When Dean and I were dating and first married, our holidays were spent putting hundreds of miles on our cars as we drove to where his family lived for a couple days, journeyed an hour and a half to my family’s Christmas Eve gathering and back, and then spent time with some of his family before making the trek back home.
After we moved to the Northwest for seminary, we added plane travel to the itinerary, often driving an additional five hundred miles or more to make sure we got to visit as many people as we could. There was a lot of hurrying and scurrying, and not much in the way of peace or rest.
Our most peaceful Christmas was probably the one when I was too pregnant to travel with our first baby due in January. So we went to a Christmas Eve service in our own church (a first!), had a leisurely morning and then joined nearby extended family for Christmas dinner. It was the beginning of a new way of doing the holidays. And while our location has changed again and often includes more family than we had available then, one thing has stayed the same–we stick pretty close to home and keep things fairly low key.
Since my oldest son was about 4 years old (old enough to understand that Christmas and presents go together), Christmas has taken on a new significance for me. I still love buying and giving gifts, and getting together with family and participating in all the pomp and pageantry that fills the month of December. But because I want my boys to be very aware of the reason for it all, I’ve changed my own approach.
Except for several Nativity sets and our special Advent calendar and mini tree, we don’t decorate until December 15. By then we’ll have spent two full weeks following our Nativity devotion on the journey to Bethlehem. We’ll also read a Nativity-themed story book or two each evening. Presents won’t be placed under our Christmas tree until late on Christmas Eve, so that the gifts don’t become the focal point.
I’ve learned to mark the calendar with the events that mean the most to us, and leave space for a few new things. And I try to have the majority of my shopping done before Thanksgiving (which is one of the reasons you won’t find me with the throngs of shoppers on ‘Black Friday’). I find my bargains throughout the year so I don’t have to worry about fighting crowds, losing out on ‘deals,’ or missing time that could be more meaningfully spent while searching for the perfect last-minute gift.
That’s not to say I’ve mastered a stress-less holiday, but I’m working on it. That’s why I was glad for the opportunity to review “Hurry Less, Worry Less at Christmas,” by Judy Christie. I appreciated her perspective that the best holiday is the one that is meaningful and significant to each of us–and each will look different from the others. For example, my version of being done with shopping before the turkey is served might sound suffocating to those who see pumpkin pie-fueled planning as the official launch of the Christmas season. The author doesn’t give a formula to a more spiritual, less stressful holiday. She does give a lot of ideas for how we can move our celebrations that direction.
A few of the suggestions that stood out to me:
* Ask yourself if there’s a tradition you don’t enjoy doing. Consider not doing it.
* List the words that describe how you want your holidays to look–fun, peaceful, family-oriented, giving, simple, etc. Plan the things that will move you that direction.
* “Few things in life are perfect, but many are wonderful.” Learn to enjoy the wonderful imperfect things.
She points out how easy it is to get caught up in old traditions that don’t suit us any more, and new expectations that seem to arise. She suggests that we start out by making sure we aren’t conforming to the world’s expectations.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2.
By starting out with seeking God’s will for all of our days–even our holidays–we’ll be less likely to be caught up in unnecessary distractions that take the joy away from this blessed time of year.
So, whether you’re out braving the crowds on this Black Friday (while I’m warm and cozy, sleeping), or you’ve vowed not to think about Christmas until the turkey is all gone, take a little time to consider how you’ll spend the next month. If the idea already overwhelms you, be sure to enter the drawing for your own copy of “Hurry Less, Worry Less at Christmas,” on our sister site, 5 Minutes for Books. If you only get through the first chapter, you should be well on your way to enjoying the coming month in a way you might not have otherwise.
What is your favorite Christmas tradition? What’s one you could live without (if others in your world would go for it)? What’s one thing you do to make the season less stressful?