What is Christmas* for? I know that might sound like an odd question to be asked in a newsletter about personal finance, but it can be a fruitful one to answer before you start your shopping and get into the busyness of the season.

What is Christmas for, for you?

This question is intended to illuminate the context you would like to have for Christmas – context being one of the four pillars of The Moolala Method. You could answer the question in any number ways: Christmas could be for celebration, spirituality, family, gift-giving, relaxation, tradition, generosity – or a combination of ideas. If I were to talk to 50 different people I would likely have 50 different answers for what Christmas is for, often people in the same family.

Context is so important because it gives shape to the events that occur within it. Some of the “events” that occur over Christmas are time off work, shopping for gifts, going to parties, rest and relaxation etc. If you aren’t clear on what Christmas is for, for you, it can lead to a lot of stress: Overspending on credit cards, buying and receiving gifts you don’t really want, exhausting yourself with preparations at home, or spending too much time with people who drain you.

Once you’ve answered the question of what is Christmas for, you can look at your behaviour around the holidays. Sometimes your behaviour is consistent with your context, and sometimes it is inconsistent. For example, if you say Christmas is for relaxation and yet you are running around to 10 parties, then cooking and shopping for 30 people, you could say that your behaviour is inconsistent with the context that you have created for Christmas.

That behaviour, even once identified, can be difficult to change. You have expectations of yourself. Family members have expectations of each other. And there can be a whole emotional undercurrent that runs through the holidays, before, during and after. That said, sometimes we get stuck in tradition or tradition’s sake, even if it doesn’t work anymore. It might be worth it to start thinking about what you might do differently this year so your behaviour is as aligned as possible to your context for Christmas.

Here a few questions to get the creative juices on creating a fantastic Christmas – one that is consistent with what you say Christmas is for and that doesn’t leave you with unintended debts you’re paying well into the summer.

What is Christmas for?
Where is my behaviour consistent with this context?
Where is my behaviour inconsistent with this context?
What would I like to continue to do that I have always done?
What would I like to change about what I do?
Who do I need to talk to see if I can make this happen?

Here is an example of how one recent participant answered these questions.

What is Christmas for? Family.
Behaviour that is consistent: Spending time with extended family. Eating a great meal together.
Behaviour that is inconsistent: Worrying over buying gifts for everyone. Trying to see everyone on the 25th.
Continue to do: Gifts for the young cousins.
Change: Set spending limit of $50 on gifts for cousins. And don’t exchange gifts with other family members. Invite family over to my house on the 26th, instead of travelling around to see everyone on the 25th.
Need to talk to: Parents and siblings. Make a request to talk about changing plans.

*Many people don’t celebrate Christmas. You can reapply these questions to whichever holidays you do celebrate, including birthdays.