Let’s face it. Christmas can be great fun and bind families closer together.
But it can also be terribly stressful on the day on top an exhausting build-up.
Here are a few ideas to make your Christmas less of a deadline and more like the special holiday it should be, compiled by Melanie Arnost for ABC radio.
1. Keep it simple
Tony Fitzgerald is a dad to three kids. He’s also in charge of the free counselling service Kids Helpline.
“There’s lots of pressure on families to perform at Christmas, or to create the perfect Christmas with the perfect roast. But that takes a lot of effort, energy and money, and you don’t need to do it that way,” Fitzgerald says.
Instead, he suggests focusing on spending time with family and enjoying each other’s company.
Forgo the hot meal and have a cold Christmas lunch, or take the kids to see the neighbourhood Christmas lights.
“It’s got to be the most relaxed day that you can have, not the most stressful or intense day. It’s really important just to keep that focus and say, ‘let’s keep this fun’.”
2. Make a budget — and stick to it
It may not feel like it when you’re planning your Christmas gifts, but there are ways to avoid the budget getting out of control.
The Salvation Army’s Major Neil Dickson says: “Work out what you can afford to spend, before really launching into the Christmas shopping if possible.
“Taking into account all the normal household costs as well as things like electricity bills. Stay within your limits and don’t max out that credit card or get out that extra loan just for a really big Christmas.”
“If you’re having a big family gathering,” Fitzgerald suggests, “split up the responsibilities in terms of who does what.
“Don’t leave it all to yourself to do all the cooking or the preparation.”
Neil Dickson has similar advice.
“Don’t feel that you have to do it all just because you’re hosting the family around at your place” he says.
“Ask them to contribute or help in some way that’s practical, like bringing food.”
And you can even delegate around gift giving: suggest “Secret Santa” to the wider family, instead of buying everyone individual presents.
4. Skip the family fight
Big family gatherings can send the calmest of us into a frenzy, but don’t add to that by starting an argument at Christmas time.
For Major Neil Dickson, the Christian theme of forgiveness is especially relevant.
“Maybe be the one to say sorry, or ask for forgiveness. Or if something’s gone wrong, just break the ice with a compliment or by saying something nice.”
Tony Fitzgerald says if there’s a bit of tension over something that’s happened during the year, don’t address it at Christmas, just enjoy everyone’s company.
He also recommends setting up a chill out zone or space where the kids can get away from the excitement and relax.
5. It’s not all about gifts
Dickson says this time of year doesn’t have to only be about material possessions.
“We all know the phrase ‘the best things in life are free’, but another way of thinking about it is ‘the best things in life are not things’,” he says.
“It might be giving gifts of baked goods or something handmade. Maybe offering a day’s housework for a family member.”
Getting the kids to make gifts for loved ones is a great way to beat school holiday boredom.
Tony Fitzgerald says:
“It helps them feel that it’s part of Christmas and it’s something special. It’s not just come off the shelf – it’s something they’ve created and made specially for friends or family.”
6. Give back to your community
Another way to tap into the true meaning of Christmas is to do something positive for your community, or someone in your neighbourhood who you “Help your kids understand there are others out there who are much less fortunate than perhaps you are,” Fitzgerald suggests.
“That might give them some context and grounding about the importance of presents or not.
“Particularly on Christmas day, organisations like the Salvos serve up Christmas lunch for the poor and the homeless, and that would be a great activity to be involved in as a family. Or through your local community organisations, if you wanted to put together a hamper or some packs that could be given to less fortunate families in your community, that’s a really good idea too.”
The Salvation Army finalises gifts for families in need about 10 days before Christmas. Right now, they’re sorting donations into appropriate age groups.