Incarnation: Advent Week Four Devotion

He is almost here! Each week, we have lit a candle. We lit the candle of expectation, the candle of preparation, and the candle of celebration! This week, we light our fourth candle, the candle of Incarnation. What is Incarnation? It is the Son of God becoming flesh.

The Christian message is not one of escaping this life so that we can get a better one. The Christian hope is not that we can rid ourselves of our bodies. The Christian story is not of a God who from afar decreed that everything’s okay and we’re forgiven.

No, the Christian message, hope, and story are rooted in the fact that Christ became one of us to redeem us. He really did.

Does that stir you? It should.

The eternal Son of the triune God became a human person, a man, to rescue us. He really did enter the womb of a virgin and cloth Himself in our flesh. He really was born. Forget about what the hymn says; He really did cry when He woke up in the night when the cattle were lowing. He really did get hungry. And when he did, He also really did nurse.

Why? Because He loved you so much that He wanted to become like you so that you would love Him so much that you would want to become like Him.

As we go through this last week before Christmas, let us not let our eyes fill with the desires of this world, on the gifts and the glitter. Let us focus our attention on God made flesh dwelling among us. A baby who would rescue us all.

Scripture Reading:

        2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

        Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

        Luke 1:26-38

        Romans 16:25-27

Optional Activities:

·        Make a nativity. Draw it. Paint it. Use popsicle sticks. I’m sure Pinterest is full of ideas. Just focus on there being real people, a real stable, a real manger, real animals, and real baby Jesus there.

·        Immerse yourself and your family in the songs of the season.

·        Discuss the reality of what Mary would have been going through this week before her son, Jesus, was born. The travel. The hardship. Extend the discussion further and discuss the reality of His humanity. He was really potty trained. He really learned to walk and read and talk. He was really taught Scripture.

·        Watch a Christmas movie about Jesus. The Nativity Story is a great one that really highlights the realness of it all.

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Celebration: Advent Week Three Devotion

“Why the pink candle? The rest of them have been purple.” If your Advent candles are traditional colors, you might have noticed that there are 3 purple candles, 1 pink candle, and 1 white candle. You also may be wondering why purple and pink at all. Why not red and green? Historically, purple and pink, along with white and gold, are the colors of Advent. Purple is a color that represents royalty and preparation. It is dark and serious. Pink, on the other hand, isn’t so serious. It is a color of celebration and festivity. A color of love and youth. (And if your candles aren’t purple and pink, that is okay, too.)

The first week, we lit the candle reminding us to Expect the Savior’s coming. Last week, we lit another purple candle (maybe) to remind us to Prepare for the Savior’s coming. This week, we light the pink candle (maybe) to remind us to Celebrate His coming!

The Advent of Christ is cause for celebration. Yes, we prepare ourselves. Yes, this is a serious season. Yes, we need to search ourselves for any need of repentance. However, we also recognize that our Redeemer offers us life and hope, joy and peace! He has come, and He will surely come again to put things aright.

And so, in the midst of the preparation, in the midst of our busyness, in the midst of our reflection and contemplation, we take pause and remember that Christmas is almost here and Christ’s return could be any day.

This is no call to weep and panic; this is the promise of the One who longs to put things back together. As His people, we look longingly for the return of Jesus, and we celebrate His presence in our hearts, in our lives, and in our midst.

Scripture Reading:

        Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

        Psalm 126

        John 1:6-8, 19-28

        1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Optional Activities:

·        During this week of Celebration, my family likes to do an act of kindness for our neighbors. We bake cookies, lots and lots of cookies, and we deliver them to our neighbors with our warmest wishes. Some of our neighbors know us really well. Some know us as those Christmas cookie people. We just like to spread some joy during this week. Some people might think it is weird. Some cookies may go in the trash. That doesn’t bother me at all. We are joyfully giving.

·        Have a Christmas party! You could invite some friends, or you can have it just for your family. A special meal, a special dessert, maybe even some balloons. Celebrate the Savior this week!

