More and more I hear my friends talking about the Holiday season as a kind of crazy marathon they have to gear up for. Instead of talking about enjoying the Holidays, we talk about surviving them. The other day, someone close to me said that it feels like Advent is more about living up to expectations, rather than living with anticipation.
Parties. Family gatherings. Gift shopping. Crafts. Decorating. Concerts. School productions. Church productions. Cookie making and exchanging. Dinners. Service projects. Travel. Keeping traditions. Creating traditions….
Those can all be good things. But pile them into four weeks, add in all of our regular responsibilities and a dose of the common cold running through the family, and we can start to feel crushed under their weight.
I don’t think Advent and Christmas are meant to be seasons where we hustle, rush, and strive, all so we can make it to January in one piece. I think we’re actually meant to slow down during Advent, to live in the tension of waiting, to take time to notice the glimmers of light that are piercing through the darkness.
Here are three things I think we can do to take steps toward thriving and enjoying the Holidays this year.
Name What Matters:
Before December even begins, ask yourself what truly matters to you when it comes to celebrating Advent and Christmas. What is most important to you and your family?
Now give yourself permission to say no to some of those things that don’t line up with what you value most.
Before my kids were in school, I created an Advent calendar that had activities for us to do together each day. For that phase of life, it worked well and gave us creative ways to fill our days. When the kids started school, I tried to continue the same way, but soon discovered there just wasn’t space. I felt like I was dropping the ball every time we skipped one of the activities. Is it important that we do something creative each day during Advent? No. What matters to me is that we, as a family, enter into the anticipation of Christmas, remembering God’s love for us. So, we are simplifying things this year, picking and choosing those activities that we really love, and letting go of the others.
We’ve had some years when it has just been the five of us on Christmas day. A big Christmas dinner isn’t actually that important to us, so we keep the food really simple. We usually make all kinds of snacks and just kind of graze all afternoon, then have a simple supper. We still make it special, but neither my husband nor I spend the day in the kitchen. Instead, we enjoy relaxing and playing with the kids.
So, what matters most to you when it comes to Christmas? What do you want to say yes to? What will you give yourself permission to let go?
Let your calendar and your budget reflect what actually matters to you.
Embrace the Simple:
It is so easy to believe that in order for Christmas to be good, it has to be impressive. But, really, we’ve missed the whole point of Christmas if we swallow that lie. If it brings you joy to decorate or to bake up a storm, to host elaborate dinners or to create glitter-laden crafts with your preschooler, then, by all means, do what you love. But if you are only doing those things because you think you should, then, be free, my friend.
Either way, find space this year to embrace the simple things in Advent, to notice the little moments of life and joy. A cup of hot chocolate. A walk in the snow. Snuggles on the couch while the wind howls outside. Christmas storybooks read by candlelight.
My memories of Christmas growing up aren’t Pinterest worthy. They’re of my family decorating the tree with ornaments that each had a story behind them. And a tradition of who got to put the angel on the top. They’re of a small collection of Christmas puzzles and books sitting by the fireplace that we would drag out over and over in the days leading up to the 25th. They’re of a bowl of walnuts with a nutcracker sitting on the table in the family room and an orange in the bottom of my stocking. They’re of cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles, music and laughter, lessons and carols and the candlelight service on Christmas Eve.
These days we spend so much money and work so hard to get all the stuff and do all the things at Christmas. But what if we could see God’s love just as profoundly—maybe more profoundly—in the simple things, in the quiet moments?
What if this year you stopped trying to have the perfect Christmas, and, instead, just enjoy the Christmas that you do have?
Name What’s Hard:
For some of us, Christmas is a painful season. It has a way of bringing our hurts, our losses, and our longings to the surface. We watch all of the festivities feeling like we can’t fully participate because we have this knot inside of our souls.
Rather than trying to deny or bury those feelings, what if we named them? What if we gave them some space to breathe? What if we were honest about them, with ourselves and maybe even with each other. Of course, we don’t want to dampen the party, but maybe by naming our pain we’ll actually feel a bit more freedom to enter into the party.
If you are one who finds the holidays extra difficult, what do you need to do this year to take care of yourself? Do you need to make sure to schedule a counselling appointment (and keep it)? Find time to be active? Take time to remember a loved one?
Find ways, my friends, to care for yourself.
What would you add to this list? What would thriving this Holiday season look like for you?
Printable Advent Calendar!
The Quiet Advent Calendar is designed for those who are tired of adding more to their December To-Do List, and desire, instead, to slow down and create space to notice God’s presence as you anticipate celebrating Jesus’ birth.