I’m going to hazard a guess that, as a person of faith, you’re actually glad the Son of God came and walked amongst us.
I suspect you’re OK with the whole concept of the God of the Universe humbling himself to become a tiny baby.
I hope your mind is blown just a little by the concept, as mine is, but I’m guessing what you actually dislike about Christmas is actually this:
or maybe an excess of this:
or maybe this:
and overall, way too much of this:
which all seem to crowd out this:
Yes, it’s easy to see why Christians can end up dreading the Christmas season.
“Christmas” can be stressful, lonely, unsatisfying and can easily become completely devoid of any spiritual reflection or depth for even those of us who profess to love the “reason for the season”. We long for some peaceful time to reflect, time to spend with family, enjoying their company and sharing the Christmas story with the tiny people in our lives, time to worship and, yes, celebrate. Ironically, it can even be church activities which create the stress and push out time to focus on the reason we’re doing it all.
The problem is, pushing away the impending hurricane of stress which early December can herald, doesn’t actually make it go away and makes the things above far less likely to happen.
So here are some ideas which could maybe make that contemplative Christmas a reality.
STOP: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. So goes the saying and it’s true. It’s in your hands to change many things about this coming Christmas. If you don’t like where it’s going, don’t get on the train!
DREAM: What would your ideal family Christmas look like? What is it you’d like to make happen? What is it you want to avoid?
Have a think about what you would realistically like your children to understand about Christmas by 1st January. If they’re tiny, knowing the names of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus is probably a realistic goal. A 10 year-old might start to understand the significance of the Nativity in redemptive history (even if they don’t explain it in those words!). Each year adds a layer to their understanding.
PLAN: Face it head on and be brave. First cut what can be cut. There’s a great article about downsizing Christmas here
Maybe some of the the hard slog of Christmas jobs could be tackled this month? Chuck the turkey in the freezer, buy the kids’ stocking fillers, maybe even write the cards. Give the spiritual side of Christmas some breathing room.
Look at the calendar realistically. All the possible events you could attend may be fun but will they run you ragged or make your kids so tired they’re impossible to manage?
Have a think about how you could make Advent special. Many people follow a bible-reading plan, an Advent devotional or make a Jesse Tree. These can all keep the kids focussed on what’s important on the lead up to Christmas. You can check out my Pinterest board for Advent ideas here. (You don’t need to be a Pinterest member to view it and you can click straight through from each pin to the original source). Lighting an Advent candle each day at teatime or using an unusual Advent calendar could also be a hit
We also divide up some of the Christmas jobs and tackle one each day in December, letting the kids help where possible as well as adding in something fun each day. That might be a candlelit tea-time or a walk to see the Christmas lights in our part of town or a trip to buy the Christmas Tree. It takes some planning but we keep to simple activities which need little or no preparation on the day. It’s totally worth it and spreads out the Christmas joy, taking the pressure off to make the 24th/25th magazine-perfect.
MODEL: If you want your family to experience Christmas peace, it needs to start with you. If your kids see you stressing about having to make the Christmas pudding from scratch because your mother-in-law expects it or snapping at them because you stayed up too late to write the Christmas cards, they will assume this is how Christmas is meant to be. Show them what matters by sending the e-card or buying the pud in order to have time for what matters.
A little thought this early on will help you boot out what winds you up most and keep what you enjoy. I enjoy making the pud but hate prepping the veggies on Christmas day so I make the pud if I have time and Aunt Bessy does a lot of my veggies and roast potatoes. We send e-cards to most of our friends but hand-written cards to a few elderly relatives who genuinely value them. And so on.
NUDGE: You won’t get it all right in one year (whatever that would look like!) but some tweaks each year could convince a sceptical family. For instance try focussing your decorating on more meaningful symbols (stars, angels and nativity themes) rather than going all out for robins, reindeer and a fairy on the tree. Enjoy the stockings but tell your tinies the legend of St Nicholas or try this cool idea to link Santa firmly in with the Christmas narrative. My two also love the Veggie Tales version of the St Nicholas story. (This isn’t an affiliate link).
FOCUS: Having done your planning, your focus and your family’s should hopefully be more on Jesus than last minute shopping. You never know, it could happen! But it won’t be simple so:
BE REALISTIC and BE GRACIOUS with yourself and your family. Jesus came precisely because we mess up.
ASSESS: Once all the decorations come down for another year, take a few moments to jot down, maybe in the back of your 2014 diary, how things went, what worked, what bombed, what your feelings were and what ideas you had after the event.
Christmas can be a tough, tough time for many and very hard work, especially for Mums. Here’s to a Christmas where you get to spend some time enjoying the gift of Him, born in a stable. And remember, the King born in a noisy, dirty animal stall would probably feel just as welcome in our messy, crazy homes. I think that’s exactly the point.