In order to make December “the most wonderful time of the year” I need to do a little planning first. Being deliberate about what I choose to do with the time I have this month can help lighten up our Christmas time!
What is Christmas? I have to start there. If I remember why I am celebrating Christmas in the first place, it helps me make all of the other decisions for my time this holiday.
For me, Christmas is the day I celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. That’s a pretty big deal. I believe He came to Earth, born as a baby, to live an exemplary life and ultimately perform an atonement and resurrection that became the greatest gift to all of the human race.
That’s a beautiful thing to celebrate.
With my “why” clearly stated, I’m now ready to choose the “how.”
If I’m not thoughtful about how I want to spend my time this holiday season, I end up scrolling for hours looking for gifts, eating waaaay too much sugar, rushing from activity to activity trying to fit in all the jolly-ness… and completely burned out by January 1st! And that’s not pretty!
My time celebrating Christmas really shakes down into four areas: gifts, decorations, food, and activities. If I just spend a few minutes at the beginning of December, looking at each one of these and deciding how I want to spend my time, there is a whole lot more jolly-ness in the course of the month!
The wise men brought gifts to Jesus to celebrate His birth. I love giving gifts to people that I love to celebrate the gift of His life. However, unfettered giving is a recipe for disaster! I’ve written about my Christmas gift giving philosophy before, but it bears repeating here.
- I keep the giving simple. One gift per person. Items that they need or would help them develop a talent. Something that let’s them know that I love them and I know them.
- I keep my list of recipients short. My husband, my children, our parents, a gift exchange with our siblings. It doesn’t take too long to choose a gift for each one and we’ve done a lot of our shopping online in the coziness of our home. More time for other ways to celebrate! Occasionally, if I have time and I choose to use it that way, I’ll make a small treat to give to our friends. But again, that’s a conscientious choice.
- I participate in a gift donation. It always brings a smile to my face every year to be able to participate in giving a gift to someone in need. Some years we’ve purchased gifts for a family through a giving tree. Some years we’ve purchased items and given anonymously to a family we know. The last three years I have purchased a present in honor of our angel baby. She would have been 3 this year, so I’m picking out something I would have given to her and I’m donating it to our church’s toy drive.
- Finally, I set a monetary budget and I stick to it. And I set a time budget and I stick to it. No scrolling for hours to find the perfect gift! Just choose something simple and meaningful and get it, wrap it, send it!
I will never be the house on the block with 10,000 lights. That’s just not me. If it’s you and that brings you a ton of joy, go for it! But I go back to my “why” when I consider what decorations to put up for Christmas. We’re celebrating the birth of Christ, so here’s what we choose:
- The tree. We definitely put up a Christmas tree! It’s an artificial one that I’ve had for at least 15 years now, but it does the job. I like not having to keep anything “alive” and I add the pine smell with candles and essential oils. We put it up and deck it with ornaments the weekend after Thanksgiving. I’ve written about our tradition of getting an ornament everywhere we travel. That makes decorating the tree a fun walk down memory lane of all the places we’ve visited.
- The stockings. Yep, they go up on the fireplace mantel. And I love having an (artificial) garland of pine on the mantel too. The nutcrackers are a nod to days gone by when I was a young ballerina. I don’t know if they’ll always go up, but they are up there for now.
- The nativity scene. Since it is the birth of Jesus that we are celebrating, putting up a nativity scene is important to me. I’ve had this one for about as many years as the tree (maybe more?) The angel’s wings are broken off (but that’s ok, since angels don’t really have wings). I love the sweet, visual reminder of that amazing night.
- Finally, I’ve majorly downgraded the amount of decorations I put up. It’s so much time and storage and dusting to put up tons of knick-knacky items and that’s just not how I want to use my time anymore. I put up just enough to give us a light, happy reminder of the celebration, and that’s all we need.
Oh, the Christmas food! I can get overwhelmed just thinking about making it all! Not to mention eating (and overeating) it all! I’m totally still a work in progress in this area, but I’ve done a bit of planning this year to hopefully make it to January with fewer regrets!
- Choose a few traditions. Between sugar cookies and peppermint fudge and gingerbread houses and a big gigantic Christmas dinner… it’s easy to get carried away with the food options that we think we must have in order to celebrate the holiday. But it’s so much easier (and healthier) to pick just a few family favorites and just really enjoy those. My family has a tradition of serving crepes with strawberries and cream on Christmas Eve for breakfast. We are definitely doing that one!
- Choose your personal parameters. Without this one, I would eat all. the. things. Who cares if I like it or not! If it’s sugar and it’s Christmas time, I’ll eat it. I’m not so good in the self-control department around sugar (you’re probably getting that.) Something I’ve tried to do the last year or so, and I’ve had more success with, is to set my personal parameters for what I will choose to eat. First, for baked goods, if it’s something that I don’t absolutely love, I don’t eat it. Second, for candy, if it’s not chocolate, I don’t eat it. This at least minimizes the amount of options I’ll even consider. And then I’ll (try!) to only eat small portions in moderation.
- Keep it simple! I don’t want to spend Christmas Eve or Day in the kitchen making an elaborate meal. That may totally be your way to make the season light and you should go for it! But for me, keeping meals simple means I can be playing in the front room by the tree and having way more fun. Christmas Eve has often been a dinner of hearty soup or build-your-own sandwiches. Something yummy, but easy, that allows us time to be together in other ways.
I saved this for last, because I think it can often be the number one way to get totally caught up in Christmas FOMO and becoming so busy that you miss the reason for the season all together.
I get it! There are so many fun festive things to do! All you have to do is search, “Christmas bucket list” to get 1,000 things to do in only 25 days! Rather than getting overwhelmed and going into total anxiety mode, I take a look at that list of 1,000 things with these questions in mind:
- Does this help me celebrate Jesus’ birth? If that’s my “why” for celebrating Christmas, I’m going to want to do things that direct me toward that reason. We reenact the Christmas story as a family on Christmas Eve, complete with costumes and props! It’s a family favorite and reminds us of that amazing night.
A shepherd and a wise man.
- Does this build our bonds as a family? Many of the things we’ll do during this month are special times to be together as a family. We’re taking the boys to see The Nutcracker this weekend and I’m so excited to do that together! We also have just as much fun popping popcorn and watching a Christmas movie together snuggled on our couch on a Saturday night. It helps to ask the whole family at the beginning of the month what activities are important to them and then calendar them in so that they happen, and so that you can see how much is on the calendar, and you don’t over-schedule!
- Does this reach out to our community? I love how the spirit of this season tends to draw people together. Again, being deliberate in how much we schedule, I like to add in a few activities that help us to connect with our friends, neighbors, and community. We’ll be going to our church Christmas party. I’ll be going to the Christmas party for the women’s organization I belong to. And our neighborhood often has a little get-together with hot cocoa!
As I wrap up this list (Ha! A little holiday humor there.) I’m struck by one more idea. Probably because I just made it through Thanksgiving week and this was a big take-away for me. In the middle of all the holiday hustle, when there are possibly even more things on the calendar than usual, it’s even more important than ever to be doing the everyday things that help me stay light.
Taking care of myself this month will probably be the best gift I can give myself. I need to make sure I get enough sleep, drink enough water, eat nourishing food, move my body every day, spend time in prayer and scripture reading, take the time to journal… you know, all the things I’ve gotten better at doing on an ordinary day. They still need to be the first things that I do on a fun and festive day so that I have the groundwork to keep things light.
Easier said (or written) than done? Maybe. But I’m gonna really try. It will make a difference.
How do you make your Christmas time light?