It’s been a week since Thanksgiving, a joyful time to overindulge, and then do it again with leftovers for days to come. We are so thankful, warmly considering our blessings, enjoying time around the table with folks, watching football and slipping into a tryptophan-induced coma with the greatest of ease. Then the real frenzy begins. You’re likely fresh out of leftovers by now. Maybe the warm fuzzies of thankfulness have escaped you also and you’ve turned your attention to the blur of shopping, decorating and socializing that defines the Christmas season for many people.
For many years, I was guilty of perpetuating Yuletide Madness in my own home. Surely we couldn’t have a proper Christmas if I didn’t drag every last decoration in our possession up from the basement and cram every corner of the house with them. If I didn’t run myself into a ragged and penniless stupor, shopping for gifts nobody really needed anyway, how would Christmas be special? Though I loved the Lord and really did know the true meaning of Christmas, I allowed myself to be sucked into a vortex of wrappings and trappings, drawn to the shiny and glittery instead of the humble depth of the Nativity.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few years on this topic and this year more seriously in particular. Putting up boundaries to protect my heart and spirit during this season of goodwill have become more important to me than the superficial glitz and rush of Christmastime.
Advent, the traditional period of waiting and reflection leading up to Christmas, is the perfect time to recenter ourselves and prioritize what really matters. The frenetic pace of the holiday season can swallow up the sense of joy and wonder that should be the main focus. Below are some of the practices our family does to create a meaningful experience. These allow us to enjoy the fun and festive nature of Christmas without compromising substance.
1 – ADVENT REFLECTIONS – Over the years we have done several Advent activities with our children. We have had the little calendar with chocolates, but it became just a grab and munch affair, rather than a true reflection on the coming birth of Jesus. When my son was about two, he in fact pillaged the Advent calendar of all the goodies. Gladly, his self-control is better now.
This year, we are adding some daily reflections from www.ibelieve.com that focus on the Advent season. We will tuck the printables into the candy cubbies in our Advent calendar. The Jesse Tree is a really fun and interesting Christmastime activity also. It explains the story of the bible from Creation to Christmas, focusing on the lineage of Jesus. You can create ornaments and put one on a small tree each day, starting December 1st, leading up to Christmas. Ann Voskamp has published a book you can purchase on the topic and provides free coloring pages on her website as well. Free is good…you can find them HERE.
2 – FAMILY SERVICE/GIVING – There are many ways to help others at the holidays. Serving as a family is good for you and teaches children that service to others is important to God and to living a happy life. You can volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen. Go caroling at a retirement home. Shop with your children for toys to give at toy drives or personal care items for homeless shelters. Teach your children to give in the red kettle when the Salvation Army has bell-ringers outside various stores. Generosity is one of the best expressions we can make in response to the Christmas season. It is not about the amount given, but the heart and intent with which it is released as a blessing for others.
3 – SPEND TIME, NOT MONEY – It’s easy to get so preoccupied with shopping and buying gifts that we fail to be intentional about spending meaningful time with others. Why not scale down the purchases and increase the memory making? Hop in the car and drive around to look at Christmas lights with the family.
End the evening at home with hot chocolate and snuggles on the couch. Go caroling in the neighborhood with a group of people. Trim the tree as a family. Cut paper snowflakes and see who can make the most creative design. Have a Christmas music dance party. Play some Christmas-themed games with neighbors or friends for a night of fun and laughter.
4 – MAKE AND TAKE – The financial demands of Christmas can be overwhelming. This is not to mention the time it takes to drag all over Creation to shop. Why not spend that time at home whipping up some homemade treasures to give this year? Bake cookies with your kids. Teach them how to measure, stir and prepare recipes. An evening of baking and then some cookie nibbling is a great way to make memories.
Save some of your creations to wrap up and deliver to friends, neighbors or anyone else who could use a little something sweet. You can also create homemade food gifts in addition to baked goods, such as candy, jellies and other treats. We especially like Salted Caramel sauce (which I may or may not eat with a spoon sometimes). Some ideas can be found on my Earl Grey and Yellow Pinterest boards: Homespun Gifts and Can It. Making gifts together is a two-fold blessing because you get to spend time with your kiddos in the kitchen and it is an economical way of gift-giving.
5 – THE GIFT OF GOING – Our children do not need anything else to play with. I repeat…we are good here with toys, books, puzzles, Legos, etc. I have been purging in order to live more simply anyway (see my post on avoiding excess). My husband and I do not exchange material gifts with each other and we feel like that trend isn’t bad for the kids either. GASP! Yes, we plan to give our kiddos almost nothing to unwrap.
Last year, my husband and I were very happy that Santa decided to bring a 3-day getaway to Hershey Park. Why did he take so long to think of that idea? Really…so much more meaningful and easier than buying a ton of toys. The hotel he picked had a pool and a pancake machine. Honestly, that alone would have captivated them. The Christmas displays and rides were a blast and the free Chocolate World Tour tour dazzled us with info on everything you could want to know about Hershey’s Candy. It is the main thing the kids are asking for again this year! (#parentingwin) Santa will undoubtedly oblige.
Our gift to them (because Santa brings the Hershey trip) is to take them, and our two nephews, to see TobyMac in concert next spring. And yes, tickets were under 20 bucks each. Woo hoo! Making memories with them is so much more preferable to buying toys that will be forgotten, broken or lost within a year. As they get older, we plan to continue the Let’s Go gift to them. A few very small token gifts will be around the tree in the morning, but the main event will be time together. Our eldest, who is grown and lives nearby, will get a membership to Longwood Gardens to enjoy with her fiancee. We are also members at Longwood and can go as one big family.
6 – WORSHIP TOGETHER – For us, a focus on faith is the most important part of our Christmas celebration. It isn’t necessarily just a church service. A lot of the Advent ideas earlier in this article are ideal ways to focus on Jesus. Other ways to do this include finding a living nativity (a live-action representation of the Christmas Story) that you can enjoy as a family. Of course you can go to a Christmas Eve or Lessons and Carols service. Many churches hold ecumenical services at this time of year so that people from a variety of denominations can come together and enjoy the common joy of Jesus’ birth.
Even if you don’t attend church regularly, chances are there are services and events going on in your community that you can find to enjoy. We place Baby Jesus in the manger scene on Christmas morning, saying a prayer of thanks to God for His birth. It is important to us to make this the focus upon waking on Christmas Day and helps us center our minds on the Most Precious Gift of Jesus.
Merry Christmas to you as you find ways to make the season more meaningful and less material. The shift we have made in this area has been a good one. I pray that you will find some ways to slow down and simplify as you reflect on the overwhelming joy of the Savior’s birth.
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