·        Make cards for people. Send out some cards, not necessarily Christmas cards, though you could include the kids in sending those out. But just make some cards to spread the joy and happiness of the week.

·        Have a Christmas dance party! Crank up the Christmas songs and dance and sing an evening (or afternoon) away! Joy! Joy! Joy!

·        Do something that brings you joy. You can ask each member of the family for one special Christmas thing they love and try to make that happen. Or you can take your list from week one, the expectations, and see if you can achieve any of those. Some ideas to get you started, drink hot cocoa and watch a Christmas movie, drive around and look at lights, grab a peppermint latte from a coffee shop, visit a friend or family member, drop off some toys for Toys for Tots. Just something that makes you happy.

·        Remember yourself and your spouse. Do something for you. Do something just for them. They love chess pie, though you hate it? Make a chess pie this week. You love fancy nail polish? Go get a manicure! This is a week of celebration! Not just for kids, but for adults, as well.

Preparation: Advent Week Two Devotion

Advent is a season of preparation, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find this popping up as the focus of this week. Just as a family expecting a new baby finds itself in need to prepare, so also does the Church find Herself in need to prepare for the return of Her Redeemer.

Last week, we lit the first candle of Advent, the candle of Expectation. This week, we light the candle of Preparation. We expect His coming, now let’s prepare for His coming.

Before the birth of Jesus, the whole world had been prepared for the coming of its Redeemer just as Israel had been prepared for the coming of Her Messiah. Christ came as the fulfillment of prophesy and the hope of the nations.

Well His arrival certainly caught some well off guard (*cough* Herod), it was anticipated by those who took His Advent seriously (the Magi from the East).

As we prepare this holiday season for the coming of Christmas day, we should be sure to prepare our hearts and lives for the return of our King and prepare ourselves each day for His “surprise” visits in and through others.

What would it mean to prepare for the second coming? How can we see Jesus in others?

Scripture Reading:

        Isaiah 40:1-11

        Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

        Mark 1:1-8

        2 Peter 3:8-15a

Optional Activities:

·        In our house, the second week of Advent is the decoration week. We wait to set up our tree and hang our lights until this week. We prepare our house to remind us to prepare for our Savior.

·        Make ornaments! They can be simple. They can be complex. Make ornaments to prepare for the season.

·        Set up a tree in your kid’s bedroom. It doesn’t have to be big. Just a small tree they can decorate (prepare) themselves. A reminder in their personal space to make room for Jesus.

·        Continue discussing the second coming of Jesus. How do we prepare ourselves for that?

·        Discuss the way you prepared for your children to be born. For some, you may have had to buy things. For others, it may have just been retrieving things from storage. Share with your kids that preparation process.

Expectation: Advent Week One Devotion

We begin Advent with Expectation. Christ entered the world as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah and the long-dreamed-of Redeemer of humanity. After the visit from the angel, Mary, “the maidservant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38), found herself expecting a son who she was to name Jesus (literally translated is “Yahweh saves”), for He would be the world’s Savior.

This week, we are lighting the first Advent candle. This first candle is the first. The time we’ve been waiting for is here! We light this candle with the expectation of what is to come. Advent is here! Jesus is coming! We can expect great things this season.

God has always shown Himself to be more than capable to meet the needs of man. Physical needs, spiritual needs, relational needs, financial needs- He is able to meet them all. What needs do you have right now? Can you remember a time when God met your needs? When we look back and remember the faithfulness He has shown in meeting our needs, it gives us the hope and expectation to look forward to Him meeting our current need.

Someone once said quite simply, “Faith is expecting God.” This Advent season, what are you expecting?

As we await Christ’s return, we do so expectantly. As we live our lives till then, however, we should expect to find Him in the middle of them. If we don’t, we should pray that He would walk into our days and help us to have eyes to see Him.

This week’s Scripture reading is as follows. Remember to look the verses up and read them aloud as a family. If you are personally journaling through this Advent, these are also the verses for you to read, write, and journal.

Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Mark 13:24-37

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Optional Activities or Ways to celebrate the week of Expectation.

·        Give a small gift. I like to give my family a small gift at the beginning of Advent. Looking forward in the expectation of the Gift to come. But also, something to help them embrace the season. A child’s nativity playset, a book about Christmas, a Christmas movie, a new set of hot cocoa mugs for the family, a special Christmas doll, a Christmas sweater or socks. Just something to kick off this season with joy and expectation.

·        This is the week we break out all manner of Christmas things in our house. The Christmas music comes out. The Christmas movies reappear on the shelves. The Christmas books adorn the coffee table. The play nativity is set out. The Advent candles appear on the mantle. We don’t yet decorate, but we do break out the fun stuff. Just a taste of what is to come.

·        Make a list of what you expect this Advent. For kids, this can easily turn into a wish list. Try to steer them toward the more intangible aspects of the season. Time with family. Reading stories by the tree. Making cookies with Mom.

·        Have a discussion about Christ’s coming. I put this in the optional activities for two reasons. One being that smaller kids might not be able to really discuss. The other being that you yourself might not know what to say. We are not all well versed of prepared when it comes to eschatology. So, perhaps you want to wrap you head around it yourself this week. Or maybe you want to open the discussion with the whole family. My kids tend to surprise me when it comes to theological discussions. Sometimes they are heretics and need to be “smacked down” (that was a joke, I don’t actually smack them) when it comes to heresy. But they often bring up good points and questions. Look into it together. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Feel free to write your questions down and e-mail The Pastor or your pastor about questions you and your family might have. No one has all the answers. We don’t know all the ins and outs of the second coming. But that doesn’t mean we have to avoid discussing it. This week of Expectation is about expecting the coming baby in a manger and expecting that baby’s second coming on a cloud.

·        Write a story about your favorite Christmas memory. Share them with one another. You could do this on your own in a journal, or have everyone write about their favorite Christmas memory. I am always surprised with my kids’ responses to questions like this and they seem to enjoy hearing Mom and Dad sharing about their memories. You could also make a list of your top 10 or something if you’d rather not write every detail of one specific memory out.

·        Make a picture (draw, paint, color, cut out, art in some way) of you favorite part of Christmas. And I do this right along with my kids. We art together. The Pastor usually skips it, but I love it too much to let the kids have all the fun.

Advent Family Devotion Tips and Tricks

Celebrating Advent is big in our house. Some people think that because we choose to skip the Santa and Elf on the Shelf bits of Christmas, we somehow miss the magic. Let me tell you, we do not. Part of what makes Advent the special, magic time for our family is my intentionality in how we go through this time of year. As Mama Bear, I set the tone of my household and I set the rhythm of our lives. (Not that The Pastor isn’t an important part of this balance, but let’s be honest, Mama’s. We know that we are the ones that make the magic happen.) It doesn’t always unfold like I planned. I remember plenty of years when I really wasn’t feeling the magic myself. (Specifically, I recall being pregnant with Topher during Advent. End of the first trimester. I puked an average of 12 times a day with that child. B vitamins and Benadryl helped me sleep through most of my first trimester. I definitely was not feeling magical. I was sleeping and puking my days away.) But I have decided that regardless of how I feel, I am going to try to set the rhythm and tone of our household in the best direction for those in it. (Even that pukey Advent, I managed to keep the magic on track.) It does take work on my part, but what aspect of parenting isn’t work? So, yes, Dad’s get on board. And in your house, it may be Dad that keeps the rhythm flowing. For us, the atmosphere and rhythm is set by me. So here are my tips for you. (Please note, I also have general tips for surviving the holiday season. These are specific to this devotion, but you can read and apply the others, as well.)

·        You do not have to give up the fat man. We simply choose to do without the Santa aspects of Christmas. I just only have so much time and energy. You may be far more energetic than I am. You can fit it in. You can make it beneficial to a Christian Christmas. Just be aware of where the focus is. Shift the focus to the manger as much as you can. Let the Christmas extras compliment the baby in the manger.

