Was it fun to get the Christmas lights down from the attic this year? Any chance your merry preparations were slowed by the tedious project of undoing all those wires that magically get all tangled up somehow between January and the end of November?

Like festive decorating plans doused by spindly coils, sometimes holiday cheer can come with irritating complications. Relationships are snarled, dreamy expectations go trounced upon, and tight scheduling becomes more about “getting through it” than enjoying fellowship. Now, you try to remind yourself again, what in all this was worth looking forward to?

While celebrating life and meaning should be a functional goal all year ’round, intensifying efforts at times like Christmas serves a great purpose. It gives space for emphasizing important values. Any kind of ceremony or celebration gives a boost of momentum to keep significant things truly significant.

So on one hand you’re armed with ample rationale for celebrating, but on the other hand you’re faced with the reality that things can get out of hand. During the holidays all the music, ornamentation, and cultural attention shifts to reinforce peace, joy, and other hard-to-really-enjoy sentimentalities. How does something that was supposed to apply special focus cause you to lose focus?

There must be something you can do about this. You can avoid replacing happiness with busy-ness, family warmth with misunderstandings, and spirited generosity with looming debt. Here are some suggestions to untangle Christmas:

Inventory your faith. At its core Christmas is a religious festival, and it may be time for you to reevaluate what and why you celebrate. Attune yourself to the relevance of the Christ-child and the Creator who sent Him.

Beware of fantasy. The holiday season represents an intriguing showcase for heightened anticipation of certain types of experiences. The tree properly overflowing with glossily-wrapped parcels, engaging camaraderie over exquisite gourmet cooking, even romance by an open fire. Expectations may stem from wonderful past activities, or what you feel should have been past activities that you missed out on. Either way, be careful to not pressure yourself into idyllic goals that aren’t realistic.

Simplify. Just because you went all-out last year doesn’t mean you have to outdo yourself this year. You don’t have to do it at all, for that matter. Choose your traditions wisely. Don’t be afraid to cut one of the trips if you have to, or to keep some of the decorations packed away for rotation next year.

Create memories, not empty attempts. The substance of your homespun memories is what you actually did or the act of kindness someone showed. Set yourself and your family up for trying new things or sharing traditions together, and then just relax and see what happens. Don’t be so desperate to “make a memory” that you try too hard and end up with regret instead.

Reflect. Examine what you really find valuable about the Christmas season. Tidings of comfort and joy may saturate the carols, but discover what it means to you personally. This will lead to transactions that are much more peaceful and fulfilling than the hectic demands the culture imposes on you.

Spend less. While holiday gift rituals highlight the virtues of giving and kindness, sometimes they are enshrouded by less noble qualities like materialism and commercialism. Don’t get caught up in the modern-day myth that belongings equate to contentment. And be honest with yourself in your celebration planning as to whether the December frills indeed merit the January bills.

Focus on the best in relationships. Family conflict can be tough, and as difficult as the task may be, try to keep Christmas grounded on what you love. Seek a special way to bring you closer to someone. Surprise a friend with something meaningful.

As the “season” progresses, take care to enjoy and maintain a clear view. Untangle the trappings. And consider the mess you had to sort through before hastily returning the lights to their attic storage. Merry Christmas!

Written by Robert Laib, L. P. C.