Yesterday I shared my heart about cherishing the moment within the Christmas season and why we need to stop and ponder the reason we celebrate. You can read that here.
If you read that post you may be wondering (or even pondering. HA!) HOW you can take a moment to celebrate in the midst of the chaos. Let me share a bit of what we’ve chosen to do over the past few years in order to bring more celebration and less chaos to our Christmas season.
For us the chaos begins with my daughter’s birthday around Thanksgiving. We try to cram it in before Thanksgiving, and if you know us you know we don’t cut corners on birthday parties, I’m pretty sure they are my 4 of my favorite things to do! My other daughter has a birthday within a week of the New Year, so our chaos goes from November 20th to January 4th… and I feel I need to have that January birthday party completely planned before the November one just so we don’t forget through the month of December.
For us the chaos comes in the form of a personal christmas party, a deacon christmas dinner, a women’s ministry christmas meal/gift exchange, a church kids program, the big church christmas lunch and party. We do an advent calendar with our kids to make each day special throughout the month. My birthday is smack dab in the middle, and our anniversary is January 1st! Sounds CRAZY CHAOTIC doesn’t it? But it’s not! I promise you, it’s not. Here’s my secret in a nutshell. We got rid of everything that caused more stress than fun. If we were stressed a little but didn’t neglect the bigger picture, that was okay. But the things we dreaded and caused stress without any reason other than obligation, we cut.
First we scheduled out our Christmas weeks at the beginning of November. If things weren’t able to be spaced in a way that kept the chaos at bay, we moved things around, or cut them out completely. We chose what was important, what their purpose was (ultimately to celebrate the birth of Christ by gathering with people we loved and wanted to share God’s love with) and eliminated things that weren’t top priority. Although our part-time jobs may put on a fabulous Christmas party, getting a sitter, buying the extra gift for the gift exchange, and moving other meaningful engagement around seemed to heap more stress than meaning into the season, so we let those go. We respectfully decided not to attend. It was nothing against the party themselves, or the people who were going to attend, it just simply didn’t fit into our priorities for the season. (and perhaps that will change year to year). So
#1. Ask yourself what your priorities are. What should get more time and attention, and what can be skipped. Then actually decline things that don’t fit in. Remember saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. So if you are saying yes to a meaningful, non-stressed Christmas, you’ll need to say no to things that don’t fit.
We do a daily advent calendar with our kids. Starting on December 1st there are 25 Christmas activities we do to purposefully bring meaning to the season. In years past I was trying to go big and make everyday huge. I guess I thought that big and extravagant meant meaningful and impactful. However, all it did was create stress, work, and failed advent days. Although it’s purpose was good, to focus on the real reason we celebrate, it’s execution was an epic fail! So we simplified. It’s important to focus on Christ and the outreach that this season can bring, so we stuck with those basics. We only do one Random Act of Kindness each week. We read the Christmas story throughout, we make time for family movie nights where we can cuddle together and have family closeness. We discuss the elements of Christmas. We purposefully set aside moments to reflect on the awe-inspiring focal point of the season… Jesus.
#2. Plan ahead for quiet, meaningful moments to give yourself time to reflect on the WHYs of the season. **To do this, you have to do #1
Many years ago we had to make the decision not to participate in extended family gift exchange. We had already decided that with our kids we were going to downplay the gift aspect of Christmas anyway. But the extended family (Our siblings, and all of their kids) was growing way bigger than we could ever keep up with financially. So we asked that we choose other ways to celebrate instead of buying gifts. Gift giving is fun. It’s one of the biggest highlights of Christmas Day. Jesus was our ultimate gift, and giving gifts has always been a reflection of that and extending the “giving” spirit Jesus had. But the financial burden those gifts heap on the gift giver can suck the joy right out of the season. For our 4 children, they receive 3 gifts on Christmas. We model these gifts after the gifts the wise men gave to Jesus. Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Our kids do not make a wish list. They can add anything they want to a birthday list, but for Christmas we focus on giving, not receiving. The gold gift is something fun that they’ll enjoy; A toy usually. The frankincense gift is something that will aid in their spiritual walk; Bible, devotional, Christian movie, Christian artwork. The myrrh gift is a gift for their bodies; usually clothing. They spend their own money and draw a sibling to buy for… again, to teach them about giving. We can not afford to give gifts to all our friends. With being the pastor of the church, we would just have too many friends to buy for. Instead we opt out of that type of gift giving and we host an informal christmas party where we cook goodies for our friends and make time to sit and BE PRESENT with them.