·        You cannot do it all. Accept it now. All activities listed are OPTIONAL. Very, very optional. Everything you do or do not do is up to you. Intentionally choose what fits your family and best points them to Jesus. Leave the rest with no guilt.

·        For this devotional, we’ll be using Advent candles. You’ll need 5 candles. 1 for each week and then one for Christmas.  The candles add so much of the magic to Advent. Just that holy glow and atmosphere is so calming and centering. You can buy an Advent wreath with the candle holders made into it. You can buy a box set of Advent candles. Traditionally, there are 3 purple candles, 1 pink candle, and 1 white candle. (The order is week one- purple, week two- purple, week three- pink, week four- purple, Christmas- white.) Now, any 5 candles will work. If you want all white candles, all gold candles, all neon yellow candles, whatever. Just choose five candles. (The candle color is mentioned in the devotions, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them.) Last year, I bought scented candles in jars. (3 purpley gray, 1 pink, 1 white) I’ll likely do the same this year because I am not a taper candle person. You’ll be burning the candles quite a bit, so you probably don’t want tea lights or something super small unless you plan to replace them. You’ll light these candles during the devotion each week. (Week one, you light week one’s candle. Week two, you like week one and week two’s candles. And so on.) You can light them at other times during the week. (Though, for me, I will only burn the appropriate candles for the week. So week one, I won’t light more than the week one candle.) You can light them while you sing carols or do other family devotions or during dinner or during reading time. It is up to you how much you light and burn your candles. Usually, they are arranged with the colored candles circling the white candle. I lined mine up. With two purple on one side, then the white candle in the middle, then the pink candle and the remaining purple candle.

·        There are several verses each week to look up and read together. I would usually include those in the devotional, but I have been working with my kids on looking up Scripture. If your kids aren’t old enough to read, you may want to just look them up and mark them in advance. I have each of my kids look up and read a different passage.

·        I encourage you to do the personal devotional journal aspect of this, as well. It is optional. It is just a chance for you to go a little deeper while the whole family is still on the same page. If your kids are older, you can encourage them to do the personal devotion aspect, as well.

·        This Advent, remember, that busy isn’t always better. Your family needs time to breathe, center themselves, and enjoy the season. Don’t let them get overbooked. Carve out the time for family and personal devotion time.

·        Play Christmas songs, burn scented candles, make hot cocoa! Do the things that trigger those warm, fuzzy holiday feelings. Set the atmosphere of the house in a way that directs everyone’s thoughts and moods toward Jesus. Get the fire going. Break out the cozy blankets for the living room. Make your home atmosphere reflect the season so that the hearts and minds of your family go toward the manger.

·        Choose your devotional location to be somewhere that sets the right tone. You’ll need to be near the candles. You may find that best at your dining room table. Maybe your living room is more inviting. Maybe your parlor is less distracting. (I don’t have a parlor, but you might.) Keep your location consistent each week.

·        There is only one devotion per week. These should be done at the beginning of the week. On Sunday or Monday. Remind your family of the topic through the week. Add in the optional activities on the other days of the week. Do your personal devotions through the week. Your family will be moving through this together. Each week brings about a new idea and aspect as we look toward the coming baby in the manger. Write the time into your calendar. Make sure you prioritize it.

To give credit where it is due, this entire family devotional is adapted from a devotional written by The Pastor for our church for Advent. I did tweak it just a little, but the guts of it remain his. You can find his blog here. You can find our church website here. You can e-mail him at adam@faithmethodistchurch.org .

The Benefits of Advent

Most people haven’t heard of Advent, or if they have, it isn’t something Protestants do. I’m here to tell you, if you aren’t taking advantage of the Advent season, you are missing out. Advent is the beginning of our church year. This is our new beginning. Advent isn’t Christmas. In Christmas we celebrate a Savior born. In Advent, we wait in hope for a Savior to come.

