This post is for letter “Z” in the 2016 ABCs of Homeschooling Through the Holidays series.
Is Christmas Eve less than silent in your house? Find out how to get your Zs on Christmas Eve with tips for preserving your faith, your sanity, and your family’s sleep this holiday season.
2 AM. Unable to sleep, I watched the dust sparkle like sugar plums in the filtered moonlight. I wasn’t much of a sleeper to begin with, but on this night – Christmas Eve – it was nearly impossible.
My sister and I had gone to bed at 9, a concession to our parents after Christmas Eve mass and tree trimming. At least we went to our rooms, fully intending to stave off unconsciousness in a desperate watch for Santa.
But it was not to be. I slipped into a restless sleep just before 11.
And then, in what seemed only a few minutes before I found myself awake again, I could hear hushed tones from the basement.
The Barbie townhouse. I know now that’s what my parents were putting together. But as an eight year old this side of the Santa-is-real fence, I thought for sure it had to be him. I crept like an elfin ninja to the top of the basement stairs.
I peered over the railing. There was my father, in all his Christmas Eve splendor, trapped in a heap of plastic and cardboard.
Cursing to himself.
My poor parents. I didn’t realize how hard we made nighttime until I had my own crew of insomniacs. We’re at three now, and I love the little night owls more than I love myself. But as hard as their nighttime shenanigans are during the majority of the year, Christmas Eve (and the Christmas season, for that matter), is twice as challenging.
It’s a sensory overload sugar fest, wrapped in tinsel and drowning in cookie crumbs.
How to get your z’s on Christmas Eve
It’s so easy to lose sight of the real meaning of Christmas. Decorations fill the stores before Halloween. Thanksgiving gets clobbered by reindeer lining up for Black Friday. And by the time the Christmas season actually starts (traditionally Christmas Day, running all the way through February 2nd and the feast of Candlemas), everybody’s partied out.
Christmas Eve, the silent night that should be calm and rife with prayerful anticipation, becomes a chocolate-fueled, Santa-crazed meltdown.
Well, it does in my house, at least.
If your kids go to bed on Christmas Eve with nary a peep nor pip until (not 4AM) Christmas morning, my hat is off to you. But if your kids take Christmas nighttime parenting to a whole new level, then I’ve got some tips for you.
Say no – a lot
I don’t mean to the kids. I mean say no to the crazy pre-season schedule. There are parties and celebrations at every turn. Caroling and Bethlehem Walks every weekend. Shopping trips and cookie exchanges and ornament workshops and I’m getting exhausted already. The more you wear yourselves out prior to Christmas Eve, the less likely you’ll be to have a restful evening. The crazy “holiday season” schedule sets a precedent – a chaotic routine that’s nearly impossible to break.
Make the evening sacred
Like many Catholic churches, my parish has several Christmas Eve masses, including the afternoon Children’s mass. Our first (and last!) was nine years ago. Our oldest was nearly a year, and we thought 4PM would be the best bet for preserving our nighttime routine.
It was a hot, standing room only mess. She was crazy. We were crazy. Crazy is not how I want to spend my Christmas Eve. We started going Christmas morning instead, which made more sense for us anyway because we open presents at my mom’s after brunch.
If that’s not doable for you, either because of the lack of Christmas morning services at your church or because of family traditions, consider going to church later on Christmas Eve. There are services as late as 7 and up until midnight. I guarantee they’ll be quieter, more peaceful, and they’ll set the tone for a calmer, more sacred evening.
Ease into bedtime
A good bedtime experience is all about environment. Set up cozy book nooks around the house, with soft blankets and pillows and holiday story time picks. Keep the lights low, and stick to a protein/complex carb snack for Santa and the reindeer (and who am I kidding. Us, too). Try to avoid screens and upbeat music in the last two to three hours before lights out. And finally, keep your bedtime routine consistent, at least as consistent as you can.
Keep the true meaning of Christmas.
Jesus was born with nothing, a king who came into this world in a lowly barn. His first three gifts were more mementos of his passion and crucifixion than they were toys for a child. I’m not suggesting you give your kids gold, frankincense and myrrh under the tree, but I am encouraging you to focus on the birth of our Lord and Savior over the trinkets and big ticket items that lay forgotten on the floor a week after the holiday. The lower the material expectation, the lower the sleepless anticipation. And the higher the focus on gratitude and truthfulness.
Seems like a win/win to me.
Stick to your routine.
We are creatures of habit in this house. If something changes, we all have difficulty adjusting. Granted, Christmas Eve is an exception to the rule. But children really do love consistency, so try to keep your day as normal (?) as you possibly can.
As much as I drove my parents nutty with my nighttime Christmas antics, I know their memories of the season are just as fond as mine. And I also know that parenting in the trenches is real: 90% of the time, I’m flying by the seat of my pants just praying no one gets hurt.
In the end, I think that’s all we can really expect from our efforts on Christmas Eve. We can do our best, we can make our plans, but still, God laughs. He laughs because he loves us, because he sent his only son to save the world on a clear and silent night.
And he laughs because he knows that no matter how hard we work to get those little elfin ninjas into bed, they’ll probably find us up to our elbows in plastic and cardboard at two in the morning.
And maybe that’s exactly how it should be.
Ginny Kochis is a high school English teacher and adjunct professor turned homeschooling mom to three gifted, twice exceptional children. She writes about faith, family literacy, motherhood and homeschooling at Not So Formulaic. You can find Ginny on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
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