When the calendar flips to December, many of us jump into turbo gear, determined to have the best Christmas ever—even if we don’t slow down enough to enjoy it. From decorations to gifts, we often take on, consciously or unknowingly, the expectations of others this time of year.

“In our mind’s eye, a woman has a picture of what an ideal Christmas should be,” says Brenda Poinsett, author of Can Martha Have a Mary Christmas?. “She works hard trying to make her real Christmas match her ideal. She earnestly wants Christmas done right.”

All too often, this quest for the perfect Christmas can overwhelm us, leaving us frazzled and frustrated come January. But our lives don’t have to become such a blur of activity that the true meaning of Christmas is obscured amidst the tinsel and wrapping paper. Here are some ways to have the Christmas that’s right for you and your family.

Recognize the culture. We as women face immense demands from society to do it all, and never more so than around a major holiday like Christmas. “There’s a lot of cultural pressure to have it all together and to do it all,” says Susan DiMickele, a blogger who writes about issues facing working women.

To counter that stress, DiMickele recommends remembering that we don’t “draw our significance in what we do,” but in who we are in Christ. That can lessen the strain of feeling like we need to do everything possible to make the holiday the most wonderful day of the year.

Know our wiring. God created us as women to have a great capacity to love and be loved. Sometimes, we can overextend ourselves in the quest to serve others because of that God-given desire. “We need to have the freedom to be who God created us to be,” says DiMickele. But who God created me to be isn’t necessarily the same as who our neighbors, our moms or other friends are.

Write down your expectations. “Get them out of your head where you can externalize them and really see what you are dealing with,” says Poinsett. This can help you to identify the particular expectations with which you feel pressured to comply.

Analyze the expectations. Delve beyond the surface to find out how you view the items on your list. Poinsett suggests asking the following questions:

  • Is this expectation a tradition?
  • If so, who started the tradition?
  • What would happen if the tradition isn’t kept?
  • Do I feel pressure to meet this expectation because my mother always did?
  • Will my children be disappointed in me if I don’t do this? Will God?
  • Will the authors of magazine articles on Christmas decorating and cooking come after me if my house and food don’t measure up to their pictures?  
  • What do I want?
  • What’s really necessary?
  • What would bring me joy?

Prioritize the expectations. Once you’ve analyzed your list, DiMickele advises drawing up an “A,” “B” and “C” version. The A list should consist of core essentials. “These are the ‘no compromise’ items, such as my son’s band concert and my daughter’s recital,” she says, adding that the key to the A list is to keep it short.

On the B list are things you’d like to do if your schedule permits, and the C list usually contains the expectations of others. “For example, on my C list is wrapping presents for all the people I need to thank at Christmastime,” says DiMickele. “Will they be disappointed in a plain white envelope instead of a pretty little bow? Maybe, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m not going to put that pressure on myself.”