musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

It’s beginning to look a lot like… Dreadmas?

Some people put their Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving, ready to hum holiday tunes and dive into shopping. Me, I seem to go up into my attic and pull out the big gray box of Dread. Instead of glittery ornaments and tinsel, I pull out tissue-packed bundles of expectations and to-do lists as long as Santa’s naughty-or-nice scroll. I turn off the oldies station that starts to play Christmas songs in mid-November. I try to avoid thinking about any of it for as long as I can.

But eventually, it’s rather unavoidable.

I get intimidated by people who not only buy their presents early but wrap them prettily, bake cookies, love to decorate their houses and watch Christmas movies. I know intellectually that some people do all that stuff and others do not, but when I’m in my Christmas Dread mode, it seems like everyone else has got their holiday act together and I’m failing, with my anxiety making snowstorms in my stomach.

Questions start to simmer in the back of my mind. How will we afford it this year? How will I get everything done? Even if I slash things off my list, there still seems like too much. And yet, along with the overwhelm, as a woman and mom, I take on a big heap of the responsibility. Eventually, I  just start doing what I think needs to be done (which is usually just all the things I believe are expected of me).

Instead of just falling into the same old patterns, I’d love to find ways to change up this dynamic. Dread is no fun, nor is feeling like a victim every December. So here are some things I’m trying, little steps to go in a more positive direction.

  • Asking for help. Especially now that everyone in our family is an adult, sometimes all it takes is letting others know you need or want help. This can lighten my load. 
  • Look at traditions and see how they hold up now. Sometimes we keep on doing things the same old way and it isn’t really serving anyone anymore. Can some be let go, or replaced with something different? 
  • Look for other ways to simplify. For instance, I stopped expecting myself to bake anything a few years ago and started buying a variety of cookies at Trader Joe’s. Nobody really cares, and we still have cookies! We also mostly use our recycled-from-previous-years gift bags and do minimal wrapping. 
  • For me, when I get into dread, it helps to remember the parts of the holidays I do like. I really like our Christmas Eve appetizer dinner, where we all get together and cook in the kitchen side-by-side. I really enjoy our Christmas morning gift-giving, full of laughter. I do like having a twinkly Christmas tree, even if we put it up nearer to Christmas.

All of these do help me out. It’s also important for me to remember self-care during the pre-holiday build up. The times when I felt most pressured about the holidays, when our kids were little, I ran myself ragged and just wouldn’t stop to let myself relax. I’ve found this only leads to a crash, with the stress coming out in some non-helpful ways. This is so important for me to remember: prioritize myself and my mental health.

It’s still a work-in-progress for me. How about you? Where do you fall on the holiday spectrum?  What do you do to keep yourself from over-doing it this time of year? I’d love to hear from you; please comment below.

(Photos courtesy of rawpixel-44579, freestocks-org, and andrew-neel of


  1. Nora Jane Krahn

    Thank you for speaking the truth many of us experience. This year we have decided to not give gifts to everyone. With 9 grandchildren & 11 great grandchildren it’s too much of a burden. In the past I have made hats, pajama pants for each one. While it saved money it still was stressful. Instead I want to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and keep the joy to the world in my heart!

    • Theresa Alberti

      Thanks for sharing that, Nora… it is so easy to get caught up in the craziness of gift giving that often goes over the top. I know that happens for me! And wow, you have such a wonderful and plentiful family! There are so many ways to give oneself in relationships with people we love that don’t involve gift-giving, too. I hope your new practices around the holidays make it a more joyful time for you and yours!

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