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Swap Seasonal Stress for Serenity This Holiday Season

By Ann Marie Mershon December 02, 2022 Lifestyle

Age has taught me a lot, and the wisdom I’ve gained helps me cope with stress. I’m more accepting of other people’s shortcomings, and perhaps I’m even more tolerant of my own (and believe me, I have them). I’m also better at seeing what truly matters.

Seasonal Stress

When I was younger, I let the holidays stress me out. One year, I wrote this poem when my teenaged sons and husband were little help as I tried to pull together the perfect Christmas for them:

Holiday Stressmess

‘Tis the night before Christmas,
I’m dead on my feet
With stockings to stuff
and a mess to make neat.
I’ve trimmed and I’ve baked
And I’ve done all the shopping,
I’ve written the cards
And I’ve hung the last stocking.
It may not be “hung
by the chimney with care”
But who gives at this point
If it’s here or it’s there?
If Santa can’t find it
That’s just too darned bad
I’ve not had much help
And it makes me so mad!
Santa Clause has his elves
Helping out all year long,
A team of supporters
A hundred-plus strong.
I do it alone—
The American way
With nary a reindeer,
An elf, or a sleigh.
I guess I enjoy it—
I hate to complain,
But I’d like some assistance
To ease on the strain.
Why can’t someone offer
to wrap a few gifts,
Address Christmas cards,
Or help bake up some spritz?
I’m totally stressed
As the “UNDONE” list mounts
Though I try to remember—
“The thought is what counts.”
So what if the dishes
Are piled in the sink?
Who cares if the laundry
Is starting to stink?
The house is a mess
and my hair’s gone kaplooey.
I need a massage
And a soothing Jacuzzi.
It’s time to say, “STOP!”
I deserve to sit back.
It’s time for a rest—
I’ll relax by the tree
With a holiday nog
Turn the Christmas tunes on
Maybe light a yule log.
As I sit here in jeans
And my frayed flannel shirt
I’ll accept that I’m not
Any Martha Stewart
Her house would be tidy
Decor at its peak
With Christmas scents wafting—
While my place just reeks.
I’ll accept who I am
And let go of the stress.
I’ll welcome tomorrow
Embracing my mess—
A busy house filled with
The people I love,
The traditions I cherish,
And that gift from above.

Swap for Serenity

Those last two stanzas were a huge “Aha!” for me. They reminded me to keep in mind the real reasons for celebrating.

I start with the attitude that I’m decorating and baking because I enjoy doing these things, not because other people need them. That attitude transforms it from work to a sweet pleasure.

As I bake and decorate, I play my favorite Christmas tunes: Barbara Streisand, Mario Lanza, and Mannheim Steamroller.

The difference now is that rather than spending time rummaging through piles of albums, then cassette tapes, and eventually CD’s, I tell Alexa what I want to hear. Times have certainly changed, haven’t they?

Stretch It Out

Since I’m retired, I can stretch out my baking tasks, tackling one item a day, and only my favorites. I have friends who enjoy getting together with others for a cookie bake-a-thon, a fun approach to holiday baking.

Ask for Help

I’ve also learned to ask for help. My husband, Jerry, has a few Christmas cookie specialties, and he enjoys choosing, cutting, and decorating the tree with me. It’s precious time together as Christmas tunes fill the house.

Replace Gifts with Donations

Another stress-reducer I’ve discovered is dumping the worry of choosing the perfect gift for everyone on my list. The adults in my family have agreed to make donations to our favorite charities rather than exchanging gifts.

The thousands I used to spend are now gift certificates to Kiva, an online micro-loan charity that lends to people in developing countries. Those women and men need the support far more than we need more robes and slippers.

I still choose small items for family – stocking-stuffers to brighten the day. Of course, the grandchildren get actual gifts. They’re not quite ready to give up the joy of ripping open another package or three.

Lighten Up on Cards

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve backed off on Christmas cards, only sending them to older relatives who don’t have email.

I either send out an email message or wait to send out Valentines at a quieter time of year when I have the leisure to write long messages. Of course, if you enjoy sending Christmas cards, keep it up. Make the holiday about what makes you happy.

Remember What It’s All About

The thing that most helps me find solace during the holidays is remembering that it’s a season of love. Love for yourself, love for your family, and love for your friends. That was the message brought to us from Bethlehem, wasn’t it?

So – let go of that stress. Relax and enjoy the holidays. You can do it.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What goes on your list of holiday chores? Can you lighten the load somehow? Would that help you manage the stress better? In what ways might you relax amid all the Christmas activities? Please share your respite ideas with our community!

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Roxanne Farmer

My husband and I decided what we like best and least about the holidays. We chucked the “least” and kept the best. I love the music of Christmas but dislike the office parties. My husband’s favorite part is decorating the tree. Of course, you can’t always skip the parts of Christmas you dislike because there are certain obligations. But it helps to do what we like and skip or minimize those things that cause us stress.


I love the poem! Going to keep that as a reminder. It was my life too!

Last year I took a new approach to Christmas. It was what I call a “no expectations Christmas.” I spent Christmas alone but I was okay, in fact, it was a beautiful day. My puppy and I took a five mile walk and in our walk where we normally gather pecans I stopped to help the elderly man gather his pecans. I watched Gracie tear into her wrapped bully stick. I ended it with a glass of wine by my fire pit on the patio. Oh and I was greeted by my neighbors because they saw the smoke and thought the house was on fire. Consequently, we chatted and wished each other a Merry Christmas.

There was one expectation on Christmas Eve with my son and granddaughters. He didn’t care much for the food I prepared and he was very anxious to get it over as he was on the verge of divorce and feeling torn. He wouldn’t put on the Santa suit I bought him at the thrift store for the kids entertainment. I felt so disappointed. I know what you are saying…that’s an expectation!

At the end of the evening I realized it was an expectation I should’ve had. So this year no fancy dinner. No expectations, No exchanging gifts with my children. I’ll give the girls their gifts when the time is available. My house is decorated and I have a companion I will just enjoy when he is available which probably won’t be Christmas because he’s a nurse and a good one which means he will probably work so the young nurses can be with their families.

“No expectations Christmas” makes it joyful for me and I have much to be joyful about!


I have learned after younger years of ridiculous stress and exhaustion at the holidays to scale back and do what I truly enjoy. Some years I put out the village and decorate every room. Other years I just place a few things around. Some years lots of baking others very little. Some years I send cards sometimes not. I just go with what I feel at the time. And it’s not a chore that way. I do what I feel led to do and let go of what I don’t. No hard fast rules. So much more enjoyable! Hope everyone truly enjoys their holiday season!


The Author

A retired English teacher, Ann Marie Mershon lives on a lake in northern Minnesota with her husband, Jerry, and their two dogs. She’s published three books as well as numerous articles and columns. You can read about her years of teaching in Istanbul on her blog

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