As Christmas rolls around, it can be either a season of cheer or a season to fear. The stress of the holidays, with all its planning, negotiating – whose parents should you visit this year? – and the financial strain of gift-giving can make you want to pack away the mistletoe. Don’t let Christmas pull you and your spouse apart.

Instead, careful planning can help de-stress the holiday so you have more time to truly celebrate the gift of Christ together.

1. The giving of gifts

The gift-giving tradition can put a lot of financial and emotional stress on a couple. On the Holmes and Rahe psychological stress scale, Christmas traditions are listed as more stressful than minor law violations, and financial difficulties rank equal to the death of a close friend. Combined? Bah! Humbug!

2. Set a budget

Keep the "ghost of Christmas past" from haunting your credit card statements and your thoughts. Look at your finances together and create a realistic spending limit for the Christmas season. Account for any upcoming expenditures you may have in the new year. Marriage therapist Marion Goertz recommends enlisting an objective third party if you and your spouse can’t agree on a budget.

3. Make a list and check it twice

Work with your spouse to decide who you’ll bless with gifts. If your budget is tight this year, don’t be afraid to take cost-cutting measures. For example, you could give one gift per family instead of one to each individual.

4. Get creative

You don’t have to buy your presents from the shopping mall. Baked goods and handmade crafts can be budget-friendly and memorable.

5. Don’t wait until December 24th

Last-minute shopping is rushed, stressful and often offers up nothing but the slimmest of pickings. Keep an eye out for sales all year and store the gifts until Christmas. "Christmas . . . doesn’t sneak up on you," writes David Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover, saying that there’s no reason for not being prepared. If you plan in advance, you’ll save money and cut down on stress.

6. Visiting the in-laws

Decking the halls is great. Decking your in-laws? Not so much. Holiday stress, paired with disagreements with or about your spouse’s parents, can make you want to climb up the chimney. Annie Chapman, author of The Mother-In-Law Dance, says that anyone who’s been married for longer than one Christmas knows just how taxing it can be. But don’t let it spoil your eggnog!

7. Talk to your spouse

Disagreements with or about your in-laws can make your spouse feel threatened or defensive, and likewise for you if your spouse doesn’t get along with your parents. Make it clear that you love your spouse unconditionally and that any holiday tensions, big or small, don’t change that.

8. Take a break

At a family gathering, don’t wait until you’re so frustrated that you engage in a verbal conflict. If things start grating on your nerves, take a break and step away from the situation. A walk outdoors or a quick jaunt to the store can give you the breathing space you need to calm down before things get out of control.

9. Plan ahead

Waiting until the Christmas season to announce that you’re not planning to attend Christmas dinner can create disappointment or resentment in your in-laws. Plan your holiday schedule with your spouse months in advance and alert each set of in-laws about your plans.

10. Look inward and upward

Sometimes, it’s not the in-laws who are grumpy and disagreeable. You may not be able to change them, but you can change yourself and your personal reaction to situations. Pray and meditate on God’s Word and ask for discernment, patience and wisdom.

11. Enjoying Christmas together

The fake snow littering the shopping malls, the Christmas songs in TV commercials and the everyday busyness of the holidays can diminish some of Christmas’ peaceful glory. Rediscover the true meaning of the holidays together as a couple.

Discuss expectations

Everyone has a different childhood tradition or expectation that defines the holiday for them. Talk to your spouse about the seasonal practices and traditions that mean a lot to you. Together, you can create new traditions that encompass both of your expectations so no one’s left feeling like the holiday lacked a little lustre.

Share the to-do list

Whether it’s stringing the lights or hanging the stockings, share the common Christmas tasks. Not only does it make the work fly by faster, but it’s also an opportunity to spend time together, enjoying another treasured aspect of the Christmas tradition.

Be generous

By blessing others during Christmas, you can capture the true essence of Christ’s birth. From serving at a local soup kitchen to volunteering in your church’s Christmas performance, getting involved in the community reminds us all of what Christmas really means.

Reprinted with permission © 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

Focus on the Family Canada

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