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The Christmas Rush

November 28, 2011

This column is an excerpt from Kirk H. Neely’s new book Santa Almost Got Caught: Stories for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year.

A health conscious businesswoman visited the gym to exercise as a part of her regular routine.   She finished her daily workout by jogging several miles. In the winter months her running was done on a treadmill. One December morning the treadmill she was using went berserk. The control buttons, ordinarily used to slow and then stop the machine, were unresponsive. Instead of slowing down, the treadmill went faster. Frantically the woman punched the control panel, but to no avail. Her heart pounding, her breathing labored, she finally decided she would have to jump.  Sprinting at a flat-out pace, she took a desperate leap of faith and fear. Though she was able to escape the renegade contraption, she landed hard on the concrete floor, fracturing her right wrist. She spent the holidays in a cast up to her elbow.

Something similar happens to many of us during the holidays. We are hijacked, not by a treadmill run amuck, but by the frenetic pace of activities.  This season is filled with activity. Our pulse quickens with our pace. The holidays have become a stress-filled, busy time, so exhausting and exasperating that much of the joy is siphoned away.

The Christmas rush begins the day after Thanksgiving and continues until after the New Year. Most of us fill our calendars with activities observing the holiday season.  Busy schedules and deadlines make us feel pushed and harried.  We are constantly reminded of the dwindling number of shopping days until Christmas Day.

A sign announcing the last day to mail packages in order to ensure arrival by Christmas is prominently displayed at the Post Office.  Family gatherings and social occasions, heaped on top of our regular responsibilities, leave us irritable and exhausted. Charitable events and faith group activities, though well-intentioned, add to the demands upon our time.

As one weary soul said in late November, “Trying to find a free evening during the holidays is like trying to find a homegrown tomato in my vegetable garden in December.”

A major part of seasonal stress for many is increased financial anxiety. The day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, has been dubbed Black Friday. The first workday following Thanksgiving is now called Cyber Monday, the busiest online shopping day of the year.  For many, overspending becomes the norm.  Credit card debt spins out of control as buying frenzies escalate and consume us, leaving many to struggle with an avalanche of bills come January.

“I hate Christmas,” one beleaguered husband and father said. “Every year my family spends so much that I am barely able to pay off the debt before the next Christmas. Then they do it all over again.”

A simple solution is to have a reasonable plan. Our holiday calendar needs to include time for family, personal reflection, and rest and relaxation, as well as activities that are selected, by priority, from our array of options.  Our holiday budget needs to allow for giving meaningful gifts to family and friends as well as charitable contributions.   Develop a plan that works for you and your family rather than allowing the expenditure of time and money to spin out of control like a renegade treadmill.

The holidays for Jill were always hectic.  She operated a catering business from her home. She had numerous parties and receptions on her calendar. There was more to do than she could squeeze into her schedule.

One year she decided to send her Christmas cards early.  Jill was the kind of person who kept meticulous records from year to year of cards sent and cards received.  She resolved to purge her list, striking from the list the name of any person who had failed to send her a card for the past two years.  She purchased the required number of cards and enough holiday stamps to mail them.  She added a brief greeting and her signature to each card before mailing them ahead of the postal deadline.

As Christmas approached, Jill received cards in her mail box nearly every day.  Much to her chagrin, several of the people she had purged from her extensive list had sent her cards.  One busy Friday, while out shopping for Christmas gifts at a stationery store, she picked up a box of twenty-five generic holiday cards. She felt compelled to send a card to every person from whom she had received one.  By Christmas Eve, she had mailed all but three of the additional cards to people previously expunged from her list.

A few days after Christmas, as Jill was paying her bills, she reached for one of the leftover generic cards, belatedly remembering that she had not even taken time to read the inside verse before she sent them.

She opened the card and read in dismay:  “This little card is just to say, your Christmas gift is on the way.”  Oops!

Rushing through Christmas can be costly.  Not only can we become overextended in time, energy, and money, but we may also become depleted emotionally and spiritually.

Many of our Christmas carols remind us that we need calmness in our souls. Silence, stillness, and peace are important to our most beneficial observance of this season. Finding the quiet center is the way to enjoy the season and preserve our sanity.

Kirk H. Neely
©  November 2011

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