“My mercy and justice are coming soon. My salvation is on the way. My strong arm will bring justice to the nations. All distant lands will look to me and wait in hope for my powerful arm.” – Isaiah 51:5

pip tangeled

          Most of our celebration of Christmas is really about Advent. The preparation, the expectation, the hope- the things that lead to Immanuel. Most of our Christmas songs are Advent songs. Songs about the waiting. The hope that comes before. That is what we are celebrating in Advent. And not just the hope of that first coming of Jesus, but also looking forward and preparing for that second coming.

          The color of the season is purple. It reflects both royalty and mourning. Wait, why mourning? No, I’m not bringing the Easter message into the Advent one. But when you are faced with the coming Messiah, there is preparation that must take place, preparation of the heart. It is a hopeful, but reflective time. Am I ready for that second coming? Am I living in this light or do I need my light refreshed this season?

          Hopefully, you’re beginning to see the importance and how deeply meaningful celebrating Advent can be. I’m going to push that thinking even further, still.

          Culturally, we bemoan the Christmas trees popping up after Halloween. We yell, “Wait! You’re missing something! It isn’t time yet!” We lament that our culture has taken our holiday and turned it into something else. We tell them, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And indeed He is. But when we look at our lives, our homes, and our rhythms, our December’s look an awful lot like the rest of the culture. The culture we want to shame, we imitate. Advent keeps us from that habit. It gives us a time for the festivities to begin. It gives us landmarks for the season. It focuses our minds on what we are celebrating and remembering. Instead of getting swept up in whether the kids should get 4 gifts, 3 gifts, or unlimited gifts- our focus is that Jesus is coming! Instead of getting sucked into the busy of the season, we have set aside this as a holy season for reflection and focus, not just for getting through before the big day. (And Christmas is more than one day people. December 25th is the 1st day of Christmas.

          It gives a rhythm to our lives. We begin our Christian year in expectant hope, in searching our own hearts and lives, and in preparing the way for the Savior. This is an excellent way to start the year. It is a much needed reminder. Some say tradition is dead. It is only dead if we are going through motions out of obligations. We are forgetful people. We have to write things down. We have to repeat them. We have to keep reminding ourselves of the truth and beauty in this world or we forget it is there. We get busy. We forget. Celebrating Advent will help you slow down and not forget.

          How do you go about celebrating Advent? Well, I have a few things for you to consider doing. I say consider because we all adapt what we need for our situation and lifestyle. What works for me as a homeschooling mom of a large family may not work for you, even if you are a homeschooling mom of a large family. Things are funny that way. My real hope for you would be that you think through the Advent season and develop a plan to go through it intentionally with your family, whoever that might include. (I’ll also have an Advent Family Devotional to help you along if you desire as well as The Pastor’s personal reading plan for yourself through Advent.) My hope is that you’ll give Advent a good try and see if you can develop a closer relationship with Christ this Advent season.

       Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each week has a theme to focus on. There are numerous ways to divide the weeks. We divide them this way: Week One- Expectation, Week Two- Preparation, Week Three- Celebration, Week Four- Incarnation. I’ll be using these, but if you want to use others, feel free. In Advent, you’ll often see an Advent wreath. And you can certainly find them for your home. (Last year, I just bought 3 purple, 1 pink, and 1 white candle in a jar instead of using a wreath. It just fit our home better. Weeks 1, 2, and 4 use a purple candle. Week 3 uses a pink candle. Christmas gets the white candle. The candles are lit each week, including the candles from previous weeks. So the anticipation really grows. In our house, we light the candles every time we sit for Advent family devotion. In church, we light them once a week on Sunday morning. Evergreens are another Advent decoration with significant meaning. (Representative of eternal life.)

