A stress-free Christmas – how to plan it properly and not go crazy

Which Christmas scenario do you prefer?

You look at your loved ones and see smiles and gratitude. The preparations went well – you shared your tasks fairly and helped each other out. And you still have some time left for fun and a moment of leisure. Now, after a delicious dinner, you bite into a piece of cake. You eat it without hurry, a morsel at a time. Your mind is free of any worrying thoughts. An evening of meaning, warmth and internal peace awaits you. All of you are focused on that which is most Important. Can the Christmas holidays really be like this?

Unfortunately, what I usually hear is that there’s a load of tasks to be done. As usual, there’s not much time. My family shouts at each other, all stressed to make sure that everything is done on time. After a heavy slog – cleaning, cooking and preparing – no one in my family shows any gratitude. Everyone has worked hard to ensure a pleasant atmosphere, but the air seems to be filled with tension and stress. And when Christmas is finally over, it appears that the only thing which it leaves us with is a mountain of food, a heavy stomach and a feeling of languor. Luckily, in a few days, we’ll make some New Year’s resolutions about dieting and physical exercise!

Why does this happen?

I remember our trip to Italy for an extended vacation. We left just a bit too late. I thought that since there were many highways along the way, I would easily make up for lost time. Unfortunately, in Austria we got ourselves stuck in a traffic jam, and this looked to increase our delay by a further hour. I became irritated. My wife didn’t say anything, just in case. I started having anxious thoughts, wondering why we hadn’t left earlier. I felt the urge to bypass the jam, somehow, even though I could see that this was impossible.

And so I returned to the question that I had asked myself before we left: What are the 3 most important things for me on this holiday? I was going away for nearly three weeks to rest both physically and mentally, to see beautiful and inspiring places, and to get closer with my wife. These 3 things were the priorities. At that very moment, while standing in the traffic jam and feeling a rising anger, I became aware that I could do 2 or 3 of those things in the car. I wouldn’t be able to see any beautiful sights while being stuck in traffic, but I could rest and get closer to my wife, couldn’t I? Of course, I could! So we started to sing and talk, and the jam disappeared a lot quicker than I had thought it would. My wife was surprised that I hadn’t flared up!

From that time on I’ve observed the very same mechanism many times: when we’re too focused on individual tasks and on how to best carry them out, we lose sight of the whole and, in consequence, our objective is not attained. When we forget that the aim is to get closer to each other, we start quarreling about individual tasks, about leaving too late, or about dirty dishes.

Why do we need Christmas?

Many people write down lists of tasks that they have to do before Christmas. Although I do recommend this approach, it isn’t enough by itself! Lists will bring order to your actions. You will see how work progresses. And they will make it easier to divide tasks among your family. Lists will give you a sense of control and security.

But the problem is that having a good Christmas does not consist in doing everything that there is to be done. You can do everything according to plan and still have the worst Christmas of your life. That’s why when we do a task, we must be aware of WHY we are doing it.

What can you do?

Just try to answer a simple question: What for you are the three most important things associated with the coming Christmas? How will you be able to tell whether this Christmas has been successful?


Make a short list, and place it where you keep your list of tasks. In this way, any delays or problems with doing certain tasks will not be so damaging overall. One simple change in thinking will help you relax, just like it did for me once on an Austrian highway, and change an hour of frustration into a joint sing-song.

How should you apply this in your family?

Today, you can give your family some simple homework – let them think for a bit and come back with an answer to the question posed above: What for you are the three most important things associated with the coming Christmas? How will you be able to tell whether this Christmas has been successful?
If they reply honestly, you’ll probably not get answers like “it’ll be clean”, “there’ll be a lot of food”, or “everything will go according to plan”.

Although statements such as the following will definitely appear: “by the end of Christmas we’ll all be relaxed”, “we’ll spend quality time with people whom we haven’t seen in quite a while”, “the atmosphere will be joyous”, “we’ll sing Christmas carols”, “we’ll stop for a while and search for the deeper meaning of Christmas”, “we’ll give each other presents and lots of smiles”, or even “we’ll finally get enough sleep!”.

But the best thing is that answers such as these may well generate fresh, high-quality questions. For example: “tell us your definition of pleasantly spent time?” or “how will we be able to see that you’re relaxed?”, or “what could we do to search for meaning?”.

What are the possible scenarios?

As with my journey along the Austrian highways, certain tasks can go wrong. But you try to keep in mind what is most important and don’t allow yourself to get distracted.

If you burn a cake and want to get angry or cry, you can take out your list and think whether the fact that you won’t have a cake will really get in the way of you having a good time? Will a burnt cake take warmth away from the atmosphere or prevent you from searching for meaning?

And it may well be that a pile of dishes in the sink will irritate you. But can a pile of dishes prevent you from stopping for a moment, or getting a good night’s sleep and resting?
If you give or receive a badly chosen present, things can get awkward. Make sure, however, that the awkwardness lasts only a while. Because can presents interfere with your celebration of Christmas? Or with singing or having a nice time with people whom you haven’t seen for some time?

When should we do this?

Since you’ve found a few minutes to read this article, it should be worth your while to find 3 minutes more and reply to the following questions NOW:

1. What for you are the three most important things associated with the coming Christmas?
2. How will you be able to tell whether this Christmas has been successful?

You can also send the same question to your family by text or e-mail, or talk about it when you meet. While running around doing the shopping, buying presents and cooking, always keep in mind what all this is for!

Piotr Nabielec, PRODUKTYWNI.PL
Piotr Nabielec
Piotr helps people organize chaos, stop procrastinating and find the time for hobby and dreams. For the last 3,5 years, he leads Produktywni.pl with online and offline courses, webinars and blog. Before that he spent 10 years as a software developer and manager in IT. He loves practical hints and solutions and is a fan of the Slow movement. TEDx speaker. As a hobby, he plays drums and guitar, travel and does various kind of sports.