Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent: Simplifying the Holidays

I mentioned in my last blog post that I would be trying again this year to capture the true meaning and spirit of Christmas for my family this Advent season, resisting the world’s best efforts to catch me up in the whirlwind of materialism, consumerism, and holiday stress.

I’ve been jotting down tips, ideas, and strategies from all sort of resources that I’ve run across over the past month or so, and I thought I would share what I consider the top 5 ideas for keeping the holidays simple.  

For me, simplicity feels like the key to keeping my focus on Christ this Christmas.

My top 5 Ideas for Keeping the Holidays Simple

1. Prayer
Whenever I try to do something new, it makes sense for me to start with prayer. I can talk to God about what I'm working on, and ask for His blessing, strength, and guidance to see me through.  
During Advent, I am looking for God-honoring ways to participate in the season. I want to prioritize the activities and experiences that will allow me and my family to enjoy the hope, peace, love, and joy of Christmas. For me, especially, I am looking for a sense of peace:
  • I intend to participate in the shopping and the wrapping and the gift-exchanging, but I don’t want that to become the sum-total of my Christmas efforts and memories. 
  • I take my children to activities like Breakfast with Santa at their school, but I want them to understand the spiritual meaning of the holiday without getting bogged down by the secular trappings. 
  • I am decorating, and volunteering, and baking, and traveling, but I want to do these things for the joy they bring to me and my family, and not out of a rushed sense of obligation. 

I can bring all of these things to God in prayer; He knows my heart, and I believe without reservation that when I bring these kinds of God-honoring concerns before Him, He blesses me with His grace. 

When Jesus explains to his disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit after he is no longer living among them, he tells them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14: 27). This is one of the promises I am happy to claim this Advent season!

2. Reality-checks
I don’t know where I read this, but I love it: “Don’t try to be some kind of Christmas superhero.”
I’m not as prone to this temptation as some people are: I’m not a big holiday entertainer; we don’t go “all-out” on the outdoor Christmas lights and lawn decorations; I don’t worry about whether my gifts cost as much as what anyone else has spent. Overall, I don’t see myself as a big “keeping up with the Joneses” type.  But I think it’s a very real problem for a lot of people.  

We do well to limit ourselves—not doing things just because we think we “should,” just because someone else tried it on Pinterest, or everyone else seems to have a picture of it posted on Facebook.  If we do the things that truly bring ourselves and our family joy, then we will hit the mark this holiday season. As soon as we try to be someone we are not, we are likely to miss that mark every time.

Here’s another aspect of reality checks: I think sometimes we indulge in unrealistic expectations about the holidays. We want it to be a magical time of year. We try to ensure that every moment will be a lasting memory of unspeakable delight for our children. We think that THIS will be the year the extended family will get together without arguing.  

But this isn’t our first rodeo.  The lights short out, the cookies burn, the kids put each other in a headlock, our great uncle gets drunk and tells lewd jokes.  I don’t know what it will be for you...I just know it is likely to be SOMETHING! 

Hope springs eternal, but we do well to adjust our expectations and seek the realistic blessings of our personal homes, families, and situations. We just can’t wear ourselves out trying to make something unrealistic happen this time around.

3. Basic health and wellness tips
If you read most any magazine that covers topics of health and wellness, then this list of ideas will look very familiar. The challenge is putting the ideas into practice! These strategies are probably more helpful at the holidays than any other time of the year: 
  • Get enough sleep! We know what we as individuals need, and we can tell when we aren’t getting it.  Sometimes an afternoon power nap of about 20 minutes will do a world of good if we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to take one!
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Don't forget to breathe! Most of us aren't breathing in nearly deeply enough.
  • Be careful about drinking too much alcohol. The holidays can be a time when we start a little earlier than usual, pay less attention to how much we are drinking, and/or drink a little extra to ease the holiday stress. We are much healthier when we pay attention to what we are doing, and exercise good judgment and limits.
  • Balance holiday indulgences with healthy snacks.
  • Take time to exercise, or at least stretch a little.
  • Get outside for some fresh air.  At least look out the window once in a while!
  • Give yourself a grown-up time-out. Many of the ideas here are good for our time-outs: a brief walk, some deep breaths, a cup of tea, a stretch, a little music.
  • Take time out for a laugh—a joke with a friend, a stand-up routine on TV, or a silly meme or YouTube video.
  • Enjoy the moment you are in. We don’t need to borrow trouble worrying too much about what comes next. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

