by Dr. Tina Rochford
Family Matters, Vernon Morning Star

Christmas...Whether you love it, loathe it or merely survive it, the season is upon us. Many of us dream of a simplified Christmas; the family happily gathered around a blazing hearth, probably in a country setting, singing Christmas carols following a traditional Christmas dinner. The reality for many families today is a more politicized Christmas; which extended family to visit each year, how to control Uncle Charley's alcohol intake, what to do about the rampant consumerism, etc. Throw in a '90's twist such as divorce and possibly remarriage (and therefore step-families) and you have a possibly potent brew for a highly stressful situation. In such situations, communicate with our former spouse, and plan ahead concerning where the children will be spending Christmas. Try to ensure that everyone feels that the plans are manageable and fair for everyone involved.

How do we lessen the gap between the ideal Christmas and the real Christmas? A first step would be to develop a family philosophy about the meaning of Christmas. Ask yourselves and your children which activities you most enjoy about Christmas and which you could live without. Each family member could complete the sentence "To me, Christmas means..." As you make plans for Christmas, check to see if your decisions are in harmony with your family's philosophy of Christmas. Experiment with creating new family rituals or doing something entirely different one Christmas. Communicate with your extended family about your beliefs and how they fit with your plans to spend time (or not to spend time) with them over Christmas.

Another helpful strategy is to think of "spreading the Christmas spirit throughout the year." In other words, rather than trying to squeeze so many social events, family get-togethers and meals into a few short days, consider planning alternative celebrations at other times of the year. One family that I know has a "Christmas in July" get together. Be realistic about the amount of travelling you can cope with, the number of Christmas dinners you can consume, etc., particularly if you have small children. Talk to your children about the kinds of gifts they can expect. Also remember the unique joy that comes with the gift of giving. Involve your children in selecting and delivering toys and food for other families in need. Gifts of time and services, such as shovelling snow, babysitting or food are always welcome. These can be offered as gift certificates to be redeemed throughout the year.

In addition, as Christmas falls at the conclusion of the year, it is often a time for taking stock of one's life during the previous year. If losses, such as the death or serious illness of loved ones, job loss or financial setbacks, have occurred, grief can be experienced acutely during this season.

Be prepared for feelings of grief, depression, etc., particularly if you have had a difficult year. Think about how you best cope with these kinds of feelings and build in time for self-nurturing, family activities or whatever helps you to feel better.

Also, an article about Christmas would be incomplete without some mention of the post Christmas period. This can be experienced as a range of emotions, from feelings of satisfaction (if all went well) to a sense of relief (if the festivities seemed like too much work) to the often cited blues. Reflect upon your feelings about Christmas of 1996 and use them as a guide to help determine how to spend the remaining winter months and to plan for Christmas of 1997.

Finally, whether you are religious or not, there is a unique story which is at the heart of Christmas, which children typically love. Share the Christmas story with your children as you work out your philosophy of Christmas and your Christmas plans.

Have a happy, realistic and meaningful holiday season.

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