Enjoying The Holidays

The Holidays are upon us. Your calendar is already filling up. You’re likely already searching for the perfect gift. It is still early enough, that you’ve still got visions of a perfect holiday season this year. This will be the year your kids remember. It’ll be great! Fabulous! Everyone will be commercial quality happy and the holidays will be filled with fun activities, cute outfits, and grateful children.

Of course, the reality is far less shiny. You fill your calendar to capacity and never find time for the gingerbread house. You max out your gift list and budget and find yourself so focused on the hole you’re digging, everyone better have the proper level of enthusiasm for your gift! You’ve volunteered for one too many activities and your kids are spending way too much of the season doing the same stuff they do the rest of the year! This was supposed to be Hallmark quality and you’re getting Griswold quality!

So, before we embark upon the Holiday season, let me give you some of my tips to slowing down, chilling out, and actually enjoying the Holidays.

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1. Learn to say no.

“No” is my automatic default answer come Holiday season. From mid-November through the beginning of January, I say no, and then I decide if I’m sticking with that. It is a big relief to not have to feel like I have to do everything. I don’t end up agreeing to anything out of obligation or because I didn’t think things through. At first, people seemed a little put out at my no’s. I still come across someone who doesn’t like my automatic no response. But that is okay with me. I keep my calendar much lighter by saying no first.

2. Decide on your priorities early.

Things don’t usually just happen. If family time with your kids and spouse is what you really desire during the Holidays, you really have to commit to that early to make it happen. Family time easily gets crowded out by a busy schedule. If teaching your kid’s about Jesus is high on your priority list, know that some good and fun things might get left out. You only have so much time and energy to give. Make sure you’re giving those where you want to be giving them and not just living in default setting.

My family has never done Santa. Not because there is anything wrong with the fat guy. He’s cute and fun. But we really wanted to teach our kids about all of Advent. We really wanted to focus on God with us. Additionally, we wanted to teach our kids to give. There just isn’t time or energy around here for Santa or the creepy Elf. Yes, my kids would have fun, but it would easily crowd out the more important priorities we have for them and for us. We made priorities and we stick to them. There are an infinite number of things you can do throughout the season. There are a number of fun things, good things, things other people prioritize, that just may not fit into your priorities. And that is okay. Just make priorities early and stick to them. You’ll definitely be happier with your Holidays when you are living your priorities.

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3. Staying home for the Holidays is an option.

Everyone wants to be the host with the most for Holidays. To be the host with the most, you need guests. Your invite isn’t always about you, it is often about the host painting their perfect holiday. If you can make it, if you want to make it, great- go for it. But you don’t have to.

Some people seem to want permission to tell family that they won’t be playing Holiday Hop. It can get tiring. It makes it even worse when every family member seems to think the actual holiday is the only acceptable time for your presence. While it’d be nice, the reality is usually not so Hallmark. The reality is being out late on Christmas Eve for one family gathering. Waking up at the crack of dawn with excited kids. Rush to a Christmas morning breakfast with the inlaws. Head to Mom’s house for lunch. Over to Aunt Sally’s for afternoon dessert. Swing by Sister-in-law’s for dinner. And finally home to crash way after bedtime. If you dream of an entire Christmas Eve and Day in your own home with zero driving- this is your permission to go for it.

Our families live far apart. We decided when our first child was born that we’d be spending Christmas- all of it- at home. At first, you could tell there was some disappointment, that things were not unfolding quite as all parties wanted them to. But, here we are, 9 years later, and we’ve been home every single Christmas. And it is perfect for us. Our priorities would be toast by now if we hadn’t decided to stay home. We invite everyone to join us every year. While they don’t usually take us up on it, we still offer. (And the invitation is completely sincere. If family wants to celebrate with us, awesome. If they don’t, that is absolutely fine, too.) And some people love the family hop holiday plan. And that is absolutely fine. If you’re not enjoying it, please try something different this year.