          To celebrate Advent, set aside time as a family to focus on the themes of Advent. (Expectation, preparation, celebration, and incarnation) I’d encourage you to read the Bible, use a devotional, sing carols, etc. that have to do with the theme. It is a great time to start some new traditions from your family that reflect Christ, not the culture. Even if it is only once a week, make it a priority. Show your kids what is the most important in your life. (As a side note, you can check out my Advent family devotional if you are needing something, or use one of the recommendations at the end of this post.)

          For you personally, commit to reading through a reading plan or devotional yourself this Advent. (I just so happen to have both that you can take advantage of for free!) Take the time to reflect personally and intentionally set your mind and heart on the season at hand. This only comes once a year. Fully experience expectation in week one. Fully experience preparation in week two. We don’t put up our Christmas decorations until week two of Advent. It falls under preparation, so that is the week we prepare. It keeps us all focused on one thing at a time. Don’t neglect your our spiritual walk in trying to be everyone’s everything this season. Cookies can wait. You don’t have to see every family member seventeen times. They’ll deal. Do something that makes you stop and focus. If you can commit to this daily, fabulous. If you can only commit a few days a week, do that. Just commit and stick to it. Grab a cup of hot cocoa or hot tea and sit by the fire or tree and focus on Jesus this Advent.

          Another thing we do in our family for Advent is the automatic no. I’ve talked about that here before, but I’ll explain again. To avoid overcommitting ourselves during the most busy season of the year, we say no to almost everything. Our default answer becomes no. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything, but we don’t feel obligated to do anything. Our biggest priority is our family and focusing them on the coming Messiah. We say no to plenty of good things. But a good thing that comes in the way of the most important thing becomes a not good thing. We carefully choose what we will do or not do during Advent. It is a holy time, so we are careful not to waste it. We don’t travel all over to see family. We don’t attend more than one Christmas party. Don’t get me wrong, we do a lot. But what we do is intentional and adds to our celebration.

          Don’t rush it. We have a tendency to rush things. It is part of that not being good at waiting bit. Don’t rush through the weeks. Don’t rush through your devotional time. I know we are busy. But we have to learn to slow down and take the time for the things that matter. This matters.

          Go to church. I wish this didn’t need to be said. But it does. Commit to being at church every Sunday during Advent. 4 weeks. You can do it. Going to church will add to your Advent experience, especially if your church is on board with Advent celebration. But even if they are not, go. God has something for you there. You are part of the body. And as the big toe, you cannot stay home! (Just kidding about the big toe bit. You might be an ear. I don’t know. I think I am the trachea of the church. Sometimes irritated, but very loud.) Go to church. Share with your small group or Sunday school class what you are experiencing through the week by embracing Advent. Sing the hymns, carols, and songs with all your heart. I think you’ll find yourself more open and more reflective during this time.

          Make it a point to not get swept away by the current of materialism. It is so easy this time of year to try to keep up with the Joneses. To obsesses over what you want to buy, buy, buy. Though not specifically Advent related, you’ll spare up a lot of time for God if you can let go of this particular burden. You can obsess in how much you buy or in how little you buy. My point is, don’t become obsessed. Buy your kids gifts, don’t buy your kids gifts, and move on. This is easier said than done. Focus on what you want your children to see this season. Focus on the WHY of gift giving. And then let the rest go. No guilt here. Don’t give this holiday to the mall.

“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we cant take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”

          I hope you’ll take the time to embrace this Advent season. I think you will find that you will grow so much more than you imagined when you do. I think you’ll also find your family greatly benefitted.

If you want my tips on thriving during the Holidays, click here.

A list of resources for you this Advent:

Advent Wreaths (or make your own)

Advent Devotionals:

          Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

          Waiting Here for You by Louie Giglio

          God Is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

          Watch for the Light by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

          From Heaven by A.W. Tozer

          And/Or Use Mine for Free!

Advent Reading:

          Keep Herod in Christmas by Stan Key

Advent Extras for Kids:

          The Nativity Movie

          Jesus Storybook Bible

          Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set

          Melissa and Doug Nativity Set

**This post contains affiliate links. These links do benefit my family when you use them.**

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.

kitchen lj

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!