My sister hosts a really nice dinner for her friends as a gift. It may cost her and her husband some time, and a tad bit more to their grocery budget, but the gift is a fabulous meal and some good quality time. Gifts do not have to be material in order to be meaningful. Keep in mind that although giving is better than receiving you will soon receive the bills for all of those gifts!
#3 Give within your means. Be creative, but don’t stress. Plan ahead for your kids so you can catch an item they may love while it’s on sale. You can give and still teach your kids that it’s not the primary part of Christmas.
We typically host or prepare 4 Christmas parties. We have a personal one where we have a Christmas open house that is “come and go” in style. We invite people in all of our different areas of life. From our neighborhood, our church, our workplaces. We have a small intimate dinner as a gift to our deacons. I host the Women’s Ministry gathering and gift exchange. These three are in our home. The last one is the annual Christmas dinner at church following our kids church program. I love every single gathering. I love that we can have a large amount of people pass through our home. They don’t come at the same time, they don’t all leave at the same time, so I get the chance to talk to most without feeling like I left anyone out (Pastor’s wife’s problems!). I love our deacon dinner where we can express our thanks to an amazing leadership team! I love love love our women’s gathering. The giggles and fellowship is unmatched anywhere else! And I ADORE seeing our entire church family sharing a meal, and some fun games together. But hosting all these things can zap a person’s energy! To combat the stress that comes along with that, I do #1 (plan out all the events that are meaningful). Then I make my “needs” list. I make the shopping lists, the ingredients list, the gifts list all before Thanksgiving. By December 1st I have every meal we will eat for the rest of the year planned and the various grocery lists made. I can look at my calendar and know that if our Advent calendar is going to have us making christmas cookies, that I will have the christmas cookie ingredients. If the calendar says we have our church dinner the next day, then I know I already have dessert and side dish ingredients in the cupboard ready for the event. Gifts for various gift exchanges have already been planned out. When each gift can be bought within the budget is all planned… before Thanksgiving. This frees up the days for the fun of the season without the stress of not being prepared.
#4 Be prepared. Line up your events with the items you’ll need in advance so you’re prepared to enjoy and not stress.
When we host a party, or attend a party, we want to fellowship. We want to socialize. We do not want to be standing over the stove while our guests are laughing and making memories. Nor do we want to attend a party where we never get to see the host. So if our party starts at 3, we have everything done and ready by 2:30/2:45 so we can greet our guests at the door, and socialize with them for the duration of the party. We also accept help, or ask for help so that we can all enjoy the party together. For our women’s gathering I will have ladies come and help me set up. I will also allow them help me clean up afterwards. If they are offering, they want to help. (if you don’t want to help, don’t offer! haha). We do not prepare the church food ourselves, we ask that everyone bring something to share. It’s more important to be together at christmas than to run around frazzled entertaining!
#5 Use time management so you can be present at your own parties. And accept and ask for help! Value relationship over perfection. Dismiss etiquette for friendships.
And lastly, take a deep breath, look around at every chance and praise God for the blessing. Again, if you can’t do that you need to revisit #1. If you hate Christmas caroling in the frozen tundra where your hands never get warm the rest of the season… and you can’t stop mid carol and capture a joyous moment… choose to skip the Christmas Caroling next year (can you tell this is not my favorite thing to do?!) Just as Mary sat and watched the festivities that first Christmas day, just as she decided to sit and ponder all these things, we, too should take the time amidst the chaos to marvel in all Christ has done for us. He came from heaven to earth to be our Way, our Life, our Savior. And for THAT, we celebrate!
#6- CELEBRATE… Celebrate by keeping Jesus the focal point. Bring Him glory this Christmas season.
The list can go on and on. But ultimately we mustn’t forget that the season should be a season of celebration of Jesus’s becoming Emmanuel, God with us. When we gather with friends and family it should be as a light shining for Jesus. When we offer gifts it should be to represent the gift of Jesus’ presence. When we partake of the Christmas festivities we should take the time to ponder just how blessed we are to be able to celebrate the gift of all gifts– Jesus
What are some ways you keep increase the celebration and decrease the chaos, I’d love to hear from you in the comments area.