Let’s be honest- spending time with family can be great, but it can also be stressful. As we approach the holidays, we are flooded with memories and emotions. Perhaps work constraints will not allow you to spend time with any family. Maybe you’re in a new relationship, and you’re torn between whose family to spend the holidays with, or how to share your time equally. You may have been married for years but still haven’t been able to crack the code on the holiday routine.
There has to be a better way to make a decision than pulling on the Thanksgiving turkey wishbone, right? I love the movie “Four Christmases,” because it epitomizes the struggles some of us encounter around the holidays. We are supposed to rest and celebrate, when, in reality, too often we argue and wear ourselves out in order to live up to our extended family’s expectations. We do all this only to return to work more exhausted than we were before the “break.”
What should you do?
• First, communicate your desires with your family well in advance. They may be blissfully unaware of the stress they are causing you. They may not like the idea of you spending Thanksgiving with them, Christmas with the in-laws and New Year’s Eve with your friends, however, letting them know well in advance gives them the opportunity to get upset and get over it before the holiday hustle is in full swing.
• Second, take time to pray and/or meditate. We know that to be a healthy person, we need to maintain physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being. When we are on leave, we are with our family and friends for much longer periods of time than usual. With such a disrupted routine, we can get irritable and ruin our holiday experience. Making time to pray and/or meditate allows us to center and focus on enjoying our time, instead of avoiding time together.
• Third, determine whether or not going home for the holidays is even the best idea. Even if you are in the continental United States, there are times when traveling home is not the best idea economically nor possible due to your and/or your spouse’s work constraints.
It’s important to establish your own holiday traditions. No matter where service to our country takes you, your children will find a sense of stability in the traditions established in your home. You don’t have to try to recreate Christmas at grandmas. Do what you can to make the holiday special for your family, without turning you into the “Grinch!” Creating family customs can be fun. For example I enjoy a healthy dose of sarcasm. Therefore, every Columbus Day we eat Indian food (i.e. coconut chicken curry) because Christopher Columbus thought he’d sailed to India when he landed in America. It’s weird, I know, but when I tell my kids why we do it, they crack up, and my wife loves Indian food, a win-win and it brings a sense of familiarity and tradition no matter where we live.
Finally, if you are away from all of your family this holiday season don’t become a recluse. There are others you are deployed or stationed with in the same situation. Get together with them and enjoy food and laughs together. You’ll learn about different cultures, even if you are in the United States, when you share holiday food favorites with other folks. Take time to share some of the holiday traditions you and your family have. Finally, call your family or video chat with them if it is feasible. It will brighten up the holiday for you and your family and help you feel close, even if you’re far away.
About the author…
Chaplain Jonathan Henderson serves as the Deputy Command Chaplain at Naval Station Newport, RI. He and his wife have been married for 13 years and are expecting their fifth child; Talk about the challenges of navigating stress! Prior to military service, he was a civilian pastor for 3 years and worked in the cellular phone industry for 10 years.