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The real Christmas present

Saanich News December 7, 2005

Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Family Counsellor

Dear Paul,

Christmas is coming soon and I’m already in a flap! It’s supposed to be a peaceful, happy family time and I feel tense and anxious. Do you have any suggestions to help me manage my growing anxiety?


I got it Joan. The holidays are upon us and you’re feeling stressed already. Well, you’re not alone. Millions of people suffer, usually quietly, from overwhelming tension and stress through the Christmas holiday.

You wonder what has us so ”wound up” at this time of year?

First, we are bombarded by the past. Christmas triggers highly loaded memories in all of us. Our mind is a warehouse of childhood recollections and meanings - hopes, dreams, fears - all around Christmas. We’re highly stimulated with memories and expectations, rules, and imperatives.

If you are feeling “crazy”, I invite you to begin by quieting yourself and just check in with what may be there from the past. In the counselling profession we call these “Christmas feelings”. They are hanging around, just below the surface for all of us.

Become aware of these feelings associated with Christmas. Acknowledge them. Perhaps share with a friend your recollections, longings, and disappointments of Christmases past. Once acknowledged and communicated, the past has less of a hold on us. We can then become more open to experiencing this Christmas.

How else do we get a little “crazy” at Christmas?

We become fear-driven about…. good grief… all the thousands of things we have to do!

Christmas has become one huge “to do” list! The lights, the tree, the presents, stockings, the cards, the relatives, decorations, the clean house, the cranberry sauce (We must have Auntie Ruth’s cranberry sauce).

Over the years, we have accumulated so many expectations and traditions that we have become responsible for. We seem to be convinced that it just wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t do all these things.

Yet how often do we come to the end of Christmas sighing, “What happened? I didn’t have Christmas. I survived Christmas.” Actually, some of us were not even present to Christmas!

I have an idea.

What about letting Christmas come to us? What about “receiving” Christmas; gently letting Christmas take us, instead of “surviving” it?

To be open to, and actually experience Christmas may require giving up some things. Surrendering the “have to’s”, the rules, the inflated expectations, the frenzy to do it all.

I’ve got news. First, you don’t have to do it ALL. Christmas will be just fine if you don’t get all the Christmas cards sent. Or if you don’t get the lights up. And, yes, even if you don’t have Aunt Ruth’s cranberry sauce.

Secondly, YOU don’t have to do it all. Delegate. Let someone else run to the store, mash the potatoes, get the tree up, or pick up your sister - and then get out of the way. Give jobs away.

Another source of stress on us at Christmas time is the pressure we feel not only to do all these things, but to do them all correctly! Everything has to be done right. (Read - perfectly).

Well, I have more news for you. At Christmas time?...Things will go wrong.

Uncle Fred will be late. (“Paul. It’s Fred ! I missed the ferry !”) You won’t find that perfect gift for your son. (“Thanks dad. A tie. Did I tell you I don’t wear ties to work anymore? ”) You will mislay that present. Perhaps even your car!

Yes, things will go wrong. Make peace with it now. It will be just fine.

The point is - what is the use of celebrating together if we totally lose ourselves and our joy in doing so?

There is a magical spirit at Christmas time wanting to touch us all. This spirit has nothing to do with doing things. It is found neither in “doing” nor in “things”. It is found in listening for, or tuning into, a small and quiet place within.

So, Joan, want to try something? Once again, quiet your self and have a look. At your deepest quietest place. Ask: what does Christmas mean to you? Peace? Family? Love? Joy? Celebration? Giving? Quietly listen.

What was your answer? Did it open your heart? If so, write it on a piece of paper and tape it on your mirror.

Now, I have a challenge for you. Don’t count on the externals to give this experience of Christmas to you. Don’t try to get it FROM Christmas. You bring it TO Christmas. That’s all there is to do. Bring it to all you do. Just for the fun of it.

Bring it to the shopping line up. Bring it to the parking ticket you just got. Bring it to the Christmas tree. Bring it to your husband, to your children, to your family.

Christmas, like so much of our life, is an internal game. If we can look after that within our selves, we have the real Christmas present.

Take care Joan. I wish you and your family a super holiday.

Paul Beckow is a trained individual, marriage, and family therapist with over 20 years experience. If you have a relationship and/or family concern, call Paul at The Victoria Family Institute, 250 721 2477. You can find out more about Paul his programs, courses, and services through his website found at www.paulbeckow.com.


For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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