Holidays are stressful for many of us. Christmas films and specials have picked up on that for years. Nearly every holiday special involves some major feuding, chaotic, family mess. Think of just a few holiday films and you’ll see it: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Christmas with the Kranks, Jingle All The Way; A Christmas Story, and the latest addition Four Christmases. Okay, so I know this isn’t any real news flash, but it’s important to pause and give some thought to this reality. Why is it that Christmas can be so stressful for so many? Part of it, I believe, is related to the cultural expectations we have from this holiday.

For many people Christmas is one of the most important days of the whole year. This means that for some it has to be “perfect” and much of what we see and feel around this time of year perpetuates this idea. The family has to all be present, the gifts have to be just what everyone wanted (and there have to be plenty of them), the meal has to be spectacular, and the whole day needs to be ripe with fun, food, and… perfection. Commercials can really promote this idea by suggesting that every new item is exactly what you need to make your family as perfectly happy as the one on the ad. So we spend tons of money we don’t have, spend countless hours stressing over every detail and expect the miraculous and unrealistic to happen.

What do we expect? We expect everyone to be truly thankful for one another and the work that we do for them. We expect the holiday to restore our family to the “good ol days” or to bring about a renewed love and affection for one another. We expect to be happier after we get everything we want for Christmas. There are probably countless other expectations but those appear to be the primary ones. So how can we avoid this depression and the fighting and the chaos that can sometimes follow the “failed” Christmas? Let me suggest three things.

1) Have Realistic Expectations
Christmas can’t save your family, can’t bring you ultimate happiness, and most likely won’t suddenly engender gratefulness that isn’t already in hearts. Let the holiday be what it is and enjoy it, but don’t put so much pressure on yourself to create and to have a “perfect” time.

2) Get to the root of your Problem
If your expectations are unrealistic it probably means there is something deeper in your heart that needs to be addressed. Most often our unrealistic expectations are a result of our assumption that we “deserve” something. “I deserve to have this gift,” “I deserve to be recognized,” “I deserve to have a perfect family,” etc. But the reality is we don’t deserve anything, God graces us with gifts and we are to receive them that way.

3) Embrace the Cliche
Jesus is the reason for the season (if you are a Christian). When we remember and actually strive to make the gospel central to our holiday season then we will be less inclined to view Christmas through a self-centered lens, which will make us less likely to turn to fighting and bickering when the holiday doesn’t go exactly as planned.

So enjoy the holiday and make the most of it. It can be a “magical” time of the year. But remember Christmas can’t save you, your family, or you messy life. Thankfully, however, the one whom Christians celebrate during this season can!