4. Christmas doesn’t end on December 25th.

December 25th is the beginning of Christmas. Before that, we have Advent. But utilize the 12 days of Christmas. The kids are usually out of school for some of it. It buys you 2 extra weeks to celebrate! You’ll be able to fit in the cookie baking you always hope to accomplish, but never do. You’ll be able to cram in some more family carol singing. You’ll be able to do Christmas crafts you missed. That gingerbread village will get built! Don’t stop Christmas on Christmas day. Keep the celebrating going. Not only is the gingerbread village kit going to be 70% off, but you’ll have much more family time. And more time is a win!

December 25th is the beginning of Christmas. Before that, we have Advent. But utilize the 12 days of Christmas. The kids are usually out of school for some of it. It buys you 2 extra weeks to celebrate! You’ll be able to fit in the cookie baking you always hope to accomplish, but never do. You’ll be able to cram in some more family carol singing. You’ll be able to do Christmas crafts you missed. That gingerbread village will get built! Don’t stop Christmas on Christmas day. Keep the celebrating going. Not only is the gingerbread village kit going to be 70% off, but you’ll have much more family time. And more time is a win!

People usually get burned out because they begin the celebrations too early. You start Christmas right after Halloween and skip Thanksgiving and yeah, by Christmas, it gets old. But if you spend your Advent preparing for Christmas and the the 12 days celebrating Christmas, you won’t get burned out. And you’ll actually get a Thanksgiving!

5. Scale it back!

My kids’ absolute favorite Christmas Tree was this tiny, potted, emaciated 4 foot tall tree that would barely hold ornaments. They loved that tree. Our regular ornaments wouldn’t hold at all, so they made paper chains and paper ornaments for this tiny tree. It looked like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. And it was their favorite. They ask to replicate it each year.

I’m not saying get rid of your 10 foot crystal covered tree. If you love it, by all means, go for it. But if all the decorating, shopping, and just doing stresses you out- scale it back! Simple handmade decorations get you family time and decor- even if it won’t be on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Simple gift giving is completely acceptable. Don’t stress yourself trying to afford this grand entire Toys ‘R’ Us catalogue Christmas for your kids. Less is more. Really. Ever notice that when you give them a ton they go into zone out mode and don’t actually play with anything, but flit from gift to gift?

In our house, each child buys a gift for one another. The kids spend weeks thinking and carefully selecting the perfect gift for each sibling. And they are actually really great at getting one another exactly the right thing. I usually choose for the baby, since he’d likely grab them toilet brushes, since he deems that the toy supreme right now. The Pastor and I will then usually buy each child a gift (usually books from us, we’re boring like that). If we have leftover Christmas budget money, we’ll buy them all one gift together. (Last year, it was a slack line. The year before, a zip line. The year before, they didn’t get this gift because the budget ran out.) So, each kid is looking at getting 5 gifts. That may seem ridiculously tiny to you, but they really enjoy it. And they always seem beyond thrilled. Some families do one gift per child, knowing that getting one thing you really want is enough of a treat. Some do the three gift thing. Whatever you choose, choose something that works for you, your priorities, and your budget.

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6. You don’t have to be doing!

You don’t have to fill every second of every day with magic. You don’t have to have every Saturday from now to Epiphany jam packed with awesome. Give yourself some leisure time. Some people have to write leisure time on the calendar, if that is you, do it! Just make sure you take the time to sit and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. Watch your favorite Christmas movie. Just slow down and don’t pack every single second full of stuff. Christmas memories can be made over hot cocoa on a cold night. It doesn’t have to be the Christmas tree farm, reindeer petting zoo, and every Santa in the city.

7. Do some things you like!

Along the same lines of number six, do some things you like to do this Holiday Season. If grabbing a peppermint mocha just FEELS like Christmas to you, do it! If you like festive nails, take the time to make it happen! If sitting around the fire and knitting feels like the holidays, then sit and knit! Everything doesn’t have to be for the kids. I’m sure they’ll treasure their memories of sitting at your feet while you knit or stealing a swig of your mocha while you’re not looking. Live the Holiday you love, too.

