BY SUSAN FONTAINE GODWIN & TONI KEMPER: Every year around December 26th or 27th, I wonder how I could have savored more of the true meaning of Christmas. For many, the days leading up to Christmas seem like a blur of frenzied shopping, school programs, parties, meals and various church events. I reflect and think there must be a way to slow down and enter more fully into the true meaning of Christmas. Here are nine practical ideas on how we can do that….before December 25th this year.
No. 1 – Consider adding elements of Advent to your Christmas celebration.
Advent is Latin for “coming” and “waiting.” This season creates an atmosphere in our homes and churches to: Pause. Prepare. Keep vigil. Wait. Counter to the frenzied preparations of gifts and meals and programs, advent invites us to slow down, reflect, meditate and prepare for the coming of Jesus.
If you do not follow a liturgical tradition, you may not be familiar with the season of Advent, it lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At that time, the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. (Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year.) You may enjoy this teaching on Advent from Ann Voskamp video.
“While Advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation of Christ’s birth, it is more than that. It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated; and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense,” according to Justin Holcomb in Christianity.com.
No. 2 – Plan the activities you really want to do.
Choose one or two activities that each family member especially enjoys and schedule them now. Put them on your calendar, because that’s the only way to make sure they happen. Involve each member of the family and make sure each has a voice in scheduling their favorite activity. One may love attending Handel Messiah sing-along, another baking cookies together, and another watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” together.
No. 3 – Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas…extend the holiday.
Christmas morning is filled with excitement…kids waking up early and parents stumbling out of bed after staying up until 3 am wrapping gifts. But pretty quickly the adrenaline wears off, and it’s time for a nap, and suddenly it’s all over.
But one way to slow down and savor the holiday is to spread out Christmas gift giving. Just have each family member open one gift each day, starting on Christmas. It’s a great way to quiet things down and tone down the frenzy and the after-Christmas let down.
It’s also a great chance to talk about the meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas and the celebration of Epiphany on Jan. 6.
No. 4 – Stay within an allotted budget for gifts.
Money is often a huge source of holiday stress, especially when there doesn’t seem to be enough to go around. Figure out just how much you can afford to spend throughout the holiday season (don’t even look at those credit cards!). When the funds run out, understand that is all you have to offer, at least with material gifts. Keep the budgeted number in your wallet so you can continually be reminded to watch you spending. (See also: How to Avoid Holiday Debt) It may provide greater opportunity to give even better presents…being truly “present” with your family and friends.
No. 5 – Prayer and meditation.
Pray for God’s peace during your holiday. Take time to “just be”. Reflect and meditate on the true meaning of the season and you can redirect the chaos around you.
No. 6 – Sing Christmas carols.
Music affects the brain in many positive ways. It can make you smarter, happier and more productive. So as you go about your daily tasks of laundry and dishes or as you wrap gifts and trim the tree, turn up your speaker and savor the sounds of the season. Want to really improve your mood? Sing Christmas songs along with the radio, solo or in a group of friends.
No. 7 – Make a gratitude list.
Gift giving at Christmas time can be a two-edged sword. There is often too much pressure placed on buying the perfect gift for each one on your list, and there can often be disappointment if you don’t receive the gift you wanted, or no gift at all. Focusing on all the blessings we enjoy helps alleviate expectations about how the Christmas season “should” go.
Taking time each morning to make a list of what we’re grateful for helps us slow down and contemplate on how much we have and how little we truly need. It also gives us time to meditate on the gift of God’s Son and the marvelous way His coming to earth changed our lives forever.
If you have never practiced making a gratitude list, you’ll be surprised how quickly your list can grow. You may want to start out by just giving thanks for things like: 1) plenty of food to eat 2) a roof over your head 3) heat that keeps you warm 4) a car to drive 5) knowing Jesus. Before you know it your list may need a second page, and you will find your heart and mind slowing down to savor all the goodness you enjoy.
No. 8 – Welcoming the other.
Focus on the needs of others less fortunate, and find ways you and your family can help or support them. Find someone who needs to be reached out to–a single mom, an elderly neighbor. Look for those in your immediate circle or neighborhood where you can make an impact and even develop an ongoing friendship. There may even be opportunity to invite them into your home for a meal, which is incredibly meaningful for those who are alone or isolated. They will be thankful that you thought of them, and it will bless you and your family.
No. 9 – Let go of expectations of perfection.
Let the season be what it is without expectations for perfection. To create the kind of holiday season you envision for your family, some things simply will have to go. That may mean you can’t make every gift a homemade one, decorate your house like the magazine covers or serve a Martha Stewart type holiday meal. We are often so disappointed when things don’t go “as planned” during the holidays, so plan loosely. Let go and enjoy.
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