How to celebrate Christmas differently this year.
By Sandy Feit
Every December 26th, I resolve that next time, it's going to be different. But somehow, I've still never quite navigated Advent the way I always hope to—with long, luxurious pondering of Luke's nativity account or a gradual, methodical buildup of spiritual excitement as Christmas draws near.
It isn't that our Decembers have been totally devoid of Christian significance. In fact, when the kids were growing up, I worked hard to incorporate activities, songs, and lessons that would help them to understand Christ's birth. But Christmas is also about making memories and having a good time—so every year brought the same challenge: how to balance fun, friends, and festivities with an appreciation of the Incarnation's stunning reality.
Well, the children are grown, the grandchildren are growing, and no, we still don't have it down perfectly. But in reviewing our history, I'm happy to see progress. For us, the key has been identifying and eliminating nonessentials so we can spend more time celebrating Christ's birthday with the Guest of honor. Here are some areas where we were able to free up a few hours:
I made a very freeing discovery the year my pastor said his family never sends any Christmas cards. (Somehow I had labored under the misconception that such behavior was socially unacceptable.) If his approach is too drastic for you, at least consider cutting from your list anyone you'll be greeting in person or by phone during the month.
Tell the truth—how many "family updates" do you read thoroughly at this busy time of year? And how much time do you spend writing your own? Consider these suggestions:
- Instead of rushing through the mass-produced mailings that arrive before Christmas, I collect them in a basket to savor after year's end. Then I have more leisure to write a note in reply or pray for the sender.
- If you want to keep others "in the loop" about your news, why not wait till January (or after), when people may actually have time for catching up? Even then, bear in mind that "less is more." A long list of achievements and activities can come across as boasting, especially if it's your only contact all year.
- Form letters can feel impersonal, but pictures warm the heart. So instead, why not send a yearly photo to folks you seldom see? Each of my long-distance friends has a page or two in my loose-leaf album of Christmas snapshots. That makes it easy to watch their families grow and change over the years.
Ambiance certainly adds to the "magic," but if packing, unpacking, hauling, and arranging starts feeling like a chore, streamlining the process makes sense. I don't recommend my friend's solution: she left her tree fully decorated in the corner of the living room for (no kidding) 16 years. From January through November, it was wrapped in two sheets and bore a sign, "Do not open until December." A great conversation piece, perhaps, but there are more practical answers.
Consider your time, energy, and the number of available helpers; then tailor your decorating ambitions accordingly. You may remember that the gold reindeer "belongs" on the TV, but others will tend to notice what's there, not what's missing. So give yourself permission to leave some things in storage till the following Christmas. When we started alternating years for our collections of snowmen and carolers, we discovered it was even more fun to see those "old friends" after a longer absence.
- While certain presents deserve extra thought, effort, and expense, your list probably also includes some people you want to acknowledge, but in a simpler way. Items purchased in honor of individuals, groups, or a collection of names can be both a blessing to needy families and a gift to the One whose birthday it is (Matt. 25:40). World Vision (www.worldvision.org) and other non-profit organizations offer an amazing range of items—from Bibles and medical equipment to farm animals and water wells.
- Too hard—or expensive—to find the perfect je-ne-sais-quoi for everyone in the family? Propose a gift swap instead of the gift-from-each-person-to-each-person approach. Even if this isn't appropriate for the immediate family, it might work for certain groups, like cousins or coworkers. But be specific about dollar amounts and category (i.e., useful, enjoyable, technology, white elephant, etc.) or feelings can get hurt.
What to Do With the Time You Save
Whether you make it a solo or family activity, devote some time to devotions. Also schedule in periods of rest; God did, and He planned for you to as well (Gen. 2:2; Ex. 20:8). It's okay to make downtime fun—try leaving a jigsaw puzzle out on the coffee table, starting right after Thanksgiving. To lure family members in, you might even put on a Christmas CD or video.
Remember, unless you dedicate free time to specific purposes, it will vanish. So block off parts of the calendar and let everyone know a certain evening is off-limits to all chauffeuring and "extracurricular" activities.
Advent can be a wonderful time of anticipation, but unless we're careful, plans, parties, and purchases could add up to some hefty temptation and pressure. Don't let traditions become obligations that trap you and steal the joy they're meant to create. Tell yourself, This time, it's going to be different!