Preparing for Christmas & Skipping the Crazy
Christmas can be a tough season. It's overwhelming, rushed, bustled, stressful, and can include family drama when everyone squishes together under one roof. This week I was inches from being run over by a car because they were too rushed to see that I was clearly right in front of them! I totally get it, because I've felt like that driver too many times before. Consumed by whatever circumstance that you end up oblivious to what's happening around you - and before you know it, it's too late to make up the lost time.
Well, that's not what my Christmas season will be like this year. I realize that it's already December 19 and perhaps too late for a post like this - but I'm learning and wanted to share some insights gathered. No matter your family circumstances, situations, or expectations, I believe it's possible to make the most of your holidays and experience the deep joy, hope, and love that we all crave.
This year I've been following 3 principles that have been helping me get the most out of these few short weeks:
1. Make A Plan
I notoriously love organizing and planning - and my family motto is "play it by ear"! One example of how I'm an anomaly in my family. But with so much happening, events, and coordination, this really comes in handy. The main reason why I make a plan for my holidays isn't just so that I won't miss out on special events and time with others. It's also so that I make sure I'm rested, and protect my own boundaries and needs. That statement may come off as selfish but I'm learning how wise the application is. I love serving others - seriously I volunteer to clean people's bathrooms! But with the craze of the Christmas season I can easily volunteer for too many things. Too many events, too many parties, and allow myself to be surrounded by too much drama. Saying "no" is powerful and helpful to assert your own boundaries and help others stick to theirs.
Growing in self-awareness is helpful too. I've learned my energy cycles in a week and know times when I'm rested, and times when my tank will be dry. So I plan ahead and do organizing and plan making so that when my tank is dry I have a plan to fall back onto. That really helped this week when I felt super sick but had to pack for 2+weeks away from home! Learning my own rhythms is helping me make a plan to stay organized and healthy even during my most busy weeks.
Last minute scrambling is a NO-NO for me! This is my biggest pet peeve. And sometimes cannot be avoided. But planning ahead even by a few days makes last minute runs to Walmart on Dec 24 non-existent. I even call ahead to stores to help plan my errands and make sure they have exactly what I need so I don't waste time. Coordinating this way has saved hours of driving and mall hopping.
Making a plan helps me stay emotionally balanced over the holidays. I love this article on dealing with dysfunctional families. Everyone has skeletons and it seems like Christmas is always the best time to drag them out. GAH. It can be exhausting and making a plan helps me stay sane and balanced. For instance, coordinating time with friends, or time on my own helps balance out social time with family. This year has already turned out WAY better than I expected it to. I'm heading up to Northern Ontario over Christmas which will be a exciting little getaway with family I haven't seen for years. But even if you don't have a mini Christmas miracle this year, make a plan for yourself so that you have some healthy escapes when you need them!
2. Keep It Simple
Ok, I LOVE decorating and giving gifts. It's so fun! But it can also be time consuming and expensive. I like to wrap things and make them look pretty, but it's also possible to keep it simple and cheap! (Hello Dollar Stores!).
Ok, now I think this box looks really pretty - and it was a hit at my work Christmas gift exchange. But it's legitimately a paper box from the Dollarstore ($2 for a set of 3), tissue paper holding the gift ($1.50), and velvet ribbon ($1.50). So if I break down the exact cost of this gift wrapping it's $1.56 - taking into consideration that I can use the materials to cover several gifts so it's a major win. I just coordinate all my gifts so that I don't need to buy too much. Minimizing my materials helps reduce cost and increase simplicity - something I love as I'm an aspiring minimalist. Plus I'm pretty sure over-sized bows are my thing this year - they're so pretty and extremely easy to do! It took me 5 minutes to wrap this gift, saving me time for other important work.
Ok so these I LOVE! Thankfully I have a small family (really!), and it's only expected that I purchase gifts for 2-3 people. But there are others that I love to give to as well. This year I canned homemade applesauce in the fall and had enough leftover for Christmas giveaways. I wanted to decorate the mason jars with a simple printable I found on Pinterest (here) - had to do some digging for ones that would work the best for me. I found some cardstock at my Grandmas house and it took 2 seconds to print! Originally I didn't want to do blue, but now I love it. It looks chic and is refreshingly not red or green. I cut them out and taped them on and voila! So simple. Then, I took some extra wire ribbon I had and some curling ribbon and did some more giant bows. I love how these turned out. So simple and personal, and pretty. The wrapping for these jars probably cost $1.50 total for the wire ribbon I bought. Thankfully my Grandma let's me raid her stash of ribbon for the extra materials I needed!
So for my staff Christmas party I was requested to bring Candy Cane Chocolate Bark - which I joyfully obliged. But then I saw these guys online somewhere... (Pinterest?) and wanted to bring them as well - they were a hit! So cute and simple. I had never seen them done before. It was tricky to find good strawberries in December - but a kebab of fruit and marsh mellows couldn't be cuter. They did melt while traveling to the party so if you make these I suggest serving them directly after assembly. They make a wonderful addition to the traditional cookies and chocolate around Christmas.
3. Examine Your Heart
While Christmas can easily become all about the gifts, treats, and whatever Costco has on sale, deep down we all want to experience meaningful community and joy-filled moments. I've slowly been examining my heart as I prepare for Christmas and it's helped to keep me on track. Celebrating Advent (the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas as we celebrate Jesus' first coming and prepare for his second), this year has looked like me reading this book by Nancy Guthrie:
I love how it's a compilation of various Christian pastors and teachers spanning hundereds of years (Saint Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther... all the way to J.I Packer and John Piper!). Each chapter is a short snippet from each author's work dwelling on the birth of Christ or the Christmas Story. Just read this chapter called "Wrapped in Humility" by Alistair Begg and the ending really hit me:
The humility of Jesus leaving a perfect heaven to come to earth to live of life of poverty, rejection, humiliation, and crucifixion is astounding. It's like leaving a King's Throne to roll around in a pig pen. I keep picturing Mary, afraid while giving birth in the stall of animals. If I were her, I would be like, "God, I'm not doing this - get me outta here!" Maybe it's because SO many of my friends are starting to have babies, childbirth is becoming more real for me. Mary giving birth to Jesus, she just surrendered and followed God one step at a time. Jesus, doing the same. Following God's commands and leading while here on Earth one step at a time. I could never have made the sacrifice he made simply by coming to Earth. But that's exactly why He came - because I could never live the perfect life that He lived. A sacrificial gift is giving wholeheartedly to someone who will never be able to pay you back. I have nothing to offer God, but he came to rescue me anyways.
My Pastor said that we need to me "Mind Focused and Heart Engaged". I need to engage my heart and examine it to what Christmas is really about. In a song to God before she gave birth, Mary sung,
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:49)
He who is mighty has done great things for me. Wow. For me! I love that. Not just because it's easy to be me-centered. But because God actually cares about me and I matter to him. That's encouraging to me. That when Jesus was contemplating coming to Earth, he knew that in 2 thousand years Erin would be born in a small city in Canada. "I gotta go rescue her and save her. It's worth going through all that." The all that in that phrase comes later at Easter. But don't gloss over the beauty of Christmas and his birth. The long awaited Messiah has arrived! And it's a beautiful joy-filled celebration!
It's easy for me to forget that during the crazy that can be Christmas. I find that simplifying my season, keeping it focused and well planned out (as much as I can), helps me keep my gaze on what's most important. So go an enjoy your holidays. I know this year I will be. And praise God for that!