For some, Christmas is a stressful time of too much to do and buy with too little time and money. For some Christmas is time spent with family. For others Christmas is the memories - the sights, smells, fragrance and sounds of Christmas' past. Maybe for some Christmas is a time of trying to forget hurts from the past. Or maybe it is striving to find Christmas joy that has been lacking other years. Or maybe a comparison game to have as nice of Christmas as others around you.
I love Christmas and have fond memories of past Christmas seasons. But my goal each year is to minimize the stress and pressure that can be part of this season. I want my focus to be on Christ and His coming, both 2,000 years ago as a baby and His future coming.
What does this mean at a practical level for me? (And remember, it may be very different for you!)
1. Minimal decorating. Two nativity scenes, a couple snowmen, and a red candle or so and my decorating is completed. Very little to buy, store, replace, or clean.
2. Simple gift giving. We try to keep gift giving minimal, especially for our children. I enjoy shopping for a few special gifts, but the fact is that we don't truly need anything. A few things, purchased early before the seasonal rush, to show our love but spare us the stress of last minute shopping works for me!
3. Keep the December schedule reasonable. Sometimes that means saying "no" to fun events. Too many plans, with late nights and busy days, are especially hard on children, but adults too need a balanced schedule. After several years of getting sick right after Christmas, we have learned the importance of proper rest. This year, we have the excuse of an early January due date. We are not committing to be present at any late December/early January event. It feels freeing to have permission to say "We may not make it."
4. Focus on giving. I want the bulk of our activities at Christmas on things that are a blessing to others. Focusing on myself is a sure recipe for stress. I have found that by putting priority on those events that focus on others, my spirit is renewed by giving. One annual event I do with our children is to make handmade Christmas cards and take them to a nursing home and sing carols. Looking into the faces of lonely sick people helps me count my own blessings. Try it and see if it is true for you!
5. Plan ahead. This is true every year, but this year it may be even more important. I've been looking at our calendar and trying to make preparations in advance. Shopping completely exhausts me these days. Several weeks ago, I did some extra grocery shopping to hold us through a few extra weeks. Since I knew I would be doing extra baking over the holidays, I stocked up on basic baking supplies. I also picked up extra household items, such as toilet paper. I will need to do some grocery shopping in December, but the list should be shorter, and probably things that my husband could pick up on the way home from work.
But clearing a schedule and planning ahead are only half the equation. We can fill the time we save with useless activity that does little to bring our focus on Jesus Christ. Here is a few things I plan to do this month with my children to focus on the Lord.
1. Read the Christmas story from Luke 2.
2. Sing Christmas carols. Light a candle and turn off the lights and sing softly.
3. Gather the bathrobes and act out the Christmas story with your children.
4. Bake cookies, and share them with someone who blessed you this year.
5. Use a plastic nativity scene to help your children retell the Christmas story.
6. Learn the story behind some of the famous Christmas carols.
7. Sing carols to some shut-ins.
8. Listen to Handel's Messiah. Look up the Scriptures that the songs were written from. This year we plan to use this Advent series with our family.
9. Read a favorite Christmas book. (Last year I listed our favorites for children, more for children, older children, and adults.)
10. Find ways to serve others who have less than us. Many ministries have special Christmas projects. My children have enjoyed assembling school packs for children.
These are just a few ideas. There are lots of Christmas ideas online - more than a person can ever do in one month. But I loved Shari's Advent of Quiet for sane ideas this month. Or maybe this just shows that I'm in the nesting mode! Anything with "quiet" and "home" just sounds good to me.
What are ways that you plan to keep December focused on Christ?