- Are you filled with peace at the thought of Christmas and carrying the Prince of Peace with you?
- Are you overflowing with love and joy as you begin to celebrate the birth of the creator of love and joy?
- Does the reality measure up to the hopes and dreams or does the hectic pace of the season crowd out the special moments?
Every year I find late November & early December can be extremely busy and stressful if I let it be. All the end of year social functions with school, work, sport, activities etc.
Coming out of severe COVID restrictions here in Victoria means that this year there are fewer functions than normal, eg no dance concert or Air Force Cadets end of year Parade. I am finding, though, that there are more ad-hoc occasions where we are catching up with friend’s as restrictions have just been eased and there has been no face to face contact with many friends for months.
Something that many people might not realise is that after being in lockdown and not seeing people etc, it is far easier to feel sensory overload when we are around a lot of people and experiencing a lot of noise etc. If you are wondering why a supposedly simple catch up with friends leaves you feeling exhausted or emotionally depleted, that may be the reason. Our senses, soul and spirit have become attuned to limited people, familiar noise and smell and suddenly we have exposed them to a broader range of sensory input.
Over the last few years, in the lead-up to Christmas, I find that if I implement some practices into my life, then I can cope easier with the stress around this time of year.
I have listed below some practical tips, but I would also love to hear your tips. I love learning more each year, especially as my children grow older and we are faced with new challenges and exciting times.
- Spending Time with God
I try to make this a priority every morning, but especially during this time of year. I read His Word, the Bible, and spend time listening to Him. I spend time throughout the day and overnight praying about various issues and decreeing and declaring that which is still to become evident. I spend time with God, asking Him to reveal to me the essentials and non-essentials.
As I spend time with Jesus, I ask two questions:
- “Lord – who do you want to be for me this Christmas?
- “Lord – what do you want me and my family to do this Christmas?”
Another great question to ask is, “God, is there a lie that I am believing about how we prepare and celebrate Christmas?” If God places something on your heart or mind, then confess that lie to God and ask for His forgiveness. We then have a divine exchange with God – if He reveals a lie to you that you are believing, then He always wants you to know the truth. God loves questions so ask Him, “What is the truth you want me to know?”
One year I found this particularly pertinent as I looked at our Christmas tree that had been decorated excitedly by some junior members of the family who hadn’t placed the ornaments as decoratively as I would have liked. I was challenged enormously about the truth and joy of Christmas versus the perfection and image of Christmas. From that year on, I have released my expectations of perfection and embraced values of joy, inclusivity, sharing and fun.
- Identify any unique challenges this year
With COVID dramatically changing our lifestyles this year, it seems that people are still unsure about what celebrating Christmas and New Year will look like for them. Will government restrictions limit group size and prevent extended family gathering? Assisting at a Christmas meal for homeless people may look different. End of year parties and social gatherings may be cancelled or online.
Are there also any changes this year in finances, relationships, family, work etc that will affect how you celebrate Christmas and the activities and events you participate in this year? Have family moved closer or further away? Have any family members died? Is there a newborn in the house? Are finances tight? These things can all affect what we do and how we do things. Be mindful of these things as you plan your calendar.
- Plan the essentials
Sit down with the whole family and have a time of everyone sharing what they love about Christmas. Brainstorm (depending on the age of your children) the essential things, the things that are great, the things that don’t need to be done this year. Agree on the non-negotiables.
We have a calendar that we write all our activities on so that we can see at a glance what is happening. We fill in all the essential activities and the ‘big rocks’ first. Matey’s birthday is two days before Christmas so that is definitely put in first & we chat about how we will celebrate him.
Something we will definitely keep is the “Carols by Candlelight” on television Christmas Eve. We were wanting to attend in person this year but COVID means they are not having an audience so we will watch it at home on the television with favourite snacks and drinks. We may even join with another family that evening to celebrate as well. Now that our children are teenagers, we are finding that our celebration activities are different and that our teenagers can cope with later nights.
We then look at all the great but non-essential activities – those that are great to get to but if you miss it, the earth won’t cave in. We look at each week and see it as a whole. Here in Australia, Christmas is also the end of the school year so that adds to the end of year activities.
An example for our family is the “Road to Bethlehem” Play put on each year. It is absolutely brilliant. Our kids loved it when they were small. It is not being held onsite this year due to COVID restrictions, so the decision has already been made for us. There is an opportunity to view it online which we may still do one Sunday evening at home.
We also love to have activities that focus on other people who are less fortunate than ourselves. These activities tend to change each year, depending on the age of our children and their interests. The Random Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar helped us one year to be outward-looking. This all takes time, so we need to mark this in our calendar, or it gets overlooked in the busyness of the season.
