Dealing with Painful Feelings

Dec 16 – Dealing with Painful Feelings 

From Unplug the Christmas Machine – A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season by Jo Robinson and Jean Copppock Staeheli

For many of us, as we start thinking about the holidays, sad experiences; thoughts of disappointment and other, more intense feelings may arise. Christmas can be an especially painful time of year because we contrast our bleak reality with the wish for a warm and beautiful celebration.

One thing you might consider doing, if you aren’t already, is to share your concerns with someone you trust. Of course if you’re feeling really depressed, reach out to a professional.  Rev Sam can help you find someone and he is available to you for pastoral care. I can provide a compassionate, friendly ear; and you can talk to one of our Pastor Care Associates on Sunday mornings.

If your feelings are not too intense, maybe a friend or trusted family member would be willing to listen; they might be feeling the same way. Perhaps you feel like you have too much to do, too many people to see, too many gifts to give, too large a family, too many choices ; maybe a friend  is also feeling too sparse. Many of us have been lonely at Christmas. I remember the first year that Kevin and I lived out in the country. We had each other, of course, but I was sad that no one but us saw our Christmas tree. And the phone lines were down on Christmas Day, so I couldn’t call my family (back in the days before internet and cell phones). I couldn’t bear to watch my favorite Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” because it takes place an idealized small home town. And I didn’t watch it again for almost 20 years. I wish I had been able to reach out to friends are family at the time.

Of course, there are more life changing events in our lives that can make the season of joy a painful one. In experience of the authors of the book, the most difficult problems people face at Christmas tend to be a recent death;  a recent divorce; general loneliness; drug or alcohol abuse; and marriage difficulties. These tips I’ve gleaned from the book are not designed to solve serious. But if you’re ready, I hope that they will help you make simple changes in your family celebrations that make a positive difference. You might be able to better cope with loss and unhappiness through careful planning. For example, those of you mourning a recent death might create a family ceremony in memory of your loved one; recently divorced people often find solace in creating new traditions.

And if you’re in a good place right now, consider being attuned to those around you. Is there anyone who seems quieter than usual? Who in your circle has experienced a loss in the past year? They might appreciate a “how ya doin”?” text or call.


Dec 9 – Confronting the Culture of Gift Giving

From Unplug the Christmas Machine – A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season by Jo Robinson and Jean Copppock Staeheli

Gift giving around the holidays is fraught with negative aspects. In Unplug the Christmas Machine, the authors give examples they have heard from families; maybe some of these sound familiar. Mary people have problems with elaborate holiday gift giving for the simple reason that they can no longer afford it. Other people are unhappy with traditional holiday gift giving because exchanging typical consumer goods at Christmas or the holidays has little value to them. Finally, many Christians are unhappy with the fact that the spiritual message of Christ has to compete with the want-me, buy-me message of the merchants. For these reasons and more, many people want to simplify their holiday gift giving to bring it more into line with their resources, values and beliefs.

Unfortunately, when people contemplate cutting back on their gifts, they run into a set of hidden gift-giving rules set up by our culture. Read through these following ten axioms and see if they ring a bell.


  1. Give a gift to everyone you expect to get one from
  2. If someone gives you a gift unexpectedly, reciprocate that year.
  3. When you add a name to your gift list, give that person a gift every year thereafter.
  4. The amount of money you spend on a gift determines how much you care about the recipient.
  5. Fits exchanged between adults should be roughly equal in value.
  6. The presents you give someone should be family consistent in value over the years.
  7. If you give a gift to a person is one category (like a co-worker or neighbor) give a gift to o everyone in that category, and these gifts should be similar in value.
  8. Women should give gifts to their close women friends
  9. Men should not give gifts to their male friends – unless those gifts are alcoholic beverages
  10. Whenever the above rules cause you any difficulty, remedy the situation by buying more gifts.

Just being more aware of the gift-giving rules and how they further or frustrate the goals give many people the courage to do what they really feel is best.

Here’s an exercise from the book I invite you to try in your effort to choose gifts with love and sensitivity not with an eye to the rules.


  1. Imagine yourself in the following situations and check the ones that are most appealing to you.
    1. You open the mail one morning and discover that you have inherited one thousand dollars to spend on Christmas presents this year
    2. You are given two weeks of absolutely free time to devote to making Christmas gifts.
    3. Every member of your family is excited about exchanging simpler and less expensive gifts
    4. Everyone in the nation decides to eliminate gift giving from the celebration. There are not holiday advertising, no gift-giving obligations. People celebrate Christmas by joining with family and friends, by feasting and with family and community Christmas activities.
  2. Judging by your reactions to these imaginary situations, what changes, if any, would you like to make in your family gift giving?


Look at your list of people you usually exchange gifts with. Put a check mark by the name of any person who you think might welcome an invitation to look at gift-giving differently.

