The Joys of “Schlafentrinken:” Christmas Without the Anxiety

Four years ago, at about this time of year, I sat in a Starbucks with my husband, stressing out about Christmas. I was in the midst of battling through the toughest period of anxiety I’ve ever experienced, and the thought of preparing for Christmas overwhelmed me. “Can we just skip Christmas this year?” I asked, only half-joking. 

The reality was, we almost could have skipped Christmas if we wanted – we don’t have kids, and because we live a long distance from our families and my husband has to work at Christmas, we’re never in our hometown during the holidays, which means limited family obligations. But the truth was, I knew in my heart I didn’t really want to skip Christmas, not completely. There are lots of aspects of Christmas I love. I love the special holiday drinks at Starbucks (I just have to have as many as possible). I love Christmas music (I have no less than 20 Christmas-themed albums, and I usually add a new one every year). I love Christmas food (turkey-leftover sandwiches and home-made shortbread cookies are my favourites). And, once they’re done and up, I love the Christmas decorations in our house (some of my most prized possessions are the eclectic ornaments we put on our little artificial tree every year).

What I didn’t love was the anxiety I felt every Christmas season. The inner need I always felt to make everything perfect, from cards to gifts to baking to decorating. I mean, if I noticed that there were two red lights on my multicolour Christmas tree that were “too close together,” it would bother me endlessly until I could somehow separate them. Goodness knows why I felt such anxiety about Christmas perfection – it’s not like I did a bunch of holiday entertaining (none, actually!). But somehow the holiday season just brought out the worst of my anxious perfectionism. Before the first week of December was over, I’d already be experiencing a host of anxiety symptoms (which would only get worse as the month wore on): constant worrying, irritability, hypochondria, and a desperate attempt to control everything.

So as my husband and I chatted over our festive lattes at Starbucks that day, we came up with a concept that would help me cope with my Christmas anxiety, while still allowing me to enjoy my favourite aspects of the season (I think most of it was my husband’s idea, but as often happens with us, it’s hard to remember who came up with which detail because we’re pretty in synch). We decided that we would do our favourite seasonal activities, but only on our terms, and we wouldn’t do anything we didn’t feel like doing – no sense of obligation, no guilt. And the way we were going to achieve this low-stress state of mind was by telling ourselves that we weren’t, in fact, celebrating Christmas. We were going to call it something else.

So, we had to come up with a new word to represent our own version of the holiday season. We decided to look to the Germans (we’d both taken German in university), who seem to have words for every concept imaginable, often created by splicing together two (or more) other words (one example of this is “schadenfreude,” which combines the German words for “damage” and “joy”). So we thought about a couple of the low-stress activities we were looking forward to during our festive season, and we came up with drinking (in this case, festive lattes) and sleeping in (we both had lots of sleep to catch up on). So we combined the German words  “schlafen” (sleep) and “trinken” (drink) and thus created our very own made-up holiday, “Schlafentrinken.”

It was actually kind of amazing the difference that funny word made to me that year. Any of the usual “we have to do it this way because we do it every Christmas” was thrown out the window, because we weren’t celebrating “Christmas,” we were celebrating “Schlafentrinken.” I suddenly felt fewer expectations, less stress, and less perfectionism.

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This is not how real people look while they’re Christmas shopping. Forget all that stuff!

We continue to celebrate Schlafentrinken every year. It’s a bit of a silly inside joke between us, but it’s also a philosophy that works to minimize my anxiety. We’ve decided that the official motto of Schlafentrinken is “Do what you feel like” – it’s all about freedom from expectations (especially those we impose on ourselves). I can put up whatever decorations I feel like, and if they don’t look perfect, that’s OK, because that’s what Schlafentrinken is all about! If my shortbreads come out of the oven over-done, it’s fine, it’s Schlafentrinken! No need to worry about what to buy my husband for a gift, he just sends me an Amazon wish list, and I order him a few things off that – he gets what he wants, and I stay out of the malls, which is what I want. That’s how Schlafentrinken works!

If, on the other hand, I start stressing in the grocery store because I can’t find one of my favourite holiday treats, my husband will ask (regarding my stress), “Is that in the spirit of Schlafentrinken?” And it never fails to make me laugh.

So now I tell people that we’ve “re-branded” Christmas as “Schlafentrinken.” My Christmas-related anxiety has gone way down – I’d be lying if I said it was 100% gone, but I sure enjoy the season a lot more than I used to. I guess the words that we use really do have an impact on how we feel. And even though from the outside, our Schlafentrinken looks pretty much like Christmas, inside I feel so much more relaxed, knowing it’s all about “doing what you feel like.”

Happy Schlafentrinken, everyone!

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