November 29, 2017
A few weeks ago I spoke to some fellow moms on the topic of “Simplifying Christmas”.
About reclaiming the joy and wonder of it.
And finding ways to not hate yourself and everyone around you by the time the holidays are over.
It was easily one of my favorite topics this fall because, like most things humans get ahold of, we’ve lost our way a bit in this department. And of all the overwhelming, stressful things in life and the world around us, Christmas just doesn’t have to be one.
It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate to celebrate the birth of a savior who couldn’t have come with any less.
Our family is over this.
So here are 4 ways we’re reclaiming this season:
1. Create a Family Motto
I walked into Target the other morning for a bottle of Ibuprofen.
I walked out with a bottle of Ibuprofen and $100 worth of Christmas decor from Magnolia’s new Hearth and Hand line, because I happened to walk in on the day of their big unveiling.
This is how we do.
When we aren’t intentional about the holidays, we get swept up in the festivity and excess, burying the purpose of Christmas somewhere under a mountain of receipts. We lose the heart of Advent in a calendar bursting at the seams with parties.
We’ve got to have a game plan.
We can choose a motto for this season, or we can let one be chosen for us.
“look for Jesus, love people”
Ridiculously simple, but it’s the filter we run everything through this season.
If every single activity, decision, decoration, and conversation doesn’t either draw us closer to Jesus or help us love people better, then it’s a hard pass from our family. A big NOPE.
We’re anchoring ourselves better.
2. Keep Wonder High and Expectations Low
Christmas is magical. As it should be.
But the magic is found in the hope of the manger, not in The Perfect Christmas Morning Present Unwrapping.
Expectations kill joy.
Whether it’s expecting extended family functions to go off without a hitch (even though they haven’t in decades and there’s really no reason to expect them to now)….
or expecting your husband to woo you with the perfect gift (because if it can happen in a Hallmark movie it can happen in your house)….
or expecting kids to cooperate during a 3 hour family photo shoot (in their scratchy matching festive wear)….
We need to keep the wonder high and expectations low.
If not for us, then certainly for our kids.
Sometimes we project our over-the-top expectations on our kids. We know what the hottest toy of the season is. We know which brands are the best. We want the best for them.
So we buy all. the. things. and we think we’re blessing them.
In reality, we are setting them up for entitlement now and disappointment later.
If I buy my 6 year old son every single thing his heart desires when his heart desires it, he will be a very sad adult when he experiences his first fixed income.
If you buy your daughter every little thing her little heart lights up at, you’re setting her future husband up for failure. He will never be able to compete.
One way we keep wonder high and expectations low in our house is with our advent activity calendar. (And by “activity calendar” I mean “construction paper garland” because low expectations.)
Every day of December holds a family activity where we either look for Jesus or love others, ideally at the same time.
This was last year’s garland with our activity for the day written on the back of the paper presents:
Activities ranged from building a fire, to family movie night, to caroling at the nursing home, to baking cookies for the neighbors.*
The boys have remembered these activities much longer than the 1,823 piece LEGO set we spent their college fund on.
Along those lines, we’ve given up buying out of guilt, whether with our extended families or preschool teachers or friends. We gift what we can for who we can and we feel great about the rest.
After all, we’re trying to create memories, not debt.
3. Have Eyes for the Hurting
A few years ago, my parents’ best friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer on Christmas Eve. He died 4 months later.
That same year, my sweet friend put up a stocking for a baby boy who passed away before he could celebrate his first Christmas.
The holidays were not a sparkly ball of fun that year; they were hard.
And while every Christmas isn’t hard for us, it is always hard for someone.
Some can’t figure out how they can afford to put even one present under the tree.
Some don’t have a home to put a tree in.
Some don’t have children to provide presents for.
Every year, we try to remember the hurting.
Sometimes we write cards to friends who’ve lost a loved one.
Last year we took care packages to kids spending Christmas in the hospital. (Which is actually a hilarious story that ties quite nicely into the keeping expectations low piece.)
The birth of Jesus is the hope of the world. Literally, that’s what Christmas is.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that than to remind a weary friend of that truth.
4. Fight for Quiet
One of my greatest fears with the way we do Christmas is that we’ve stuffed it so full of noise and impulse purchases that we miss Jesus.
We miss the beauty of his quiet, simple entrance. We can’t hear over the sound of our hustling and bustling.
We never allow time to hear and listen and reflect. To turn off the noise and undo all the lies we’ve bought into over the year. All the musings of social media and sadness of headlines.
We don’t sit still long enough actually wait for Jesus’ coming. Both celebrating his first coming, and waiting in anticipation of his second.
I want to reclaim that. I don’t want to end every holiday season needing a vacation from Christmas.
In this house, we fight for quiet.
We don’t schedule events on back to back nights, we give our “no, thank you”s freely, we buy or give presents with purpose and thought, and we read a story about Jesus every night.
Our favorite Christmas picture books are:
- Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
- God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Town Bergren
- The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
And for nightly advent readings:
- Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (for older kids – the toddlers were wildly unimpressed)
- The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones (this is, like, forever and always a favorite, but you can also follow the advent reading schedule)
I dont want to be driven by the busyness this year.
I want to watch and wait and look for and celebrate Jesus, and I want to love others in the meantime.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people!”
*for activity ideas on your own advent calendar, Pinterest that sucker. Literally a million lists out there of great ideas. Like this one and this one.