8. Don’t stress gifts!

Learning to be a good giver is something we teach our children. It doesn’t have to be lavish. It doesn’t have to be the best. This is especially true when we’re talking about gifts for teachers, coaches, friends, and extended family. You pick a gift within your budget that is thoughtful. That is about as far as you can go. You can’t make people gracious recipients. It doesn’t matter than you gave your kid’s coach a box of homemade cookies and another kid gave him a 60” plasma TV. You give the gift you want to give. Extravagance is not a necessity. And you don’t have to get every kid in the neighborhood, your cashier at the store, your barista, 5 teachers, 2 principals, and a regular and weekend postal worker a gift. You don’t have to. Those lists of “have to’s” get long. And our resentment gets high. Give the gifts you want to the people you want. End of story.

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9. Don’t forget the Bible.

Clearly, I’m talking to Christians here. Much of this advice could be used for other holidays, but I’m coming from a Christian perspective. If you’re celebrating Christmas as a Christian, don’t neglect to seek God during Advent and Christmas. We tend to loose the reason we celebrate trying to make a Hallmark Christmas. We want pithy bumper stickers proclaiming that Jesus is the Reason for The Season, but our actual holiday practice certainly doesn’t reflect it. We want to get angry at the rest of the world for leaving Christ out of Christmas, when we are the biggest offenders.

Thank God for His blessings and provisions on Thanksgiving. Move through Advent preparing your heart for God with us. We often get so busy, we tell a story to our kids about a baby in a manger and we forget to dwell on the ourself. Holidays are holy days. Keep them holy in your home. Read through the prophesies foretelling of the coming Savior. Read the nativity story in the Gospels. Christmas isn’t just for kids. We need to be reminded about the awesomeness that is this Holiday. We need to be reminded that God became flesh and dwelt among us. Don’t make the mistake of skipping the manger and heading straight to the cross, either. There is time for that. It’s coming. This is the season to dwell on our helplessness and God coming to us. To really embrace that He became one of us. And then when you move through the 12 days of Christmas to Epiphany, you can follow the story of wise men coming to Jesus, of the presence of Christ becoming known to the world. This is the Holiday we Christians celebrate. Do the fat guy, the creepy elf, the lights, the show if you want. Just make sure to park yourself firmly on the real reason we celebrate in the first place. God with us.

10. Show grace.

People get so testy around the holidays. You might be angry with me currently for using the word holiday so much. We want to make it an “us” vs. “them” thing. Don’t tell me “Happy Holidays!” “Keep Christ in Christmas!” “Don’t write X-mas!!!” Pretty sure we all miss the mark when we get so wrapped up in the trivial. Be Christ-like and show some grace. The reality is that not ALL your neighbors are Christian. Not ALL your neighbors celebrate Christmas. Not ALL who celebrate Christmas are Christian. That is the reality of the world around you. That is what makes it so easy to get swept up in the reindeer, Santa, elves, mistletoe, etc. Because what is around you isn’t necessarily Christian. So, instead of getting angry at your culture, show them what Christians mean by Christmas. Show them what God with us means. Show them some grace. “Happy Holidays!” is appropriate. It covers Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. (Bam! Three Christian holidays in one!) “Keep Christ in Christmas!” by keeping Him in Christmas in your home. X-mas, well, that one is a lesson in Greek. You’re basically using Christ’s initials instead of his name, much like those adorable matching PJs you’ve been eyeing for Christmas Eve.

We could also show one another some grace. Santa isn’t Christian or not Christian. My family chose not to participate in the game. Your family might. And that is okay! We can celebrate the same thing in our own way. I make a million cookies. It is my thing. That doesn’t mean you have to make a million cookies. We can celebrate the same thing in different ways. So, cookies, stockings, St. Nick, Santa, Advent Calendars- as long as we Christians are celebrating the birth of Our Lord, let’s rejoice.

