Maria Brophy


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How to Have a Joyous Stress Free Holiday

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“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”  Burton Hills

We allow so many pressures on ourselves during the holiday season.  We are expected to be like everyone else: to attend all of the parties and gatherings, to bake cookies, to buy gifts for everyone in our life, to spend money we just can’t afford to spend.  We jump through hoops to please everyone.

I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be like this.  You can have a very joyous, stress-free holiday.  Your friends will be envious, and they will want to know why you aren’t wigging out like they are.  “You look so calm” they’ll say!

Here’s the secret to a Stress-Free Holiday:

Stop doing what stresses you out.  Stop doing what causes you to worry.  Start doing what brings you joy.  

A friend came by yesterday; her son was playing with my son, Dylan.  She said “Oh, I forgot to ask you what I should get Dylan for Christmas!”

And there it was; that uncomfortable moment that I go through every year.  It’s the moment where I have to break the news to someone that I’m just not that kind of girl.

I don’t do gift exchanges.”  The rehearsed lines came out smoothly, though I still felt the awkwardness of the possibility of being judged for being “different.”

Years ago, I changed my approach to Christmas so that I could have a peaceful holiday.  One important change was that I stopped exchanging gifts with everyone except my husband and my son.

I don’t exchange gifts with my best friend Bridget, or my lovely sisters, not even my mother.

Here’s why:  The thought of shopping during Christmas season gives me hives.  I’m itching right now just thinking about the noisy, packed malls and money spent on useless items.

Christmas used to be a dreaded season in my earlier life.  First, there was the corporate gift exchange (back when I had a real job).  Then, I had to shop for my family who was far away in Maryland.  Once I got the gifts, I had to box and then ship them, waiting in long lines at the Post Office.

Like most people, I felt the pressure to remember to get a gift for every acquaintance in my life; the preschool teacher, the neighbor, the friend of a friend.

I found myself dreading the Christmas season.  It was just too much to handle.

One year I got so fed up I said NO MORE!  I decided to put an end to the madness.  I began by telling everyone I knew that I was giving up gift-giving.

There was resistance.  I was accused of being a Scrooge.  Some friends told me I was selfish, that gift-giving is a joyful thing.  But I quickly learned how happy I could be without the stress of shopping and going into debt.

And now, years later, the people in my life accept it.  They finally got used to it.  And maybe it took some pressure off of them, too.

Sometimes people still get me gifts, and when they do, I politely accept it and say “thank you.”

I never get stressed at Christmas time anymore.  Now, it’s my favorite holiday and I look forward to it and it’s the most fun I have all year!

Here are a few tips for you to have a truly joyful Christmas Season:

CUT BACK ON GIFT GIVING:  Start small this year (and cut back more each year); begin by only buying gifts for your family and telling everyone else that you aren’t exchanging gifts this year.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has a great article on why he stopped exchanging gifts called The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents.

I’m not advocating cutting out gift-giving completely; just pare it down to a manageable, and ENJOYABLE process.  Look, if you aren’t enjoying it, then should you be doing it?!  Do you really have to buy the daughter of the Aunt of the preschool teacher a gift every year?  I mean, come on!  Take it easy on your time and your wallet!

SECRET SANTA – One way to get your family to help in this process of cutting back on buying too much for too many:  Ask them to do a “Secret Santa” every year.  This is where you put all the names of the family in a hat, and each person picks one name of one person they will buy for.  This way, you are buying one very nice, special gift for one person, rather than a bunch of stuff for everyone in the family.   My in-laws do this every year and it’s great fun.

ONLY GO TO PARTIES THAT WILL BE FUN FOR YOU:  So you’ve been invited to a dozen parties, some of which are being thrown by family members that you don’t even like.  Don’t go.  Opt out of the events that won’t be joyful for you.  You won’t be doing anyone a favor by showing up and then being unhappy.  Suddenly be busy, politely back out.  You can’t waste your life doing things that are supposed to be fun, but aren’t.

