The Christmas Effect
Question: I am a poor planner and I end up overspending during Christmas. This inevitably leads to a bunch of credit card debt I wasn’t expecting, which totally bums me out. I can already feel myself going into a downward spiral. How do I break this cycle?
Answer: Your answer may not be in your wallet.
When I was a child, the lowest part of the year came about 4 pm on Christmas Day. The presents had all been unwrapped, all the grandparents and cousins who were going to come over had arrived and there was just nothing else to look forward to. The emotional elation of anticipation had evaporated. Nothing had gone wrong. It was all just…over.
I call this emotional letdown The Christmas Effect because it involves both the hyped build-up to The Day with the humble reality that follows.
Christmas is a really big deal on many, many different levels. I can think of at least seven. See how these seven, in varying combinations, might be impacting you.
Economically. Retailers count on Christmas for as much as 30% of their total sales for the year. No wonder they hit us with their best advertising during Christmas. If you are like most people and buy gifts out of a combination of generosity and guilt, you’ll likely spend more than you wished and have the credit card bills to prove it.
Socially. Christmas is nearly universally accepted and practiced in our country. It’s not as if you can just “opt out.” It didn’t work for Luther and Nora in Christmas with the Kranks and it won’t work for you.
Physically. And most of us don’t even try to opt out. In fact, we’ve opted-in to such a degree that Christmas feels less like a holiday and more like a speedway. We go-go-go, telling ourselves it is “for the family.” But all that go-go-go results in an exhaustion-induced need for rest-rest-rest.
Mentally. Even intellectually, we anticipate a reduction in stress, only to find that deadlines and expectations (both of which are usually self-imposed) create more stress than ever.
Relationally. Have you noticed how many commercials about Christmas involve scenes of families reuniting after a long absence? The holidays are a time when America “goes home.” But we often discover that proximity reveals relational fault lines that distance may have kept hidden. That too can be stressful.
Emotionally. Nostalgia is the skill of remembering things that never happened…or at least remembering them with a decidedly rosy tint. Nostalgic anticipation is looking forward to something being as good as it was….back then. When reality arrives, it can be disappointing. Result: more stress.
Spiritually. Christmas is, at least in its origin, a spiritual holiday. It celebrates God’s entrance into humanity to solve man’s deepest problem with God’s most expensive gift. We can respect that different people have different beliefs about this, but those differences need not silence the basic need most people feel for some kind of spiritual fulfillment. This season can bring that thirst onto the center stage of our hearts as if an unrealized grief had suddenly been unveiled. That too is stressful.
I believe this list is ordered just about right, with the first few being symptoms of the underlying issues at the bottom of the list. Economic, physical and mental symptoms arise out of pain and stress at the relational, emotional and spiritual levels of our lives.
Perhaps at least some of the solution for The Christmas Effect at the economic level is really found in the emotional and spiritual solutions offered 2000 years ago.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.”
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