Seventy-eight percent of Americans “take time to reflect on the birth of Christ” during the season, according to a Gallup poll. However, secular Christmas traditions such as shopping, baking, decorating, cleaning and entertaining can bring on stress and leave little time for reflection to tap into the spirit of the season – love, joy and peace.
In fact, research shows stress over lack of time rises 31 percent and stress about lack of money, amid the pressure to purchase gifts, rises 21 percent during holidays. Unrealistic expectations for the perfect holiday, perfect loving family and perfect balance of work and life, if not realized, engender more stress.
One solution or one hopeful factor comes from information in the same poll finding that a majority of Americans incorporate specific religious activities or symbols into their holiday celebrations. Fifty-one percent describe Christmas as “strongly religious” for them. The poll showed 62 percent attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and 65 percent display decorations with a religious meaning. See the poll at http://tinyurl.com/ozupz5s.
This latter information in the poll is important, because spiritual practices and religious observances can not only enhance the spirit of the season, but also reduce stress.
Many of us know from our own experience and experts agree that sharing of spirituality, whether in places of worship or other settings with family and friends, provides a support network that is a useful way to reduce stress. Spirituality, in this context, generally means recognizing that a higher power helps you find a deeper sense of purpose and makes it possible for you to release a personal sense of responsibility by trusting the Divine. See www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00035.
I recall one Christmas when I was stressed out from a personal sense of responsibility to make this the best Christmas ever, while overloaded with the usual secular traditions and caring for three young children. Perhaps trying to find joy in materialism, my husband and I bought too many presents, spending too much on our children, and expecting them to be both thrilled and grateful.
As they dove into their gifts before dawn on Christmas morning, there was pandemonium and ingratitude. We called a family timeout to think and pray quietly alone in different rooms for an hour, then we came back together with tears and hugs to share our thoughts on what the Christmas spirit should be in the teachings and example of Jesus to “love one another” (John 15:17). After that, we settled into a peaceful and joyous Christmas Day.
To avoid stress the next Christmas I purposely set aside more time for prayer in solitude to reflect on Christ so that I could really experience the spirit of the season. As the Apostle Paul said, “For there is one God, one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5). Christ, to me, brings God's goodness to man, brings the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22) to meet every human need.
Instead of stress I felt a deep feeling of peace and a desire for Christmas to be a time to focus on glorifying God. To me, that meant honoring the glory of God by one's actions. And that resulted in greater peace and harmony in our home on Christmas morning that year.
Mary Baker Eddy, a deeply religious student of the Bible who founded Christian Science, wrote in the 1907 Ladies Home Journal, “I love to observe Christmas in quietude, humility, charity, letting good will towards man, eloquent silence, prayer and praise express my conception of Truth's appearing.
“The splendor of this nativity of Christ reveals infinite meanings and gives manifold blessings. Material gifts and pastimes tend to obliterate the spiritual idea in consciousness, leaving one alone and without His glory.” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany, pp. 262-263)
Rejoice! Relief from holiday stress amid secular Christmas traditions can come from reflecting on the “nativity of Christ.” Everyone can be blessed by the spirit of the season.