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"The first time I hear someone say there are only 25 or so shopping days left until Christmas, I think, `You just ruined my whole day,' " observes one woman.

A Scroogelike attitude? Nope. Just an overburdened woman staggering from the guilt she feels - "Ohhhh, no! I don't have Christmas pulled together - AGAIN!" For most women, holiday guilt is an annual predictable event. In November and December, a woman, who is normally trucking along at a fast pace on her treadmill, becomes a frenzied woman on a dead run who's wearing herself out as she tries to pull this gala season together and organize a Christmas just like Grandma used to have.And this season of the year often produces a woman who`s having guilt festivals about nearly everything - including her attitude.

"I KNOW I don't have the right attitude," admits one woman, "but, especially with young children, Christmas seems SO self-defeating. I buy all the presents, wrap all the presents, clean up all the wrappings, put away the all presents, pick up all the presents all year, and, later, often THROW away the presents. Then it's Christmas again."

"I agonize over every detail, clear down to the last stocking stuffer," says another woman. "The worry I have about hurting other people's feelings just ruins my whole Christmas. I worry whether there will be enough presents for each child. Will they be the "right" presents? Will my mother-in-law love her present? Will it be nice enough? Will I offend someone by not giving a gift? Will I remember to send cards to everyone who's going to send us one?"

The burning questions that plague many a woman's mind come from feeling absolutely in charge of Christmas and the feelings of the people who will either be pleased or not pleased by how Christmas "turns out."

Both individually and collectively, a woman in this culture traditionally has had the assigned duty of managing the holidays. The relentless stress of feeling so responsible for everything can take a quantitative toll on a woman, as described by the statement of one stressed woman: "All I want for Christmas next year is NO Christmas!"

Now, if this sounds grim, and you're saying, WAIT A MINUTE!! I don't feel like that - pat yourself on the back for having your act in order and proceed to fully enjoy the Christmas season. Consider giving lessons - next June - to your fellow soulmates on how to have a relaxed yule season.

But, for those of you who do feel chronic stress around Christmas - and WANT TO QUIT FEELING GUILTY because you don't have the Christmas spirit - consider these suggestions.

STEP ONE. Come to a screeching halt for a day. Get off your treadmill and take a deep breath.

Think about where you have been generally focusing your attention.

Says one woman: "I was going crazy, as usual, making all the Christmas goodies, frantically shopping the sales, making a production of every gift I wrapped, when suddenly it hit me as I brushed aside a child who was pulling at my dress. I thought: `She may have the kind of Christmas you'd see on TV - but what good will that do her if she never sees her mother smile?"'

STEP TWO. Sit down with your family and ask them to describe a dream Christmas season. What would help them to experience the "true meaning of Christmas?" What kinds of events and traditions are important to them? What would they especially like to do as a family? And, most importantly, HOW WOULD THEY LIKE TO HELP THOSE EVENTS BECOME POSSIBLE?

Relinquish your position as sole manager of the Christmas season and cheerfully make it clear that even Mrs. Claus has elves. Engage the entire family in a discussion of how to get the shopping, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, and delivering accomplished this season.

Decide with your family to PUT YOUR FAMILY IN FOCUS this year (and every year from now on) as a gift to yourselves. Then make every other decision regarding your time commitments and the giving of gifts for Christmas from this priority position.

Children have much more fundamental needs than gifts at Christmas time, say Jo Robinson and Jean Staheli, authors of the article "Bring Home the Joy." They need time with you.

"Parents are often away from their children more in December than in any other month of the year, as their lives become crowded with shopping and social events. And when they're at home, they are often preoccupied with holiday chores and money worries," say these authors.

"This constant busyness can make December a lonely month for children. Even though they are showered with gifts and affection on the 24th and 25th of December, this two-day burst of attention is rarely enough. Children need to feel loved in a steady, constant way."

STEP THREE. Couple a much more intense focus on family activities and traditions during December with realistic gift expectations for family members. You may find that cutting down on gifts may be much easier than you imagined, especially if children's needs are being met in other ways.

To minimize disappointment, include in your gifts to your child the gift on the top of his list if it appears feasible.

STEP FOUR. Take short-cuts when it comes to preparations for Christmas dinners and festivities and to gift-giving outside the immediate family. Show your love abundantly to those you love through notes and cards and calls. Discuss practices of gift-giving with extended family members and find ways of cutting down.

As you consider reducing your production, keep Christmas activities that have meaning to you and that you REALLY enjoy doing.

STEP FIVE. Stop viewing the holiday period as one long haul. Author Wayne Dyer says this: "Make each thing that you do - each gift you wrap, each card you write - a pleasant, satisfying experience in itself, instead of one big-long headache.

"One task at a time, one joy at a time, is precisely how children approach everything during the yuletide season. That way each activity like cookie-making or stocking-stuffing becomes an individual fun thing for them - and for you - to do."

Note: Consider obtaining a new book on the shelves "Celebrate the Wonder: A Family Christmas Treasury" by Kristine M. Tucker and Rebecca Lowe Warren. "Celebrate the Wonder" is an inexpensive book designed to help families create a more personalized Christmas.