The holiday season has arrived. I don’t know about you, but my calendar is filling up fast and my To Do list is growing inches by the minute.
I find myself pulled in two directions. On the one hand, I want to simplify my life and holiday practices so that I might truly savor the Christmas season. But on the other hand, I also really enjoy the the decorations, the lights, the music and the traditions that help make this time of year so magical.
But if I let myself get frazzled and worried, weighed down by so many expectations of myself, and get busy and stressed, my kids won’t remember magical Christmases. They will remember mom’s grumpiness and quick temper. That’s not what I want for my kids or for myself. So, there are a few things I do to help me smile through the holiday season.
1. Lower My Expectations: I am really my own worst enemy. I demand perfection out of myself. I get brilliant ideas and make elaborate plans for cute holiday crafts or perfectly themed holiday meals or gorgeous holiday decorations or really fun holiday events. Then when I inevitably fail to carry out all of my plans, I feel terribly guilty for my laziness or lack of skill.
It’s not that plans and ideas of cute crafts, meals, decorations or events are a bad thing. But I need to keep my expectations reasonable and remember that doing a craft a day is not as important to my kids as smiling at them every day with love. (And smiles are contagious! When I smile at them, they smile back and we all have a better day!)
2. Work Ahead: There are a number of things I only do in December. I am adament about saving Christmas things- the music, the movies, the books, the decorating December. I really enjoy wrapping presents while drinking eggnog listening to Christmas music next to the lit up tree. It’s a December tradition for me. So I don’t do certain things ahead of time. But whatever I can get done ahead of time will help me during that busy December month that is full of company, cleaning, cooking, wrapping, and advent activities.
A few things I like to do early include gathering and writing out Christmas gift lists, ordering presents online, my Christmas cards and letter, and planning my advent or Christmas countdown activities.
3. Have a Freezer Cook Day: Speaking of working ahead, I like to pick a day at the end of November- often Black Friday, since I don’t ever shop on that day and it is a day my husband is home- to have a “Cook Day,” where I make and freeze meals for the month of December. Really, any month where I get my act together to do this is wonderful. But it is especially helpful in December when there is usually a lot going on.
So I sit down the weekend before the planned Cook Day to plan out my menu for the following month. I make out a grocery list and then make out a task list for the Cook Day that groups like tasks together. I usually start with cooking beans and chopping vegetables. Then I cook the meat. Then I assemble the meals in gallon ziploc bags and label them and stick them in the freezer. My daughter who loves to cook usually helps me out and I get everyone (except the 2 year old) involved in the burrito making assembly line. So parts of it are fun and in the end, there is great satisfaction when I see a very full freezer and I think of how little effort making dinner will be for the next several weeks.
4. Whistle While You Work: Mary Poppins said, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and -SNAP!- the job’s a game!”
I really wish I could snap my fingers and have the toys pick themselves up. That would be a neat superpower. However, while I can’t do that, I can find a way to make my tasks fun. At Christmas time it is easy to add a festive and fun atmosphere to any chore or task by playing Christmas songs or drinking peppermint hot cocoa, listening to a radio theater version of A Christmas Carol and turning on the Christmas tree lights. My sister and I play the alphabet Christmas Carol game while we work in the kitchen together. It brings back sweet memories, since we did this when we were children too.
With my kids, I try to make games out of our chores by racing the clock or pulling jobs (and rewards!) out of a jar. Or I’ll tell stories and send them on dangerous missions to deliver presents to good little children around the house. If they are thinking about the ticking clock or slaying dragons, they are not thinking about how unenjoyable work is.
5. Spend Time with Jesus Every Day: In the end, the only way to have true joy in any season is through Jesus Christ. He can enable you to give thanks in all circumstances. He can give you the power to be content when you have much or little, whether your calendar is full or empty.
It is when we abide in Him and His words abide in us that true joy leaps out of our hearts and finds its way to our faces. It is therefore vital to carve out some time every day, whether that is early in the morning, late at night, during nap time or a few minutes while we are in the car to lift our hearts to the Lord in prayer and read a few verses of His Holy Word. Then we will have the internal fortitude to face each day’s highlights and struggles, both the quiet and busy moments, with grace, peace, and joy.
When you sing the old familiar Christmas carols this season, really ponder the words. My favorite Christmas carol is Hark the Herald Angels Sing. What rich truths are contained in these lines. What joy and awe and wonder I feel when I pause to think about how the coming of the newborn King means that God and sinners have been reconciled! Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die.
So let us this season truly consider what Christmas is all about: the Son of God giving up heaven to touch earth with His grace, exchanging glory for humility, and sacrificing His own life out of love for us. Hallelujah, What a Savior!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. …And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-4, 14
May you all have a very joyful holiday season!