Evaluate your Christmas traditions, activities, and service opportunities. What stays? What goes? Is there a new tradition or service opportunity you wish to incorporate this year? Can you change or adapt some traditions so that you can still incorporate them into this season?
Identifying your priorities and values will help you decide what to include in this season and what to exclude. Talk about expectations and feelings. Pray and discuss as a family. This is a great skill to pass on to your kids so that they learn how to live balanced lives.
- Block in margin
Look at your calendar and mark off ‘downtimes’ – days when you can just chill at home, afternoons where the immediate family is home together just enjoying each other’s company. Mark in time for preparation of food, gifts, decorating etc.
Plan in a time of rest after a busy weekend. Prepare ahead of time for some time out to chill. I usually plan a low-key Monday after a busy weekend so that we can clean-up, recharge our emotional batteries etc.
- Ask your family members how you can make Christmas more Christ centred.
It can be quite enlightening what kids will come up with as you look at how you can make Christmas more Christ centred. We have one child who loves advent candles and stopping each week to reflect on God.
- We have numerous Christmas themed DVD’s and enjoy watching movies as a family during this time. Check out the kids and teenagers Christmas movie advent calendars I put together last year.
- We bring out the Christmas books and have a month of reading Christmas stories and this helps us reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Check out our family’s favourite Christmas books.
- We incorporate a month of acts of kindness in the lead up to Christmas and this helped us to focus on gratitude and others. Here’s our acts of kindness Christmas advent calendar.
- Our kids make a birthday cake for Jesus and on Christmas Day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. We also read the Nativity story on Christmas Day before we open presents.
Is there a family devotion you would love to do? If you have smaller children, have you tried the ‘Jesse tree’ devotions or ‘The Truth in the Tinsel’ devotions? Do you light Advent candles and have a special time reflecting on Christ together each week? What would your family love doing to help your Christmas be more Christ-centred?
- Distribute responsibility amongst family members by involving the whole family.
Hubby’s busiest time of year for his gardening business is in the lead-up to Christmas so most of the responsibility for Christmas and how we celebrate it as a family falls on me. I have found, though, that the kids can help enormously, especially now that they are teenagers. This year I had the pleasure with matey of putting up the Christmas tree, but our daughter had the joy, and work, of decorating it. It was pure delight for me to sit and watch her decorate it on her own whilst I unwrapped the ornaments for her to use or reject. What jobs can they do? What presents can they buy? What cards can they write to save you from doing everything? As I sit here typing this, Matey has just cycled to the supermarket to buy a special present for his sister to save me having to think about purchasing it next time I am there.
I find that when I become exhausted or too busy, even small decisions can become overwhelming. Decision/choices overload can become reality. Thus, even having the kids choose the DVD’s and books for family time can make a difference. The kids enjoy what they have chosen, and it is one less decision I need to make.
- Demonstrating values of generosity, peace, joy, love.
I try to intentionally remind myself to be grateful and thankful. During these last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time transporting the kids to their various functions etc. I have found that I need to remind myself not to complain about this time but to look for the positives. I have been trying to watch what I say and try to focus on the heart attitude. Thus, I have enjoyed spending that time individually in the car with each child plus me and God time whilst waiting.
- Have fun, laugh, celebrate: This is the crux of this season – Jesus came to bring life. It is a time of celebration. How can you keep the reason for the season as your main focus? We have received the greatest gift and we set the example for the rest of our world of influence. How do others around you see you enjoying this time?
- Try not to medicate the pain: The media’s portrayal of ‘happy families’ and the ‘perfect’ Christmas, together with loneliness, grief, loss and false expectations can cause some of us to ‘medicate’ ourselves with perfection, alcohol, endless shopping, busyness. Instead, we need to address the underlying issue in our life.
- Give: generosity is a great antidote for so much. Look for small ways to daily give. Brainstorm with your children, look for people who may find Christmas hard for whatever reason – loss of a loved one this year, single parents, family dysfunction, people overlooked by society and so on.
What would it look like for your family to celebrate this time wholeheartedly and laughter to be heard?
Intentionally make time for your family to have fun, laugh and enjoy yourselves this season.
Address the stressful events and expectations with wider family eg what you are doing on Christmas Day, who you are buying presents for etc. Can you limit the number of people you buy for? Can you shop on the internet or give gift vouchers to save time at shopping centres which can increase stress at this time of year?
- Choose wisely
I have found that indecisiveness gobbles up a lot of time, emotional energy and space in my thought life. I challenge myself when buying presents with “will my decision about this present matter in 4 years time?” If not, then I don’t allow the present choice to take up more than a few minutes of my time. Our family is also discovering the joys of online shopping for gifts so that we don’t have to battle the shopping centres and queues. I am teaching myself to make quicker decisions, thus allowing me more time to spend on other things. I choose not to spend hours trawling the shopping centre looking for gifts. This can also apply for choosing wisely what we permit our children and family to be involved in during this season.
