A few years ago, I started compiling a list of ways to manage the stress of the holidays and the pressure to be "in the Christmas spirit" all December long. It can sometimes put me in a really depressed mood that I am "not doing enough" to engage in this month-long holiday because it really is such a special time of year, and I want to savor it and make the most of it--but too much pressure to do so can leave me feeling the opposite of the Christmas spirit (frustration, discouragement, inadequacy). I totally relate to little Cindy Lou Who in How The Grinch Stole Christmas when she sings "Where Are You Christmas?" because sometimes I feel like something is wrong with me when I'm not feeling ultra giddy and magical during the month of December or filling my days with awesome, festive traditions.
I had forgotten my list of ideas for making December less stressful until today, when my Instagram feed starting filling up with photos of moms doing cool things to kick off the month with their kids. Looking at those cute photos, I started to feel a little panicked that the holidays are already sneaking up on me, and we don't have a Christmas tree yet, and I don't have any fun traditions planned, and Noah is at the perfect age for diving in to the fun of this holiday and I want to make every moment "count," and there are so many people to get gifts for, and...
Do you see where I am going with this?
I stopped myself and remembered my list and went to look at it. I decided to post it here as a permanent reminder for myself, as well as to solicit advice from all of you. Please leave your ideas/input in the comments.
I want to start with a disclaimer that this list won't be true for everyone. This is my "notes to self" about how to make the holidays fun and less stressful for me. I think it's awesome if you want to do an amazing family activity every day in December. Please post your ideas on Instagram and elsewhere so I don't have to think up ideas for our family activities and can just copy yours! :)
Okay, so here we go...
Rachel's Notes to Self about Celebrating Christmas
1. Don't feel like you need to start celebrating the day after Thanksgiving or even December 1st. You can't maintain "The Christmas Spirit" that long. It's too much pressure. It's fine if you wait until 12 days before or one week before to do anything "big" to commemorate the holiday.
2. That said, in the month leading up to Christmas, do little things to get into the mood. Talk about Christ as much as possible. When you are driving around town, point out the Christmas lights to Noah and tell him how cool it is that the whole world is celebrating Jesus during this special month. Rely on easy traditions that require no work, such as watching a favorite holiday movie each Saturday night as a family or lighting the advent wreath and singing a hymn each Sunday.
3. On a similar note, do quick things to bring the holiday spirit into your home. I'm not talking about ultra fancy decorations (which are awesome if you can get to them but not necessary). Make it a habit to do things like playing Christmas carols and lighting a candle every day during breakfast. Put up simple decorations--some of which should be focused on Christ and the true meaning of the season.
4. Shop far in advance (or as far in advance as possible) to avoid last-minute gift-giving stress. Do not try to make gifts. You do not enjoy crafts. You will put off doing them, and it will inevitably take longer than you planned, and you will be hating your life as your decoupage a frame for your in-laws late into the night on Christmas Eve. (True story.)
5. Find time to ponder and write about the things that matter most to you. Set aside fifteen minutes now and then to sit by the lighted Christmas tree after the kids are in bed with a candle burning. Spend that time writing about Christ, family, your children, your marriage, your blessings or writing thank you notes to those you love. (As a side note, when my older sister read this, she said that writing deep thoughts by the Christmas tree sounded way more pressure-filled to her than spending an afternoon baking sugar cookies! Bahaha! I know I am kind of a weirdo. Do whatever works for you and brings joy and perspective!)
6. Plan some fun family activities that take a bit more effort--just a few of these are enough. Perhaps a night decorating gingerbread houses with family, hosting a Progressive Dinner with friends, or lighting luminaries on Christmas Eve.
7. Actively serve others. This brings the Spirit of Christmas more than anything else. Service should obviously be part of your everyday life (whatever month it is) but putting a little more focus on it during December can't hurt! Service doesn't have to be grand--a great idea is this simple "24 Days of Giving." If you miss a day of service, don't beat up on yourself.
8. When visiting family for the holidays, focus on being present with those around you. Focus on serving in small but meaningful ways--jumping up to do the dishes after dinner or engaging in conversation with a quiet relative. Look around you and notice where there are opportunities to bring joy and relieve stress.
9. Make time for the things that help you maintain sanity in the midst of holiday craziness, including exercise (even just a brisk walk with the family after dinner), conversations with Ryan (even if that means leaving a raucous game night for a few minutes to lie on the bed and talk), and occasional early bed times (nothing leads to meltdowns more quickly than sleep-deprivation).
10. As much as possible, just be still and let the beauty of this season work its magic. It's not reliant on you and your fancy traditions. Stand at the window and watch when snow is falling, or go outside and raise your face to the sky and taste the snowflakes. Watch the excitement on Noah's face as he points out Christmas decorations in the mall. Talk to him about Christmas and everything it means. Snuggle Baby Sally into your chest when you are feeding her in the middle of the night and think about that sacred baby born thousands of years ago in Bethlehem, "born that man no more may die." Thank Him. Think of Him. Let your heart fill with love for Him.
December is a month to love. I am so excited that it's here. It's going to be a beautiful, Spirit-filled month with my precious kiddos, my amazing husband, and my wonderful family and friends. As a wise friend once told me, "Rachel, you are too blessed to be stressed!" (Thank you, Deborah Tilley!) That is my final note to self as we enter this month of gratitude and giving. I can't wait!