STOP BEING SO PERFECT!  You don’t have to be perfect.  Just because someone else expects you to be the best gift-giver (some husbands feel this immense pressure), that’s that person’s own deal.   Or your best friend is a great baker of Christmas cookies and you aren’t.  Do what you do best, whatever that is.  You are already perfect just as you are.  Release the need to be something you’re not.

DROP THE “HAVE TO” and FOCUS ON JOY:  Do what brings you joy.  Don’t do what’s expected by others.  If you are married and both sets of in-laws are demanding your time on Christmas, and you and your spouse really just want to go hiking or surfing on Christmas, than do what will make you happy!  Your family will have to accept who you and eventually, they will respect that.    Make time for them later, or a day earlier if need be.  But don’t spend your entire Christmas day driving from family to family, exhausting yourself along the way.

GIVE THANKS:  Be thankful for all the wonderful things in your life.  If you love where you live, embrace that.  If you are lucky enough to have a special someone to love, appreciate that.  If you have a lot of friends that are good to you, thank them for that.  Look around at what you have and love it, enjoy it, be thankful for it.  Feel  joy and appreciation; these feelings are the cornerstone to a beautiful holiday and a happy life.

GIVE:  Instead of buying a bunch of gifts for acquaintances, give to the truly needy.  There are loads of homeless children that will never see Santa this year.  Find your local church or organization that gives to these children, and donate.  Or volunteer at a local soup kitchen.  These are acts that will give greater joy than buying your neighbor another box of chocolates.

LIGHTEN UP!  Not only should others lighten up on you, but you should, too.  Give them a break, those people in your life who aren’t living up to YOUR expectations.  Give them more love, understanding and forgiveness.  Allow them to be who they are.  Your life will be much easier when you take  this approach.

You have the freedom to enjoy your holiday any way that you want.  Break free of the expectations of others, and find joy in your own way.  Be happy.

For me, I will be at the beach on Christmas day. That’s been mine and Drew’s tradition for many years.  Praying for surf…

I wish you a joyful season.  Give love, lighten up on yourself and others!

And spread peace.


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6 Comments How to Have a Joyous Stress Free Holiday

  1. Maria

    And yet another reason why you’re so awesome. Being a kind, generous and giving soul has nothing to do with how much *stuff* you buy someone else…and this post proves it! Thanks for this and for being your amazing self. Merry Happy Holidays!

    -another Maria :o)

  2. Sari Grove

    Me too…I pulled out of the whole crazy season over a decade ago…I think there was something about the lack of serendipity…I like to give unexpectedly…The German word “Weltschmerz” means the pain of the world not aligning with your own ideas of how it should be…My ideas of Christmas were pure & snow filled, & it pained me that the reality seemed so contradictory…When I converted to Christianity at the age of 21, I lost the affections of some of my family tribe…But I have still been showing up to the holiday parties celebrating the wrong religion-some misguided sense of duty…Thanks for setting me free a bit here- why am I still going, to be hurt? We will be feeding Trumpeter swans(wild bird seed) at the beach here, they were released into the wild in 2007 & don’t know how to migrate from the cold…Merry Christmas Brophys!

    1. Maria Brophy

      Sari, I love how you put it: “I like to give unexpectedly” – me too! Often, if I see something that I just KNOW someone I care about will love, I’ll buy it. I don’t need to do it when the rest of the world does.

      As Oscar Wilde once said “Everything popular is wrong.” !

  3. Archan Mehta

    Long time, no see, Maria. How’s it going?

    Ah, glad to know you dropped out of the rat race during Christmas.

    People will say:”It is the thought behind the gift that really counts,” but then they will judge you by the size of your bank balance and how much money you have spent on buying that oh, so expensive gift.

    And then they will brag about your gift at socials and other events. This is so predictably by now–it ain’t even funny anymore.

    I joined your club a long time ago, but you already know that for sure.

    This new year, I am thinking of you and your wonderful family. Let me take this opportunity to shower all of you with love and affection: kisses, hugs and good cheer to all of your dear people.

    May the new year shine for you like a star in the sky. That star is you.

    In my imagination, I am now sending you a cute teddy bear and rabbit
    to snuggle up with when you feel blue or life treats you unkindly.

    Hope all your dreams come true this new year. Cheers to your life.


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