It’s Christmas! We look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus, spending time with family, opening our gifts and sharing our Christmas dinner. Would it surprise you to learn that Christmas is also one of the most stressful times of the year? Research reveals almost 64% of people surveyed admitted to stress during the season. It isn’t hard for you to relate to the top 25 biggest stresses at Christmas which include spending too much, cooking dinner, pleasing everyone and juggling work.
For some reason, shopping for “the perfect gift” seems to bring out the best and worst of us. Research shows robbery and personal larceny, especially retail crime increases by as much as 30%. Domestic violence fueled by stress, gambling, and the use of alcohol and drugs also increase. When shopping it’s easy to relate to the stress as we witness people push and pull, and even fight to grab sale items. It’s like the Bible is warning us (Ephesians 6:13, VOICE):
“And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground.”
How is it possible that Christmas, the day intended to “celebrate the “indescribable gift” that God gave to us, could also result in such horrific events? I think the reason, at least partially, is we’ve lost our understanding of the true importance of Christmas and gathering. If you look closely at the top 25 stresses (cited above) you’ll notice two things. The first is the reasons cited focus exclusively on our relationship with each other and secondly, they are all “negative.” But science shows stress can be positive or negative. Stress activates the release of hormones needed to cope with the situation encountered. Proverbs 12:25 (CEB) simplifies all the science by explaining:
“Anxiety leads to depression, but a good word encourages.”
Negative stress (called distress) occurs when we feel overwhelmed because our resources (physically, mentally, emotionally) can’t meet the demands we experience. Distress can lead to depression, anxiety and the types of violence described above. However, positive stress (eustress) produces feelings of excitement, fulfillment or satisfaction, and meaning. Psychologist Dr. Kara Fasone, adjunct professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, states that “this type of stress empowers us to grow in three areas: emotionally, psychologically and physically.” Which type would you rather experience?
Undoubtedly, the commercialization of Christmas is the biggest stressor impacting our relationship with God and each other. Biblebender.com explains the distress its commercialization causes:
“It’s a dilemma that grows worse with each passing season – we want to celebrate the birth of our Savior but don’t appreciate the commercialization (or consumerism) of Christmas. We abhor the insolence and pressure of buying ever-more expensive gifts, “keeping up with the Joneses” when decorating our homes, and the hassle of battling materialistic crowds of shoppers – all to enrich greedy merchants who profit from the madness.”
Has Christmas become too commercialized? Review your checking account or credit card statements, most of us would answer, “Yes.” In fact, Christmas spending statistics reveals the following: in 2021, holiday retail sales surpassed the trillion-dollar mark with 22% of American believing Christmas will leave them in debt. Americans (14.2%) report they fund Christmas spending by selling their possessions. Is it any wonder we’re stressed?
Combatting this dilemma begins by shifting our focus away from buying gifts to honoring Jesus. We celebrate Christmas to remember the “good news” that Christ was born (Luke 2:10-11, CEB). If you study this verse closely, we didn’t just get good news but “wonderful, joyous news for all people.” Christmas is intended to produce eustress. Secondly, remember that the purpose for gathering is to worship God; as well as develop and nurture each other. Hebrews 10:24-25 (CEV) tells us:
“We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have given up the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.”
Does this mean that we should not buy or exchange gifts? No, gift giving is important to celebrating Christmas. However, like the gifts of the three wise men, our gifts are intended to “honor Him” (Matthew 2:2, NIV). Honoring God requires only love (Mark 12:30-31), service (Matthew 20:26-27) and commitment (1 Kings 8:61).
Challenge: The most important gift that we can offer to build our relationship with God and each other, is “time.” Rick Warren, pastor and author, says:
“Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time.”
Using the top 25 biggest stresses at Christmas, identify the stressors related to celebrating Christmas you may be experiencing. Discuss these with your loved ones and develop a plan or set of actions you can all commit to that will lead to the joy and fulfillment (eustress) that may be missing. You can search for ideas like those found in 21 Gifts of Time for Giving Quality Time.