Today marks the official first day of the Christmas season. Welcome!
To some, it’s an open-armed, big-hug-type-of-welcome: Festive decorations! Time with family and friends! Wonderful food and tasty treats!
But to others, it’s a welcome with loads of excess baggage: Festive decorations (to pull out and put away a few short weeks later)! Time with family and friends (preceded by a mad scramble for the perfect present)! Wonderful food and tasty treats (full of unhealthy ingredients that will add a few more unwanted pounds)!
Our modern definition of “Christmas” surely has the potential to be both the most beautiful time of the year… or the most stressful one.
I am no expert on a stress-free holiday (for the record, I don’t think that they exist in our modern world). But I have noticed that two things radically shape the atmosphere and anxiety levels during this time of year: preparation and perspective.
Preparation: Setting the Foundation
To me, some years it feels like all these well-intentioned Christmas activities become like a crowd of impatient children, each jumping before me in an effort to gain my attention and boldly shouting “Pick me! Pick me!”
The crazy thing is that I don’t set out to say yes to all of them. But then I find as I begin to slowly allow this activity or that one, the roar of requests and demands on my time becomes louder and louder until I find myself knocked over and exhausted—collapsed under my over-decorated Christmas tree under a pile of presents that no one needs and numbly eating yet another cookie from the cookie exchange.
If we want this to be a season focused on the Savior’s glorious message of peace and joy, then we have to clearly identify what that looks like for our families, and be willing to fight hard to make that happen.
Before the frantic rush takes over, we must determine now: What are the most important activities our family will participate in? What do we want the overall atmosphere of our home to look like during the next few weeks?
It’s easy to say we’d like a “simple” or “relaxed” holiday, but if we don’t specifically state what that means, we may find ourselves overcommitting our time and our resources.
Therefore, first, I’m asking myself some key questions:
—How do I want to include time with family?
—How will our family spend time with neighbors or friends?
—What opportunities for service are before us?
—Have we made a Christmas budget, and how will we spend that money?
—What is a realistic approach to our school schedule during this season?
—Are there specific traditions or activities we want to participate in?
These answers are the foundation or outline for what we really want to focus on this holiday season. If we can use these as our plumb-line, then we will know what we can say “no” to and what we can say “yes” to.
Perspective: A Heart Searching for the Deeper Messages of the Holidays
Once we’ve purposed to set boundaries for what will and won’t be included in our family commitments, next comes our heart’s mindset. What will be our intended focus during this season?
Again, this is easy to say, “My heart’s mindset will be on the Christmas story and the true meaning of Christmas.”
While this is a good place to start, this is kind of like that “I-want-a-simple-holiday” trap we get ourselves into (or maybe it’s just me!). What if we detailed out what that meant in a concrete and tangible way?
Our heart’s intention in the activities makes all the difference in their manifestation, right?
For example, let’s take making Christmas crafts with our kids. Crafting or cooking with kids can very easily become a not-very-festive experience!
Of course we all envision these experiences as magical, joyous times. No one wants to purposely have a frustrating time together.
But what attitudes do we bring to the table? What atmosphere do we create with our intentions (verbally or non-verbally)?
There’s a difference between saying: “We will sit down together and make these things from 1 to 2 today and you will like it”; or simply creating regular holes in our schedule during this season where we bring out the craft supplies and begin making things ourselves… and then see if our kids choose to join in the action.
My friend Melissa Camara Wilkins calls this “inspire not require.”
Oh, this is something I wish I could say that I’ve mastered… but I really, really haven’t!
However, this is my main heart intention behind our family’s holiday activities this year (especially those related to Christmas crafts or cooking).
I want to re-formulate my brain from being about an “output” of activities and experiences, and instead focus on the “input” of the season’s qualities.
Things like kindness. Selflessness. Service. Developing new skills. Stepping outside our comfort zone in the name of sharing God’s love.
All formulated around a focus of honoring Christ and loving him more and more deeply.
How does that happen? Not with me “requiring” or forcing things to fit like a puzzle.
At the risk of sounding too cliche or vague, my goal is to set loose intentions for our days (the preparation part) and then really letting a lot of other things go (including our “regular” school studies) so that we can allow ourselves be free to explore these deeper character traits.
It’s kind of a messy way to do the holidays but it’s what our family really, really needs right now.
And I know it will take precious time. Loads and loads of it. It will also take a trust in God’s bigger plan for our family; and a letting go of my expectations of what each moment of the holiday will look like (you can start praying for me now).
But I can’t think of a better Christmas gift for our family right now than to grow in these deeper areas and to find a new rhythm for what it means for our family to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
This is my personal intention, but yours may (and probably will) look different.
My challenge to you is to think through what your family really needs this holiday season. Detail the deeper goals beyond just making Christmas cookies or participating in Christmas plays. What will make the season a refreshing, glorious time that strengthens your family for the coming year? What does your family need to embrace (or to let go of) that will serve as a Christmas present to the One who gave us the greatest present of all on Christmas Day?
Gather these thoughts. Talk about these things with your family. And then determine to happen to your holidays instead of letting the holidays happen to you.