Philippians 1:18 “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

11. Don’t compare!

In keeping with number ten, next we have “don’t compare”. The mommy wars are very real, but they are usually of our own making. So you see my super awesome tea cakes on Instagram, don’t beat yourself up because you’ve got some Chips Ahoy going right now! I’m sure you do plenty of things I don’t do. And your kids will love telling the stories about you and who you are just as much as mine will some day. The Pastor still waxes poetic about canned cranberry sauce like his grandmother used to open. We all have our own gifts, interests, and talents. When you post your manicure that looks like little Santas, I promise, I’ll only be jealous of the kid free time you got while doing it! We share to share our joy, not to make others feel bad or to make ourselves look like super mom. None of us have capes. Glean ideas from one another, but not guilt.

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12. All traditions do not have to be kept.

Your parents started a tradition with you of buying you a new Hallmark ornament each year. That was their tradition. You don’t have to continue it. If you want to, cool beans. If it doesn’t work for you, let it go. Our lives can quickly devolve to chaos when you’ve got two families of tradition meeting. If you try to hold them all, you’ll have no room for your own things. Choose and change what traditions you want to keep. The Pastor gets ridiculously insistent about which foods should don a Thanksgiving or Christmas table. But his meals growing up looked much different from mine. Instead of having this ridiculous 10 family meal for the 7.5 of us, we instead each choose our favorite couple things and go with that. We don’t usually have my family’s cucumber and onions. We don’t have two versions of dressing (stuffing for those that don’t speak Southern). We don’t have two cranberry sauces. We don’t have turkey and ham. We make our own menu and our own “traditional” meal. We cut Santa. I don’t hide gifts for a Christmas morning scavenger hunt like my mom did. You make your own traditions. And you don’t feel guilty about it.

13. Ask your kids what they want to do.

One of my favorite things is learning from my kids what our family traditions are. For example, I did not know that I always put gold chocolate coins in the kids’ stockings until 2 years ago when I overheard the older two talking about it and how much they loved it. Who knew?! I also didn’t realize until I didn’t do it last year, that making paper chains or popcorn chains are their favorite part of tree decorating. So, talk to your kids about what they think the family traditions are and ask them what things they want to do. Mine usually ask to drive around and look at lights. They ask for hot cocoa and Christmas movie night. They ask the name the Christmas tree. So, ask them! You’ll enjoy doing things they love and they’ll love doing the things you love! Let them share in some of the planning.

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14. Keep charity in mind, but don’t feel compelled to do it all.

Particularly around the holidays, people feel the need to be charitable to one another. And I am not knocking that tendency. Yes, there are needs year round, but we will all admit that those are most magnified around the holidays. So, do be charitable! But with the plethora of charities available to you, don’t feel like you have to participate in everything. You just can’t. There is only so much YOU to go around. So, talk it over with the kids, pick something you can all get involved in, and get involved! You may find your kids have a heart for the homeless and want to get involved in a supplies drive and distribution for them. They may decide to knit hats and scarves for them or for orphans in the Ukraine.

My kids have a big heart for foster kids. We participate in our local DFACS Secret Santa program. The kids in foster care make their Christmas wish lists (3 items) and we buy them. Our oldest daughter was actually the one who picked this charity. She said she wants to show foster kids that someone loves them. The gifts have ranged from bikes to MP3 players to nail polish to a dictionary for school.

Whatever charity you decide to participate in, do so with a glad heart and not out of obligation. But know, you don’t have to do it all. There are lots of charities to choose from and you’d run out of time and money before you even got through a fraction of them. So, pick your pony and ride it, as I tell my kids!

15. Slow down and enjoy the little things you’ve been missing.

There are some things that just smell like Christmas. Stop and enjoy those this year. Remember your love as a kid of driving around and seeing all the lights. Take time to actually look at them this year instead of list making in your head as you drive your kids around. Those cookies your grandmother used to make are worth the time this year. Just stop and enjoy the celebration going on all around you. If you get stuck on this, look at your kids for cues. They still see the wonder and will be happy to show you if you stop for a second to enjoy it.

And seriously, Happy Holidays!

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