I recently confessed that last Christmas was a disaster for me personally.
Despite how that sounds, I am not a scrooge. Every year when the sparkles and lights of Christmas decor start to show up in stores, I am taken back to all those cozy Christmas memories I have of my own childhood, and I feel that excitement at the thought of all the “magic” that comes with the season.
Then I crash back down to reality when I remember that I am the mom now, the one who holds the responsibility of being the maker of the Christmas magic for my kids. The “magic” kind of loses it’s luster when you are in charge of all the logistics of executing the magical experience. In fact, all that pressure of making Christmas “magical” for our kids is downright stressful at times.
So back to last year, when there was a party or gathering every weekend in December and I hadn’t even started the present-buying, wrapping, and baking that was supposed to go with them. Not one item on my mental “Christmas bucket list” had been checked off, and I felt like my kids were missing out. I read the words of Nativity storybooks, but they didn’t reach my heart. Finally I broke down crying one night, feeling so overwhelmed that I couldn’t even enjoy “the most wonderful time of the year”. I was just waiting for it all to be over.
I’m pretty sure celebrating Christ’s birth isn’t supposed to look like that.
This year, I am looking ahead to the Christmas season, and I am determined to guard that little spark of joy I feel starting in my heart. I don’t want to let it get snuffed out by busyness and stress this year, so the following is my game plan – and if you’ve ever felt so stressed by the Christmas season that you’ve missed some of the joy, I hope this will encourage you too.
Strategy #1: Lower expectations.
In this age of social media it is hard not to feel pressure to do everything. We all want to make the season fun and meaningful for our kids, we all want to make good memories and point our kids to Christ, and we should strive for those things. But at the same time it’s important to realize that we can’t do everything, not in life, and not at Christmastime. This year I am cutting down my expectations to the bare minimum, leaving room for our favorite activities as well as some spontaneity and peace.
Those peaceful moments are when the best memories and most meaningful conversations happen with our kids too. This year one of the things that I am keeping as a low-pressure expectation is more time to read to the kids, and I am building my Christmas book stack in preparation, including A Very Merry Christmas Prayer. We’ve had this book since last year and the kids really gravitate toward the illustrations and sparkly cover – and what I love about this book is how each page thanks God for some aspect of the season. I need that reminder too.
Strategy #2: Start early then slow down.
When I say start early, I mean for example, that I started Christmas shopping in October. Now, some of you Christmas fanatics (like my sister) are still shaking your head at me because you had your shopping done in July, but October is early for me. I’m trying to get all my Christmas “have-to’s” done early so there is more room for Christmas “want-to’s” in December. My hope is to feel less pressure the closer we get to Christmas so I have more room to slow down and remember why we are celebrating.
Strategy #3: Start a personal advent tradition.
If you are anything like me, you probably already have some sort of advent tradition with your kids. I come up with all kinds of ideas every year, things I want to do in the days leading up to Christmas to really cement for my kids that Christmas is about Jesus. I am so focused on making sure they “get it”, that I don’t take any time to make sure I’m “getting it”. That is just a shame. How can I really impress on my kids the magnitude of the greatest gift, Jesus being born as a baby so that one day He could die for us on the cross, if I’m not taking any time to reflect on that fact myself? I haven’t decided yet what I will do, but the bottom line is that if we as parents are filled with an awareness and gratitude for what Christ has done at Christmas, our kids will pick up on that and think more deeply about the true meaning of Christmas too.
To end my tale of Christmas stress, last year I was pretty sure I had blown it and the kids hadn’t had any Christmas fun. In mid-December, I picked up a Christmas book in an attempt to feel like we did something right, and I read the story to my kids. I was about to launch into a rushed explanation about Christ’s birth, when my three year old chimed up, bouncing in her place.
“Jesus came because He loves us!”
Her sweet statement of that simple truth really re-set the season for me and made me realize that I needed to chill out a little bit – because Christmas isn’t about all the bustle and rush and “fun”. It’s about the fact that Jesus, our God and Savior, humbled Himself to be born as a human baby in order that He may die for us one day on the cross – all because He loves us. That is the true magic of Christmas.
What are your best strategies for keeping your joy throughout the Christmas season?