Has Holiday Stress Become a Universal Tradition?

Holiday stress for working mum

Is holiday stress self-imposed? In both Europe and the US, celebrating the holidays requires extra work long before December 25 arrives.

Phew! I have spent the last several days worrying about Christmas presents and having nothing to put under the tree. Finally, my husband and I found time yesterday to sit down and talk about our Christmas plans. At the end of our discussion, we had a wonderful document summarizing gifts for our children, costs, and tasks. I spent the rest of the day scrolling and ordering presents on Amazon.

To be honest, I’ve noticed few differences between France, Germany, and the United States when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Of course, specific traditions do vary. Germans also celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6 (which I talked about last week in Cheaters? Why Germans Celebrate Christmas Twice), and many Americans start decorating their houses soon after Thanksgiving. But, during the weeks just before Christmas, I feel like everyone visits the mall at the same time, and both Germans and Americans buy presents at the very last minute.

When I entered “Christmas stress” in a Google search, I got over 65 million results. The same search in French (Noel stress) provided 38 million results and 95 million in German (Stress Adventszeit). “Last minute Christmas presents” got 25 million results. Yes, this festive season is a common source of stress for Americans, the French, and even more for the Germans (really? 95 million results for Christmas stress?)

Why are we so stressed during the holidays?

Christmas comes at the same time every freaking year, so why are we unable to start preparing ahead of time?

In my family, the dilemma starts with two different conceptions of time. My husband has some issues with time management, which can dramatically impact our lives. (We almost didn’t get married because he requested a divorce certificate too late!). Since he travels a lot for business, we both agreed that I’d be in charge of findings presents for the children on time. But, we could’ve strategized earlier this year.

As some of you know, I’m a working mom of five. Sometimes, I barely know where my head is, especially before Christmas; there are so many things to do and such limited time in which to do them. Even if I’m not looking for the “perfect” gifts, I don’t want to disappoint my children with last-minute presents. So yes, I know this holiday stress feeling!

This year, I started buying Christmas presents in November—a book for Jasmine, nail charms for Amélie, a construction box for Yann, a board game for Pauline. But, I hid them so well that, yesterday, I could only find half of them, and I’ve already forgotten what I bought. You may understand now why a Google Sheet is my savior when it comes to keeping track of Christmas tasks!

Of course, our blended family is another source of stress at Christmas: we have to be fair to each child, meeting some of their expectations and dealing with their feelings.

My stepchildren lost their mom last January, and this will be their first Christmas without her.

For my joined children with my husband, we’ve usually focused on spending Christmas with all the family.

For me, this year is about not feeling alone (since Jean spent last Christmas in Germany in the excruciating time before his ex passed away).

Plus, this is also Jasmine’s last Christmas before going to college in Montréal.

How can we avoid holiday stress?

I think stress itself has turned into a holiday tradition: running through the malls, buying and decorating a Christmas tree, wrapping presents, and organizing the family celebration is a lot to manage on top of daily life. But, how could we avoid this stress?

For a start, we could try lowering our expectations of ourselves; at least, that’s why I try to do.

Last weekend, my husband bought the Christmas tree, and the kids decorated it over the weekend. Usually, I wait until Monday to remove everything and start over. But, I didn’t this year. I just reorganized a few decorations and decided that our tree doesn’t have to be perfect.

Holiday stress Christmas tree

I don’t feel bad for sometimes shopping online as I also bought many presents in a wonderful little local shop. As for the gift cards I need, I will go to the mall in a couple of days and won’t order them online.

This year, I’m late with baking Christmas cookies, which is a huge tradition in Germany. But, I love it so much that I don’t mind spending hours in the kitchen in order to prepare and package at least 7 or 8 different types of cookies in small gift bags. I love to offer them to my dearest friends. I’ll bake some in the next few days. Yes, I’m late, and that’s okay.

Holiday stress baking

I haven’t thought at all about our Christmas cooking, I still have time, right? Christmas isn’t for another two weeks!

Spending Christmas with five kids means also managing the conflicts between them, and they just don’t stop for Christmas!

Letting go my romantic image of the perfect Christmas is probably the best way for me to be kind and patient with our pack of kids, pre-teen, and teens. This year, my husband suggested not exchanging gifts between the two of us. I’m not sure I like the idea, but at least I know not to expect anything from him!

Since I’m almost done with Christmas presents, I feel better and can fully enjoy our Advent crown, Christmas tree, and some holiday tea. Still, I have one enormous item remaining on my to-do list.

Jasmine will turn 18 on December 25. Next summer, my baby, my firstborn will leave home for college. Now, I need to find the perfect present for her birthday. Any ideas?

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  • As soon as I opened this blog, I saw the gently falling snow you had added to it. Loved it! Loved knowing the stress we Americans put ourselves through at this season is not just ours, but shared by MILLIONS of others! All the members of my family agreed about 15 years ago to stop exchanging gifts, except for the small children in the family. One reason we did this is that our parents were in second marriages and I had NINE siblings on one side and EIGHT on the other! Instead, we donate the money we would have spent on gifts to our favorite charitable cause in honor of our family, then we tell each other which organization we chose on their behalf. As for the idea for Jasmine’s very special gift…a ring with her birthstone, and have the ring engraved inside with a few loving words from her mom and the date.

    • What a wonderful idea! Any recommendation where to go in the area? I’m not aware of jewelry stores in the mall or in downtown.

  • Sending you some virtual support to get through the holiday season stress-free! For me, life in France means 0 holiday stress. We do Christmas with my husband’s parents and that’s it and don’t really do gifts. No work party, no one to buy for. Strangely easy… although I kind of like the holiday stress of Christmas back in the USA. It’s fun to shop and rush around sometimes and have places to be.

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