A few days before Thanksgiving I decided I wasn’t going to allow busyness to rob me of the real reason for the season this year. This good intention evaporated the next day as I wrote the date November 25 in my journal. Reality hit me—only one month until Christmas! I immediately went into mania mode! My thinking went something like this (perhaps you can relate!): I’ve done nothing and I have a stream of guests coming and staying over the next few weeks . . . I haven’t decorated . . . put lights up . . . or done any Christmas shopping. There are Christmas parties to plan and go to in addition to our regular schedule. Then there is the extra cost to get gifts for family, friends and neighbors in addition to the mile long Santa gift lists for our children. Exhausted yet?
How can we possibly do all this and stay sane? How do we bring Christ and the heart of Christmas into our families without making Jesus a part of our ‘To Do List’? How do we have enough emotional energy to enjoy the season when we are piling this all onto our already crazy schedules?
I immediately found myself in “Go Mode”. In that moment I got my eyes off Christ and started heading in the very direction I had decided not to go. For so many years after the holidays, I had regrets for allowing busyness to rob me of the deep richness of celebrating Christ(mas). I had to stop myself and refocus. This is a choice for all of us.
I could go on and on, but neither of us has time for that! So I’ll offer a few ideas as well as some of the traditions we began in our family.
It begins in the Morning: By capturing a few moments with Jesus in the morning, our focus for the day can be in the right place. Thank Him for what He has given us. Whether it is our health, children, family, job, a warm house or special friends. Thankfulness puts our heart in a proper place. If we start our days with the Lord, we will be amazed how He calms us in times of stress and keeps us focused on the important rather than the busy.
A friend of mine has decided to bring her family’s focus onto Christ in middle of the always-crazy hustle of getting ready for school in the morning. Kristy has chosen to read the Christmas story of the birth of Christ to her teenage daughter while she was eating breakfast. Besides breeding great conversations, she is feeding her soul with the Word of God and the miracle of our Savior’s birth. What a great way to start her daughter’s day at public school.
Pause in the Day: By taking a few seconds throughout our day to ask ourselves, “Is this making Jesus or Santa the focus of our Christmas?” we can make conscience decisions on what our focus looks like for our family. One uses our time and energy on relationships and the other on possessions and things.
Don’t Over Spend: Make our gift list based on what we can afford rather than what our family wants. I admit, when my children were young I gave in and indulged them lavishly, giving gifts they didn’t need and sometimes didn’t even want. I spent hard earned money on things my children didn’t ever play with or wear. They began making long Christmas list of things they wanted for themselves when I would rather they make lists of how to serve and give to others.
After a few years I realized if I kept it up I would be raising entitled children. We paired down the amount of gifts we gave and didn’t follow their Santa Lists. We told them in advance we were not going to buy their from their “I Want” list, because those aren’t gifts, they are subtle indulgent demands.
We thoughtfully gave them each gifts. The first year, they were a little disappointed, but the following years, as they took off the ribbons and wrap, they were truly surprised at what was inside and most of the time appreciative. (except when they gave into temptation and snuck in and unwrapped them early, then they had to pretend they were surprised on Christmas morning.)
Have Flexible Family Traditions: I love our family traditions. They were created to enhance Christmas rather than causing stress and become antiquated. The fond memories of my four small children sleeping under the Christmas tree, falling asleep to the twinkle of the lights with the anticipation of Christmas morning, lives on into adulthood. The addition of my kid’s spouses added a new dimension to the mix and began to remove the nostalgic enjoyment. The living room suddenly seemed to shrink with the stark realization that they are not children anymore. Now I have seven and there just isn’t room for their adult-size bodies under the tree. We tried for several years, but now my married children prefer the comfort of a bed.
Even as children grow into teen years, traditions that a six year old loved so much, may not be as adored. Having conversations with your teens about their favorite family traditions helps create enjoyable memories everyone loves.
We alter our tradition to accommodate change. Illnesses, death in the family, distance and divorce can also necessitate the need to change it up. Creating normalcy is important and so are fresh beginnings and new joys. In these changes, we realize and appreciate the importance of relationships.
Make it Special: Spend time together building family relationships. Include children in the festivities of decorating and baking. Make them a family event without computers or phones. Just put some Christmas music on in the background and enjoy being together. The memories you build can compensate for the extra mess in the kitchen!
In our home, the day after Thanksgiving was devoted to decorating the house for Christmas. We went all out. The boys hauled the boxes in from the garage and we cranked the sentimental old Carols throughout the house and spent the day transforming our home into a Christmas Wonderland. If I tried to play new songs, I would be chastised for breaking the tradition. We would go into the woods and cut the biggest possible Christmas tree and drag it home and into the house.
Remember, by eliminating from our ‘To Do List’ whatever is not important to our family, we can create memories and traditions this year that could impact them for a lifetime.
Reach out to others: Teaching our children that it is better to give than receive by helping others in need. One year we got three names of families in our communities that were struggling. On an icy night in December, the whole family drove to Target and purchased blankets, food and toys for each family on our list with money donated by our children from their allowance and we covered the rest. We then delivered these gifts.
During the holidays, there are always ways to serve others in the community without spending money. Serve at shelters (many have ways younger children can safely serve too) or visit an elderly home and wrap gifts for the residents. Maybe you have a friend or neighbor going through a difficult season this year. Offer to rake their leaves, hang their Christmas lights and bring them some of the yummy cookies you’ve baked together!
Teaching the gift of giving pays dividends for life.
We can make the Christmas into the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, by spending time together and focusing on the real Reason for the Season.
What traditions are important to you and brought your family together?