The run-up to Christmas seems to begin earlier each year and, this year especially, many people are keen to connect with family and those important to them.

Gifts have become less important as celebrating important relationships, decorating the tree and house reminds many families of the more traditional values of love, warmth and sharing.

Interestingly, in the USA more people go home for Thanksgiving than for Christmas, and yet no gifts are exchanged.

The day is all about sharing a meal with family, reconnecting and spending time together.

For us Christmas, this year is likely to reflect many of those values.

Here are some ways to manage the stress of Christmas and make for a happier family time. 

Presents. 

A recent survey found that a third of families can take up to three years to repay the expense incurred at Christmas.

This year the pressure to buy great presents, especially for children, can cause a seriously constrained family budget to buckle under the strain.

Giving children experiences, time together, days out, crafts, games, nature trails, rather than actual presents can be a great way to ease some of the financial burdens and help manage the stress of Christmas.

Do you remember retailer Ikea interviewing a group of children and asking them to write two letters, one to Father Christmas, containing their usual gift requests and the second to their parents saying what they wanted from them?

When asked which letter they would send if allowed only one, every child chose the one to their parents, requesting more time together!

Friends are often relieved when a member of their group suggests a small price limit per gift, a secret Santa or a bran tub, where each person chooses one gift each.

Shopping local at craft fairs, markets and in independent shops often means that unique special gifts can be found which have no discernible price tag, helping to ease the financial stress of Christmas.

Christmas cards.

Many people have stopped sending cards, preferring instead to send ecards and a promise to donate the money to their favourite charity.

But Christmas cards may be one of the few times that elderly people receive something other than a circular or bill through their door and can be a useful way to remind clients and customers that you’re still around.

Don’t discount the role of an attractive, hand-written Christmas card.

In fact, this year greetings cards have had a resurgence of popularity, with many people valuing them as a thoughtful way to keep in touch.

Royal Mail have hired an additional 33000 staff in anticipation of the extra post they’re looking to deliver.

Food. 

This year may be somewhat different, with smaller gatherings anticipated, but meals and over-indulgence will no doubt still be a significant part of Christmas celebrations, with long periods spent indoors, dozing in front of the television, grazing on chocolates and snacks whilst awaiting the next meal.

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Why not ease some of the food stress by preparing a few ‘ordinary’ meals in advance. A hotpot supper, casserole or meat & potato pie with all the trimmings is often well received after days of rich creamy dinners.

Or a hot soup with crusty bread can be very welcome after a bracing walk in the park or an energetic game of rounders or football.

Source Free Entertainment.

Invest some time in finding out if there are going to be entertainments on offer locally.

Carol services, church openings, local fairs and exhibitions at galleries and museums may be available to be accessed for little or no cost but may need to be booked in advance.

Quiz nights, singalongs and party nights may be a great way to stay connected online with absent family and friends.

Plan walks, treasure hunts or games so that people have the motivation to leave the house, burn off a little energy and breathe some fresh air. It gives you a break too.

Chores. 

If you’re able to have some house guests give everyone an area of responsibility and get everyone involved.

Children can set the table, plan a few games. In-laws may be flattered to be asked to bring their signature dish, to help prepare vegetables, make the Christmas cake or trifle.

Be sure to allow a little ‘me’ time for yourself, time for a bath or a thirty-minute interlude so that you and your partner can spend some time together. Record your favourite television programmes to watch when you’re free.

Alone over Christmas.

Not everyone spends Christmas with family or friends and it can a lonely time, especially if it’s the first one on your own.

This year may be especially testing if everyone else seems to be meeting their families and having a special time, able to be together.

A little forethought can make your Christmas Day more pleasant.

Organise your favourite meals, a small bottle of fizz, your viewing, some quality reading. Decide to do the things that you enjoy.

Say ‘yes’ if a neighbour invites you round for a festive sherry or alternatively invite them to yours.

Remember, Christmas is technically only one day, so you don’t have to amuse yourself for too long. You can go for a walk, maybe go people-watching on Boxing Day, have a coffee and smile in the knowledge that your home is peaceful and tidy!

Many charities need additional help over the holidays. Hostels, soup kitchens for the homeless, animal shelters are often short-staffed so you could volunteer and join a team of lovely helpers in doing good work.

Share in the season of goodwill with other genuine people. A little planning can make all the difference to your managing the stress of Christmas and having a happy, fulfilling time.

Susan Leigh is a long established counsellor, hypnotherapist, writer and media contributor, www.lifestyletherapy.net