Advent draws to a close. We approach Christmas with eager anticipation. Our hearts draw nearer to the Christ Child, as we move closer to that moment in the manger.
It occurred to me recently, that we experience this same anticipation as we join the Communion line and approach the Eucharist. Do we remember that we are approaching Christ? We are the shepherds in the fields~ we have been asked to come and see Him, adore Him, worship Him. The church isle becomes the field with a path leading to the manger. The lamb lies there; the unblemished, perfect sacrifice. Born in Bethlehem, the "house of bread." He waits daily for us to visit Him.
Each time we approach the Eucharist, we approach the Christ Child in the manger. We approach Christmas.
Image from : freeimages.com/DebbieSchiel
Over the Christmas Holiday Season, you may be traveling to grandmother's house or somewhere else... you pile the kids into the 15 passenger van and away you go! Here are some tips by our guest blogger (and my beautiful, middle daughter) to help you survive.
Your parents have just told you that they are taking you and all five of your siblings to Myrtle Beach. You’re ecstatic! You start picking out clothes, planning what sites you’re going to see, and shopping for a new bathing suit. You’re so excited you’ve completely blown over the fact that you are driving there… from upstate New York… a fourteen hour car ride (assuming traffic runs smoothly). This wouldn’t be too bad if it was just you, your parents, and one other sibling in an SUV, but it’s not. It is in fact you, your five siblings, and two parents all in one Saturn. How will you survive? This process will teach you just that in five easy steps.
Step 1: Prepare for the noise.
With eight people stuck together in one car for a minimum of fourteen hours there is bound to be noise. Of course there will be periods where everyone (except the driver) are sleeping, but one can only sleep in a car, uncomfortable, in the middle of the day for so long. Eventually, they will all wake up. Some are hungry and complain endlessly as if they were starving, moaning at every restaurant you pass. Others are just plain tired of sleeping and now to keep themselves occupied, want to have deep philosophical discussions on topics they know will cause an uproar of debate. This is inevitable but there are things you can do to keep some sort of sanity amidst the chaos. For instance, unless you are willing to tuck and roll out of a vehicle moving seventy miles per hour on the highway, there is no escape; so, create one. A pair of headphones and a playlist go a long way in blocking out the noise around you and providing some peace and quiet. If you’re anything like me though, you’ll soon grow bored and frustrated listening to the same twenty songs over and over again. In my experience, it works best to create several different playlist. Also, make a playlists for each need. For example, make one for falling asleep to, one to wake you up, and one to drown out the background noise. For this to work, it is highly important to make sure your electronic device is fully charged before leaving. In addition, bring a charger so you will also be prepared for the car ride back home.
Moreover, bring a portable DVD device (Cell phones will also work, but be aware that this will drain your battery and use up data). Pick out several different movies in several different genres. Some should be ones that you and several other siblings can agree on to avoid fighting (which would be counterproductive). However, I always bring some DVDs that only I only I like in hopes that the other siblings will not want to watch it and grant me some alone time. At least, as alone as you can get in a tightly packed car filled with your entire family and all their luggage. Again, bring a charger so you will be prepared for the ride home. If you wish to take it a step further and ensure more peace and tranquility, bring more than one portable DVD player.
Step 2: Pack light.
I know it’s hard to limit yourself on how much you can bring when going to a new and exciting place, but it will be worth it. The first time my family and I drove to vacation I used a suitcase half the size of myself. I filled it to the brim and practically had to sit on it to get it to close but within an hour of driving I quickly regretted my decision. With mountain sized luggage behind me, moving my seat back to get comfortable was not an option. Also, consider that every other sibling will share this excitement and tendency to over pack and the more stuff, the less room. If you pack lightly you may inspire other siblings to do the same but even if you don’t, every bit of extra room helps. Trust me!
Step 3: Try to make yourself as comfortable as possible, but expect to be uncomfortable.
It’s best to go into it with low expectations for level of comfortability. That way you are pleasantly surprised when you are comfortable. Most likely, however, you’ll be squished like a pancake either, between two siblings with one undoubtedly falling asleep on you, or pinned between the door and another sibling. Being young and/or short may or may not work to your advantage. On one hand, being smaller means you may have more room to yourself because you don’t take up as much room. On the other hand, you don’t take up very much room and are therefore placed in the back so the older and taller siblings have room to spread their legs. Which inevitably means pushing their seat back as far as it can go until your knees are in your rib cage.
It is highly advised that comfortable clothing such as sweatpants, shorts, t-shirts, and/or hoodies be worn. This will help you feel less constricted and stop you from becoming claustrophobic which is easy to do when you’re packed together like sardines. Also necessary is a car pillow. Over the years I’ve learned that regular pillows take up too much room but a car pillow will help you sleep in awkward positions that otherwise may cause neck aches.
Step 4: Bring snacks, snacks, and more snacks.
Being a part of a large family means that regular meals become very expensive. As a result, stops made for food will be limited unless necessary and when you do stop, it will be some sort of fast food chain, most likely McDonalds. Sure McDonalds is great when you’re a kid and it’s a treat, but it’s remarkably less appetizing when you’re a teenager and have no choice. Therefore, bring a hefty amount of snacks. Half of them should be high in protein for energy, since long car rides often leaves travelers feeling groggy and not quite with it. For the other half, allow yourself to splurge a bit. Pick a snack or treat that you love, even if it is on the unhealthy side, but leave it for the last trek of the drive. Now, you will have something to look forward to and a reward for all you have endured the last twelve plus hours. In addition to your snacks, bring a barf bag. Not all siblings can handle their McDonalds and the last thing you want is to be stuck in a car that smells like your little brother’s thrown up chicken nuggets for half a day.
