Money. It makes the world go ‘round, right? Or does it? Perhaps at no other time during the year does this statement seem truer than during the holidays. A recent survey conducted on holiday stress identified parents as being one of the most vulnerable groups for holiday financial stress. For all of those parents out there this comes as no surprise, right? Perhaps your kids, like mine, have already drafted their Santa Claus ‘manifestos’ detailing every last item on their Christmas wish-list. And maybe we ought to be up front here, we adults have our Santa lists as well. With the ever-growing exposure to media ads and other enticements to amass material possessions, the holidays can literally become dreadful, rather than joyful.
In addition, it seems there is a monumental tension between our desire to give and the projected need by those around us to receive. We are torn between the desire to purchase great things for those we love, and the actual monetary amount we have available to spend. What does all of this add up to – stress!
Whether we like it or not, financial stress seems to be a holiday guest that may not be leaving anytime soon. So, the question is what are some ways to navigate your way through this type of stress during the holidays? I’d like to take a stab at some ways this might be done:
• The first step really has to do with simple awareness; awareness that stress is on the docket for the holiday season. Being aware of the inevitable fact of stress will help create a healthy foundation to address stress when it mounts. In other words, embrace the reality of stress!
• Second, it is important to take the time to communicate openly and honestly with family and friends about holiday expectations. Are there parameters to the gift giving? Is travel on the agenda? What does the budget look like, and how does that reconcile with those expectations? Taking the time to discuss expectations—even with children—will help mitigate much of the financial stress associated with trying to please some imagined, and otherwise non-communicated, objectives.
• Third, be creative! Awareness and communication usually lead to deeper understanding about oneself and others. Find creative ways to introduce a new family or communal tradition. For example, this year my wife and I decided to have our children exchange names for a “gift” swap of sorts. But, this time around they are going to find ways to serve and surprise their “person” multiple times during the month of December, culminating with a gift they either create or offer up from their own toy stash. Creativity not only eases the burden and stress on the pocket book, but also it becomes the means to creating lifelong memories, which have a tendency to help anchor important relationships.
Take time to commemorate and celebrate the spiritual side of the holidays. Whether it is the Christmas season, and its focus on Jesus’ humble birth in Bethlehem, the Jewish Hanukkah, with its memorial to the miraculous temple lights, or focusing in on nature’s gift in the form of Solstice celebrations, take time to connect with your own, non-commercialized side of the holidays. This type of connection can bring meaning and purpose into a season otherwise drenched with a frenetic combination of shopping and wrapping.
While I would be naive (and unaware) to consider money an inconsequential player during the holidays, perhaps it’s not too much to think there are some ways to mitigate the stress we associate with it. My wish for all of us this holiday season is that we attempt to communicate expectations, be creative, and hone in on the spiritual side of the holidays. If we do, we may be filled with peace and an added ability to minimize the financial stress, often associated with this time of year.
About the author…
Chaplain David Ryan Williams is the 3d Battalion 1st Marines Chaplain at Camp Pendleton, CA. Prior to becoming a Navy Chaplain, he served as a staff Chaplain at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and a US Air Force Reserve Chaplain at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Chaplain Williams resides with his wife and five children in San Clemente, California.