irritation, embarrassment, anger and fear—don’t worry, there will be plenty for the whole family, kids included.


Here’s a solution: Al-anon.


Al-anon is for people who have been affected by a drinker’s behavior—even if they only see those drinkers during the holidays. Al-anon offers emotional and practical support from a group of people who have had similar experiences.


To find a meeting, call 1-888-425-2666 between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. or visit the website at al-anon.alateen.org.


Can’t make it to a meeting: The website has podcasts from Al-anon members talking about how they cope during the holidays.


3. My family’s not so mellow.

Discussions about Gov. Scott Walker will only end in shouting. Don’t even go there.


4. Put on that old Speedo.

“Regular aerobic exercise … has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress,” according to the Feb. 11, 2011, Harvard Health Newsletter.


Here’s some even better news: “Even a simple 20-minute stroll can clear the mind and reduce stress,” the same article stated.


Start now, and you’ll feel better about yourself by the time you have to make the 12-hour drive to the in-laws. Or start by taking a 20-minute walk after Christmas dinner.


For more practical advice and encouragement on how to reduce stress, go to health.harvard.edu/newsletters.


5. Let your love show.

Let’s get back to the couple at the inn.


In parochial school, we learned people during the Middle Ages took the wheels off their wagons during the Advent season, brought them inside and decorated them with greenery and candles.


Those were the first Advent wreathes.


Whether that’s historically accurate or not, the image of “removing a wheel” in honor of the season remains a good one.


Step away from the rush.


Some of the happiest—and the most relaxed—people on Christmas Day are those volunteering for ECHO’s Christmas dinner. It’s true: They’re happy to be washing dishes, serving pie and visiting with strangers. You can also find that happiness at the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Major Ruth Fay of the Janesville Salvation Army said many people feel what she jokingly refers to as a “doughnut hole” at their centers. That hole can’t be filled with stuff—or running around like a crazy person, she said.


“When people give part of their life or their time, then that makes Christmas,” Fay said.



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