Most of us are in a quandary to some degree during the Christmas season. There’s more to do, a lot of it enjoyable in itself, but it adds to an already packed schedule and can leave us feeling frantic rather than enjoying the season, much less pondering the meaning of it. Though I am not an organizational expert, here are a few tips I’ve found helpful:
Start early. Some people shop all year for Christmas. That doesn’t work for everyone – they might not have the storage space, or desires might change over the year. It’s been a big help to me to buy Christmas cards fairly soon after they first come out, usually in November before Thanksgiving. I can find a good selection at a discount store then, whereas later they’ll be picked-over. The last few years, we’ve asked for everyone’s “wish lists” by Thanksgiving week, and by taking advantage of online sales that week, we’ve gotten the bulk of our Christmas shopping done then.
Evaluate traditions. Composer Gustav Mahler said, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” Traditions are lovely ways to enhance a season and create family memories, but sometimes they become a burden rather than a blessing. I recently read of a family where the mom/grandmother had passed away, and the first Christmas afterward, someone made the special dish that she had always made for Christmas dinner. But then they realized that none of them were that crazy about it, and there were other, better ways to remember their loved ones.
Involve the whole family. We always decorate the house for Christmas together as a family, and, though some years we didn’t get Christmas cookies made, I did that with the kids. My husband and I divide up the shopping. The kids help clean the house.
You don’t have to go to everything. Every group or organization seems to have get-togethers at Christmas, there are school programs and recitals, special things going on in town. Choose the most meaningful things for your family and forget the rest – unless you’re one of those people who likes being out a lot.
Some activities can be scheduled outside of December. I’ve known some people to do their annual Christmas family newsletter around Thanksgiving or just after New Year’s rather than at Christmastime. We had one Sunday School class that scheduled its class party in January rather than December, both to relieve everyone’s December calendars and the church facility usage, and give us something to look forward to in January, when there was typically nothing special going on.
Put off what can be put off. In addition to what was mentioned in the last point, December is not usually the time for massive organizational or home projects. I also try not to schedule doctor’s or dentist’s appointments in December unless it can’t be helped. By the way, you might be thinking of getting appointment or procedures in before the end of the year if you’ve already met your deductible for the year so it will cost less: check with your insurance about when their year starts and ends. We just found out a few months ago that they count our year not from January to December, but from December through the following November, so December expenses count for the new year, not the current one.
Take shortcuts. It’s ok to buy pre-made cookie dough or even bakery or restaurant items rather than making everything from scratch for every activity or gathering. I store my mini Christmas trees (some maybe 10 inches tall, some about 2 feet) with the decorations on in their own containers, so when I put them up, all I have to do is fluff them out a little and put back on any decorations that fell off rather than decorating each from scratch each year (If you have extremely fragile ornaments, that might not work). It makes it easier to put them away as well.
Acknowledge changes in circumstances and seasons. A friend grieved one year because she was in the hospital with a kidney infection Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She felt she was “ruining” Christmas for her family. While I can understand that, in a sense her lamenting made it worse. Since nothing could be done about the circumstances, it would have been a good time to teach her kids to adapt and to maybe try to turn it into something fun for the kids in some way (maybe Dad bringing doughnuts for Christmas breakfast in the hospital room, opening stockings there and saving the big presents for later, etc.). Another friend’s husband was in prison over several Christmases, another was homeless one Christmas. Some people get stranded in airports or can’t make planned trips due to bad weather. It is sad and frustrating, but since it can’t be helped, it’s best to make the best of it in some way. And it’s funny how those “different” Christmases are the ones that we sometimes remember the most. On the other hand, some Christmases are filled with grief, and it’s ok not to be into the ‘frothy” aspects of the season. Also, as the family grows, or decreases when kids move out, the different things you do as a family might change. We used to get Christmas presents for all the siblings, then their spouses, then as families grew, we just got gifts for all the kids and the grandparents, then as we were too far away to really know what anyone liked and it was getting too expensive, we eventually just got gifts for our own children and parents. Empty nesters might or might not do all the decorating they did when kids and grandkids are no longer coming to their house for the holidays.
Find ways to focus on the meaning of the season. There are Advent Bible reading plans online that incorporate OT passages prophesying the Messiah’s birth as well the familiar NT passages about Christ’s birth and other applicable NT passages. I’ve been blessed by focusing on one Christmas devotional book in December. Some I’ve read are (linked to my reviews):
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas compiled by Nancy Guthrie, containing sermon excerpts or essays from as far back as Augustine and as current as Tim Keller.
Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent by Nancy Guthrie is geared for family usage, but I enjoyed reading it by myself as well.
The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna by Liz Curtis Higgs.
From Heaven: A 28-Day Advent Devotional by A. W. Tozer
I’m currently reading a new one, Gospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett. I’m only a third of the way into it, but it’s good so far, and I have enjoyed others in the Gospel Meditations series that I’ve read.
Don’t expect perfection. I wrote about our idea of a “perfect Christmas” a few years ago and compared it to the first Christmas, which would be far from our idea of perfection: having to travel 9 months pregnant, not being able to find a place to stay other than a stable, giving birth in that setting, etc. But that’s the Christmas setting of our nostalgic carols, and, more importantly, the Christmas the resulted in the Savior of the world being born. The point of Christmas celebrations is to remember and celebrate that birth, so if every bow isn’t straight or every cookie isn’t baked and decorated just right, it’s not the end of the world.
How about you? What ways have you found to get the extras done at Christmas and still have time for reflection?
“Christmas is so much more than a holiday. So much more than buying and wrapping and cooking and eating and trimming with tinsel and mailing out cards. It’s a season for reflection, for preparation, for renewal.” ~Liz Curtis Higgs, The Women of Christmas