Here’s a list of 5 common gift-giving alternatives. Which might work for you? What might you add to this list? Leave a comment!

  1. Name drawing – put the family names in a hat and draw the name of one person to buy or make a gift for
  2. Trimming a few names – talk with the people you think might welcome an invitation not to exchange gifts
  3. Family gifts – give one gift per household instead of a gift for each separate individual
  4. Just the kids – keep giving presents to young children only
  5. Alternative gifts – give simple handmade gifts or gifts off service, or spend your money on a special trip or event together.




Dec 2 – Helping Children Enjoy the Holidays

From Unplug the Christmas Machine – A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season by Jo Robinson and Jean Copppock Staeheli

The Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas


  • A relaxed and loving time with the family


Ironically, many parents and caregivers find the holidays the most difficult to find time to spend with children because there are so many preparations, activities and events.  The balance between obligations and commitments – even fun ones, and “hanging out” time is difficult. Can you pay attention to your own needs and your children’s needs on a “moment-by-moment” basics? It takes presence of mind and flexibility. How important is it to make that batch of cookies for the swap? Consider making some long-range planning too. Would it make a good impact if you limited social engagements between mid-December and Jan 1 in favor of family time?


  • Realistic expectations about gifts


No one wants the weeks of anticipation to end in disappointment. And children are the prime targets of advertising because they are more persisitant about their wants than adults. Adults don’t generally throw temper tantrums in the store because their toy is out of stock. Try letting your child know that their family, not our consumeristic society, is in control. A good way to do this is to be explicit about the types of gifts your child will be receiving. “This year you’ll be getting 2 presents from me – a big one like the bike I gave you last year; and one smaller one like a board game or video”. Talk about how ads make a toy seem really inviting.


  • An evenly paced holiday season


Ideally children would like to participate in family activities a few weeks around Christmas Day – not months waiting for the event of present unwrapping that is over in a few minutes. Try reserving a few family traditions until just a few weeks before Christmas and then reserve a few favorite ways to add joy and meaning to the days after Christmas.



  • Reliable family traditions


Traditions give children something to look forward to year after year. You might already know that some things have to be done a certain way, according to your child, like what kind of tree topper you put up – a star? An angel? A bow?  Traditions also enrich the holidays with the memories that have gone before. Children give us the opportunity to engage in traditions we might not do otherwise like advent calendars, or driving through Lights in Park, or watching The Muppets Christmas Carol. Finally, traditions give children great comfort. And you don’t have to research customs or invent elaborate new rituals; children perceive anything they can count on year after year as a tradition.


The one question I hear most often from parents/caretakers, “How can I encourage my children to be more generous at Christmas? All they seem to think about is themselves.”

I like what is suggested in Unplug the Christmas Machine – set a good example yourself.

  • Show and talk to your children about how much fun you have giving gifts to other people. If you make charitable donations, talk to your child about why.
  • If you shop for cousins of your child, invite your child along to help pick them out.
  • Have your child help select (and pay for) a toy for Toys for Tots
  • Participate in the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s Guest at Your Table Program. (Boxes and information are available at the RE office).
  • Involve your child in ways to give that are hands on fun for them: make a meal or cookies for an elderly neighbor or for a shelter; create a Secret Santa among your family in which people draw names of family members and secretly do something nice for them, like take over one of their chores.

Nov 25 – Tips to Unplug the Holiday Machine: Examining the Work of the Holidays

Many of us over-estimate the time we have available for holiday projects. Look at the following list of typical holiday responsibilities/tasks and place a check by the ones that you were primarily responsible for last year. Cross of ones your family doesn’t do; add ones you do that are not on this list:

  • Making up a gift list
  • Christmas gift shopping
  • Making gifts
  • Wrapping gifts
  • Mailing gifts
  • Writing cards
  • Making cards
  • Helping out at Albany UU
  • Holiday baking
  • Home decorations
  • Special holiday cleaning
  • Buying stocking stuffers
  • Getting the tree
  • Decorating the tree
  • Outside decorations
  • Hosting parties
  • Preparing special meals
  • Helping with school activities
  • Going to holiday performances
  • Charitable activities
  • Planning family gatherings
  • Packing
  • Preparing for houseguests


Spend some time remembering how you felt last Christmas as you were doing each of the tasks that you checked. Put a star by the ones you actually enjoyed.

Take a piece of paper and write down the tasks from the above list that you did not enjoy doing last year. Beside each one, write down a few words that descript the reason(s) for your dissatisfaction.

After completing the two activities, have you gained a better idea of how much time you are available for holiday projects, how much you attempt to do each year and how you feel about those tasks?

How do those insights relate to The Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas (according to Unplug the Christmas Machine)

  1. A relaxed and loving time with the family
  2. Realistic expectations about gifts
  3. An evenly passed holiday season
  4. Reliable family traditions

Next time we’ll explore helping children enjoy the holidays.