4.  Honest Assessments
When we think about the things that occupy our holiday season, and ask ourselves some honest questions, we can make important decisions that can return the spirit and meaning of the season to our lives.  
For example, I realize that every year, the one thing that causes me Christmas stress is trying to get a good family photo, create a card to order online, and then get it sent out to the people on my Christmas list.  So I am trying something new this year: I am not sending any Christmas cards at all.  I have let myself off the hook from the one Christmas task that makes me feel anxious.  As I noted in a Facebook status: If the earth doesn’t shift on its axis and I don’t bring about the end of the world by my negligence, then I will decide next year if I will resume the tradition or decide that dropping cards was the best decision I’ve ever made. 

It doesn’t hurt to try something new to see what we think about it, either by adding a new tradition or shedding one that doesn’t seem to improve our holiday experience. 

In the same vein, we can ask ourselves:
  • Do I have to attend (or host!) so many parties?
  • Do I have to buy so many gifts for so many people?
  • Do I have to make so many appetizers? So many side dishes? So many desserts?
  • Do I have to make sure my wrapping paper is themed or color-coordinated?
  • Do I have to put up ALL of the decorations from all 3 (or 5 or 15) tubs in the attic?

What would happen if we said “no” to some holiday invitations or commitments? Could we have each family member pick one favorite tradition or activity, and only do those few things this year? Could we try to do something new with gift-giving so we don’t all feel rushed/ baffled by what to buy/ worried about our finances?

I’ll take gift-giving as an example to go into in more detail.  I have read so many options for handling gift-giving in new ways to alleviate some of the stress it tends to cause. Check out all of these options, and see if there might not be something fun that your family or friends could try new this year to determine how you like it, and if you want it to “stick”:
  • Rather than everyone buying gifts for everyone, adults could buy gifts for children only.
  • Your family could organize a Secret Santa exchange so that each person gets a gift for one other person.
  • Your family could play a fun holiday gift-giving game where everyone brings a wrapped present that cost a certain modest amount of money to place at the center of the room. Then everyone draws a number and waits for their number to be called to select a gift. You’ve probably played a version of this at White Elephant parties; I’m sure a more comprehensive set of instructions can be found online!
  • Reduce/ reuse/ recycle.  Have a book swap. Or a decoration swap. Or a cookie swap.
  • Set up an exchange where everyone hand-makes a gift, or has a dollar-store gift exchange, or purchases something that supports local farmers or artisans, or creates a food-related gift in a reusable container (like a casserole dish from a thrift shop), including the recipe.
  • Consider giving experiences rather than things: trips or memberships to the zoo or a local museum, classes in hobbies of interest, car washes, restaurant vouchers, massage gift certificates, movie tickets, bowling passes.
  • Create “coupon” gifts promising to complete chores around the house or helpful errands.  These are often created by children for their parents, but I can think of plenty of chore coupons I would love for my husband to give me so that I could redeem them through the year!

If we talk to our extended families about some of these idea, we may discover that they welcome a change of tradition, especially when it simplifies this aspect of the holidays for everyone involved.

5.  Free and Inexpensive Experiences
I’ll devote my next blog post to developing this idea…stay tuned!
This topic is probably like so many other topics: we know what we want to do, and even what we probably ought to do, but getting around to doing it is another matter.  Feeling stressed at the holidays is almost a habit...for some people, I think it's some sort of badge of honor! 

But there is nothing in feelings of stress or anxiety, in worries about budgets and debts, in concerns about materialism and consumerism that helps us prepare our hearts for a celebration of Christ's coming into our world, for remembering and honoring God's amazing act of mercy and grace on our behalf, for experiencing and sharing the hope, peace, joy, and love of the season with our families and our wider communities.

If you could do ONE THING to ease the stress and anxiety of the season and to simplify the holidays for you and your family, what would that one thing be?

Now, go do it!

1 comment:

  1. Love this! Great ideas. I gave up the card-giving years ago, giving the money normally spent on cards to a food bank instead. At 70 yrs old I pretty much have the holidays down to important basics and you're feels exactly right!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...