Christmas may seem like a strange topic to write about in the middle of summer. But here’s the thing: if you don’t take the time to plan ahead for a less stressful, more peaceful and simple Christmas than it’s not going to happen. Trust me, I’ve tried. For the last few years after Christmas is over, I’ve told myself and my husband that I am tired of Christmas being so stressful and overwhelming. We would decide we need to do something about it and make changes, but then we would get into a new year and forget about it until the crazy hits us again, sometime around Thanksgiving that next year. By then, trying to make changes in the midst of the season just seems to add more stress. Thus is why I write on Christmas as I sit out in the hot summer sun and sip lemonade. This is the time of year I need to get some changes set in motion.
At some point in history, Christmas morphed into something much different than what it was suppose to be. Christmas was meant to be a time of year we remember Jesus’ birth, a time to slow down, spend time with loved ones, a time to reflect, and a time to show gratitude. But today, in the United States and other countries, Christmas is mostly focused on consumerism. We spend millions of dollars every Christmas to buy things for people, most of which is stuff they don’t need. These days children look forward to what they will get instead of approaching the season with a heart of gratitude for what they already have. Gift giving has lost most of it’s joy because it’s less a gift and more a requirement. Also, it’s hard and stressful to find something to get for someone who doesn’t need a thing. On a big picture level, while we affluently pass around stuff that we don’t need, other people elsewhere starve and have no where to live on Christmas. The injustice of that picture is enough to make me sick.
If you feel robbed of the joy of Christmas and long for a season of reflection and peace, you have to be willing to make some changes. Put those changes in place now so that they are already set when Christmas starts to approach.
Here’s some ideas to make the season a truly restful and joyful time again:
Don’t make Wish Lists. I simply detest wish lists. In order to create a wish list, it requires us, or our children, to sit down and intentionally focus our attention on what we don’t have. It’s a breeding ground for discontentment, jealousy, and coveting. Christmas is not about what we don’t have, it’s about what we do have. Children will naturally steer towards ungratefulness. It’s in our nature to do so. Let’s do them a big favor and not tempt them further down that path by suggesting they list everything they don’t have. Instead, let’s focus on gratefulness for what we do have.
Say “No” to 90% of invites. Lots of parties take place over the month that surrounds Christmas. There is nothing wrong with celebrating! However, we have the tendency to feel like we have to go to every party we get invited to. Before long, our schedules are full and our stress levels are mounting with the busyness. The season is anything but restful. In part, this need to say “yes” to every party may be a fear of being seen as someone with “no life”. But taking a break from the crazy and spending time refocusing our thoughts and hearts is some of the most abundant life we will experience. Say “yes” to a few parties that are with close friends and family that you can truly relax with and say “no” to those parties that are mostly strangers and a few acquaintances. Spend your evenings instead at home with the Christmas lights lit and fire going and music playing. Enjoy some hot chocolate or that book you’ve been wanting to read for forever. Play a board game with the family. Read a book out loud for everyone to enjoy! Whatever you do, fight the tendency to become MORE busy and focus on slowing down.
DO something for Christmas. Instead of buying each other stuff, what if, next Christmas you did something together? Memories last much longer than stuff anyway. Perhaps your family could get away for a weekend for Christmas or maybe you could get tickets to go enjoy a show or theme park together. If you feel like you must get your children or spouse something tangible for them to open, then get just one thing. And whatever you get, take the time to ensure that it was ethically made. Giving is so much more enjoyable when it doesn’t involve robbing someone else in the process.
Don’t buy gifts for others. I want my children to know that joy of giving. I myself love the experience of giving. So what do we do when the people around us whom we love already have everything they could possibly need? I suggest making gifts as a family activity for those people around you that you really just want to say, “we were thinking of you, Merry Christmas”. Make them something perishable that they can use up or eat. This way, you aren’t cluttering up their life with more stuff and you, as a family, have the wonderful opportunity to spend time together and enjoy the gift of giving together. Play Christmas music and laugh together and have fun! Get your children excited about the idea of giving! Some ideas might include: baking mini loafs of bread, cookies, canning jars of fresh jams, making body scrubs, decorative soap bars, scented beeswax candles, etc.
Minimalize the decorations. For some families, decking out the house for Christmas is a family tradition. Traditions are wonderful! But what if, just for one Christmas, you left most of the boxes of decor in the garage and enjoyed putting up just a few of your favorite items. Although it is fun to decorate, all those decorations cause visual clutter and can rob us of some of the peace of the season. Also, even though it is fun to put up, I don’t know of anyone who looks forward to taking it all down after Christmas is over. Don’t let that loom over your head this next Christmas season. Decorate the tree and then spend the extra time sitting around it with hot cocoa and laughing with family or friends. Just try it and see if you like it. You don’t have to get rid of all the extra decor just yet, but you may really enjoy the simplicity of not over decorating.
Request Money or Memories. Regardless of what your family decides to do next Christmas, there are always going to be grandparents or aunts or close friends that insist they need to get you or your children a gift. For us, this has been the hardest change to work out. When they ask, we have decided to request either money or a memory. A memory might be tickets to the Zoo, or tickets for an event, going out for ice cream, etc. Money is put into a budget category and used for fun stuff like taking classes (watercolor or ballet or soccer…whatever interests you or your children!) or on gift cards for places to go out to eat either on a date night or as a family. Or it can be put towards a family vacation down the road. Let the giver know how you used the money and how grateful you are!
DO give to others. This sounds like a contradiction to something I said earlier, but it’s not! Think about ways you and your family can give to those who are truly in need next Christmas. Make a donation to an organization that uses that money to purchase chickens and goats for families in need. Pack a shoe box (or two or three) for kids in other countries. Volunteer to work at a soup kitchen in your own neighborhood. Whatever you do, do it out of gratefulness and joy!