I find that when I am stressed, it affects my decision-making ability. What may have taken a few minutes, causes me extended angst as I try to make a decision, usually on something that will not matter in a few year’s times. This is a ‘flag’ for me that shows me that I need to address the pressure in my life.
Is there something or someone who always tends to bring conflict at this time? How can you be prepared and change things this year so that conflict is minimised, and the time is meaningful and satisfying to all?
Is there anything you are not looking forward to about Christmas?
Is there a lie you are believing about Christmas eg I have to have the perfect Christmas?
Are you feeling immense pain at the moment about a family issue and this is clouding your peace about celebrating the Prince of Peace?
Are you in a good emotional place yourself? Your attitude sets the atmosphere in the home. If you are tired, grumpy, anxious, short-tempered, then expect the kids to model that behaviour, taking after you.
I find that during this season it can be the ‘little’ unexpected delays that really show me how I am travelling emotionally. If someone puts added responsibility or expectations on me, if I have to wait in the car an extra 20 minutes for my daughter to finish work etc, these are the times that my emotional thermostat shows me how I am really travelling and what is ‘bubbling away’ under the surface.
Spending time with God and addressing these issues now then creates emotional space and peace for you to be able to celebrate this special time without the emotional baggage tugging at your thoughts.
- Manage expectation:
Disappointment occurs when our expectations haven’t been met. Thus, I try to reframe expectations in my mind. I have found that I can’t control other people’s behaviour (outside of your parental influence) so I release them from the pressure to act in a specific manner. I find this freeing especially in respect to extended relatives and their methods of involvement or non-involvement in my children’s lives.
Prepare children beforehand: When the kids were younger, before we went to an event, I outlined the behaviour guidelines I wished to see expressed by my children at that event. They then had a clear expectation and reminder of how they were to behave. I also tried to involve my kids as much as possible in the food we took, discussing the activities we were involved in over the coming week etc. This helped them realise what was coming up and there were no huge surprises that could rock the boat. I liked to try and look at events through the children’s eyes and how they will see things. I also tried to create positive memories that they can store away in their memory bank. Now that they are teenagers, we discuss the activities even more so and I now have the teenagers cooking the food that we take.
Recognise the myth of “you can have it all”. It is a myth. You can’t have it all. Don’t even try or something will suffer. List the non-essentials. We love the Myer Christmas windows in Melbourne City but find that we are so busy in the lead up to Christmas, we don’t try to push it in. Most years, we contend ourselves with seeing it after Christmas. One year we unexpectedly found that we had spare time late on Christmas Day and went and saw them. We still reminisce about that afternoon, but the main memory that is brought up is the special hot chocolate everyone drank when we were in the city. Even though the Myer Christmas windows are cancelled this year due to COVID, we are still planning on spending some time late Christmas Day enjoying the inner city.
I love baking and making gifts for people but most years, I let go of some of my plans as I can’t do everything. The kids dance school used to always dance with Santa in the local Christmas parade and Matey loved being on the television and sitting with the Mayor. Some years, we had to make a choice – that or a ministry Christmas party. Since the whole family were all involved in the ministry together, we sometimes chose that as it was more substantial than a short dance routine with Santa.
Something that has caused a great deal of agonising over in the past is the Christmas presents for the extended family. Several years ago, my family who was all interstate cut out presents for each other. The following year, I tentatively approached hubby’s sisters to suggest could we possibly stop Christmas presents for the nieces and nephews. I tried to frame it in a nice way and they immediately totally agreed with how I was feeling and wholeheartedly agreed to my suggestion since it would relieve a huge burden from the family. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can simplify things.
- Physical adaptations (Diet/health/lifestyle)
I find if I limit sugar during this time, headaches disappear as well. Walking daily and eating healthier gives me more energy and emotional stability to cope with what comes my way. I find this also true with my son. The foods he eats certainly impact his behaviour and ability to control his emotions when extremely tired.
Grumpy kids are usually tired and hungry kids. This was especially evident when our kids were younger. I tried to keep meals at their usual times. When we had events that meant a meal would be eaten later than normal, it worked best for my kids if I fed them earlier. Now the kids are teenagers, it is easier, but we still try to have a substantial snack before we go to a late meal.
Your attitude sets the atmosphere in the home. If you are tired, grumpy, anxious, short-tempered, then expect the kids to model that behaviour, taking after you. Be kind to yourself and rest appropriately so that you have the energy you require.
What do you specifically do during this time to ‘enjoy the journey’ amidst the busyness? I would love to hear your thoughts?