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Rev. Christy Thomas: Holiday advice may relieve some stress

Holiday advice flows from every communication source, mostly on how to deal with too much forced togetherness of relatives and the stress of the next few weeks. And every year I ask, “If this is supposed to be such a fun time, why are we all so stressed?”

I’m going to put the blame right where it belongs: on Norman Rockwell and Clement Clarke Moore. Norman Rockwell’s paintings graced The Saturday Evening Post covers for four decades and sometimes featured idealized holiday family gatherings. Moore probably penned the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas more popularly known as The Night Before Christmas.

Both of these pieces of artistic whimsy have so informed our collective consciousness that they have taken on near religious authority. Many parents would be far more upset to have someone tell their children that Santa Claus is a fantasy than to have someone tell their children that their religious base is a fantasy.

Furthermore, the notion of ideal family gatherings have been the cause of massive interpersonal trauma and the impetus for near nervous breakdowns for those with responsibility to create these picture-perfect holiday moments.

Uhhh, where’s the fun in this again?

Here are some suggestions for finding it:

1. Don’t make a religion of something that is not a religion. Make-believe is wonderful and magical — just remember that it is make-believe. It really is not a good idea to tell children that Santa knows when they are good or bad and watches everything they do. It’s spooky and uncomfortable and a terrible way to enforce good behavior.

2. Remember that no two people ever get along perfectly. Ever. Or if they say they do, then one of them is lying. We very much get on each other’s nerves. And we really get on each other’s nerves when burdened by unrealistic and unreachable expectations.

Make being nice your priority and forgiveness your centerpiece. Always remember: You cannot forcibly change the behavior or beliefs of others. If you simply can’t stand to be around a certain person or group of people, then don’t go. You will save everyone a lot of misery. They probably don’t like you either.

3. Decorate for yourself, not for others. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. If you do enjoy it, then go all out and appreciate it. But don’t force others to enjoy it or join you in the decorating if it is not their thing.

Remember, this isn’t a religion. You will not face eternal punishment if the space doesn’t look perfectly merry or something is crooked.

4. Spend what you can. It really is important to shop this time of the year because this is what keeps our economy going. A little extravagance, especially when poured out on someone else, can bring great joy.

5. Set aside at least 10 percent of what you plan to spend on gifts and donate it to some well-run charity. You’ll feel wonderful later.

6. Remember that there are genuinely hungry and cold and desperate people around — so do the same 10 percent giving on your food shopping and give the money to food banks. They need the help, not just now but all year around. This will also make you feel good. Seriously good.

This past Sunday after worship, several wonderful folks from my church helped get the tree set up and decorated. This aging tree has been in service to us for a long time. At this point, it has definitely acquired a somewhat off-kilter stance.

I love the bentness of it, the handmade symbols of our faith that grace it and the fact that many of them are also bent, showing their own signs of age and use.

Far from perfection; full of memories and history.

Try to remember your own bentness during this next month. Celebrate it, laugh at it and embrace it. Then fun will follow.