Step 5: Only get out of the car if necessary.
Eight different people means eight different bladders which results in at least one bathroom stop per every two hours. The question is whether or not to get out. If it’s an emergency or you don’t believe you can hold it for another two hours, go to the bathroom. There’s no need to relive those old childhood days of trying to explain to your parents why your pants are wet. It’s also an excuse to stretch your legs. If it’s not urgent and waiting isn’t a problem, stay in the car. If every single person gets out every single time you stop, the driving time will easily double.
Step 6: Take advantage of this time together.
How often do you get a chance to spend this much time with your family? In large families, everybody is constantly running in different directions. Sometimes, days past before you even have a chance to sit down and talk with one sibling or another. You may think that fourteen hours is too much together time and start to grow annoyed with each passing hour. However, this is a unique opportunity to do nothing but talk with your family. Find out how life has been going, what’s new? Are they struggling with something, but felt like they haven’t had the time to really sit down and talk? In my family, some of our greatest moments of understanding one another have happened on long car rides. On one particular occasion, my brother had been really struggling with his relationship with our parents. They couldn’t seem to get on the same page and felt like they were starting to drift apart. After talking, and more importantly listening, through the whole state of Pennsylvania, common ground had finally been found and the three of them felt reunited at last.
Perhaps you don’t have any major things to discuss and just simply miss each other? You see each other every day, but maybe it’s been a while since you spent any real quality time together. For once, no one has anywhere else to be or anything else to do so take advantage of it. They may be crazy, but they’re family and chances are, you’re a little crazy too. Enjoy the friendly chaos! Driving doesn’t have to be the worst part of your vacation.
Congratulations! You are now prepared to survive a long car ride in a large family. Refer back to these steps if at any point you become overwhelmed. Remember, patience is key. If you can remain calm and keep in mind these five steps you will certainly survive the long haul.
Darya is a 20 year old nursing student at GCC and the (smack-in-the-middle) child out of seven siblings.
Ah, Christmas…. I have beautiful visions of how we will all be in church, angels will sing, my kids will behave perfectly….yeah, right. My family thinks that they wake up magically on Christmas morning and everything is done. You know, Santa and the elves did it all. They even bought the groceries and cleaned the house, well, not so much. By the time Christmas rolls around I am usually exhausted and stressed to the max!
This time of year is a good time to remind ourselves of effective stress-busting strategies.
1. What does the Lord say about stress? Scripture tells us, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Psalm 55:22 “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.” Phil. 4:6 “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” 1Peter 5:7 “Banish anxiety from your mind, and put away pain from your body.” Eccl. 11:10
2. Action helps overcome stress. When I studied the lives of saints, a common thread became apparent to me. The saints put their stress to work for them. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton started a school after losing her husband and daughter. St. Catherine Laboure devoted herself to care of the elderly in hospice after she suffered the ridicule of her superiors.
I developed an acronym to help me remember to do the same:
Assess: Look at what is stressing me out. Perhaps keeping a journal of when I am most stressed and why would help.
Confess: Is my stress causing me to fall into sin? Am I standing in my own way to God’s grace?
Transcend: Overcome the stress by focusing on the Sacraments, working on virtues and getting into action (either directly by trying to solve the problem or indirectly by service to others).
For me, dealing with Christmas stress means trying to get to daily Mass and Confession a little more frequently and making a calendar to handle all the tasks I need to get done. It is not the work that overwhelms me, it is worrying that I won’t get it all done. If I know I have a plan I can relax and enjoy the season a little more. Ya know, they really do look cute all lined up at church and behaving (well sort of). God bless.
The holidays... joy, love, peace~ not always. It's easy to get caught up in the busyness of the Christmas preparations and lose our way in a sea of stress. So much to do. So little time, especially this year when the four Sundays of Advent happen in three weeks! Add to that family stressors, difficult discussions at gatherings and it can be overwhelming.
So what are we to do?
First, breathe. This will pass. Think ahead to the middle of January when things will be quiet again and even a little boring.
Second, be grateful. Try to reframe your thinking. Instead of dreading that difficult family gathering, remember that this could be the "last" time for some of you there. How would you feel if you maintained a bad attitude and that was your last memory of all your family together?
Third, set boundaries. It is okay to change things and not do things that no longer make sense for you or your family (economically or emotionally). Consider a no gift rule, limit the time of a gathering, skip Christmas cards... do whatever you can to let go of things that make the holiday season stressful. This year, we asked our kids to choose the things they enjoyed the most about Christmas and we tried to find a way to do those things. Planning is key in avoiding stress. I send out a master schedule to all our children and they attend the things they are able to attend. It is as simple as that. If they don't show to something, although I might be a little disappointed, but I make a conscious decision ahead of time not to get upset.
Fourth, consider theme or group gifts. Gift giving has (in my opinion) gotten out of control. This year we decided no gifts for extended family except homemade ones (and that is only if you want to). Consider buying theme gifts, t-shirts for everyone, low budget DVDs given with hot cocoa and popcorn etc. It makes shopping less expensive and much less stressful.
Last, but most importantly, remember what the season is about! Advent is a penitential season of the Church. We try to pray more, get to confession at least once and immerse ourselves in the experience of anticipation of Christ's coming. It is a good reminder to be "waiting" for the second coming of Christ eagerly. We are Advent people!
Other articles on Christmas and Christmas Stress!