My First Stress-Free Christmas

For years, Carol was glued to her Christmas traditions. Although they brought her joy, they also brought undue stress. This past Christmas, she decided to do something different.

“Dashing through the snow.” “Going over the river, and through the woods to visit some relative or other” …yet again. Cancelled flights, bumper to bumper highway traffic. As “‘tis the season to be jolly,” began, it also brought with it an uninvited companion—holiday stress. After my mom and dad passed, thank goodness so did all that traipsing cross the country.

Don’t ask me where it came from, but I felt everything had to be perfect at Christmas. Never mind that working a full time job, writing my freelance articles and books, taking care of my husband and home, even before the holidays, my schedule was already on overload.

Whether I felt like it or not, I ran around like a crazy woman, hauling down our old artificial tree from the garage. The one we bought year two after we married because, after paying rent, buying food etc., two military sergeants’ budget didn’t allow for one that first year.

After forty four years, the tree needed more lights and ornaments to cover missing branches. Not only was I content with decorating everything that stood still inside the house, this was repeated outside as well. Shopping for the perfect gift for everyone on my list, shopping for food, and then cooking it. The end result? Stress, stress and more stress.

After Christmas, breaking down the tree and putting the ornaments carefully away, I told myself that if I didn’t feel like doing all this next year, I wouldn’t. The following year, I found myself repeating the usual rituals and experiencing that familiar feeling of angst.

This year, I decided that enough was enough. I finally gave myself permission to stop allowing so-called traditions or others’ expectations to stress me out.

For example, as a long time educator, I invited my student assistants to have dinner with us every Thanksgiving and Christmas—those who couldn’t go home during the holidays because of finances or weather.

My husband and I are married without children, so being surrounded by young people kept us young and filled our house with joy and laughter. Throughout the years, young people away from home found new “sisters and brothers” who were there for them when their biological siblings were far, far away.

This past year, I didn’t feel like doing all this. I retired from university, and my “adopted” children got married and started families of their own. Now, it’s just my husband and I. He doesn’t care about any of the stuff I felt was so important at Christmas.

My first step was banishing the “Superwoman Syndrome.” I told myself that the holidays don’t have to be perfect. I started to rethink some of my traditions. Like most folks, I thrived on traditions. As I grew up, my life and thinking changed. Along the way, many of my traditions changed as well. For instance, instead of making all the food from scratch, today I substitute good quality food that only requires little to no tweaking and baking. Doing so allows me to spend less time in the kitchen and more to time enjoying the holiday.

I learned to tune out those ads on television—the ones that insisted that right that minute was the only time to take advantage of savings, the ones that caused me to momentarily forget that sales existed throughout the year.

Though my husband and I are no longer two broke young airmen, I realized that my budget still didn’t allow me to provide loved ones with “four calling birds, three French hens, or that proverbial partridge in a pear tree.” I now limit my gift giving to one or two special gifts.

This year, as I started to pull down our ancient tree, I realized I didn’t feel like fooling with it and put up a small table tree with the lights already on it instead. Wreaths on the double front doors, a couple red bows on the outside porch railing and mailbox that could be removed in a few minutes, and voila, I was finished.

Not putting all the usual stress on myself was freeing and allowed me to enjoy everything more. Relaxing and enjoying the magic of the season: isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Carol Gee

Carol Gee M.A is a retired Air Force veteran and retired longtime university educator. She did a short stint as a mental health counselor and is on her fourth act as a freelance writer and author. Carol is the author of what women have fondly coined “girlfriend” books because of their female-centric essays. Her most recent is Random Notes: About Life, "Stuff" And Finally Learning To Exhale. She likens her essays to “therapy without the couch.” Her book Gilded Pearls: Vibrant Thoughts, Tips and Tidbits For a Full Life shares her love for upcycling, repurposing and finding new uses for common everyday items. Her website is

8 Responses

  1. Don says:

    Thanks, Carole–

    Your story was well written, yet, to me, poignant in some ways.

    It’s the part about tradition.
    I don’t like the idea of abandoning them entirely, but instead, like to think of creative ways to change them.

    I think tradition is important–a gift from our ancestors, or it could be that way.

    • Carol says:

      Don, thank you. I too can’t imagine abandoning Christmas or any holidays really, as I like them all, but managing them is important as I get older. I hate that so much focus is on spending a lot of money, trying to make the holidays perfect.

  2. Claudia Vidal says:

    Loved your story, Carol! It’s incredible how much stress we create around such a beautiful holiday. I used to force things to happen around the holiday just to keep up with the traditions and expectations of others. However, this past Christmas my children help me become aware that everything didn’t have to be perfect. Thank you for sharing. Your message will bless many.

    • Carol says:

      Claudia, thank you. One of the things I have vowed to do as I have gotten older to find ways to relieve my stress level. It hasn’t always been easy but each time I remember a way to do so I feel empowered. For instance, recently, I was in a line in the grocery store that seemed to moving. Any other time I would have sighed, stamped my feet and get all worked up. This time, I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere and told myself that stressing out wasn’t going to get it moving any quicker. What I did was make a joke to the person in front of me who laughed, we chatted and soon it was both our turn.

  3. Devorah says:

    I don’t celebrate Christmas so the whole season is stressful and alienating for me.

    • I never used to celebrate Christmas either. Since I’ve been with my partner, I’ve been celebrating it for the past 5 years with his family. My family only does New Year’s (which is more like Christmas in a lot of Eastern European cultures). I’ve watched his family go from stressing about Christmas to finding a way to make it about the relationships built and quality time spent. It’s been a pleasure to witness that transformation. And of course, because of that, we’re all spending a lot less money on the season too.

    • Carol says:

      Devorah, I applaud your solution to relieving stress. I’m not quite there yet, but am exploring new

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