So it makes sense that we want to do so much for them at Christmas. I can understand why we go to great lengths to get the gifts on their lists, why we work, late into the night, crafting and shopping and buying and wrapping, why we say yes to the parties, the concerts, and the activities.
But it’s also why we run the risk of missing it altogether. In our excitement, in our attempt to give our children all the things, I fear we may miss giving them the most important things. This Christmas, our three are (almost!) eight, and going on six and two. This year is our busiest holiday season to date, and it's actually made me a little resentful. I'm having to be intentional about the way we approach Christmas this year. Here are some reminders I have needed this week, so I don't inadvertently miss the most wonderful time of the year. Maybe I'm not the only one?
2. Pare Down Gifts – Some families give three gifts (since Jesus received just three); others use a rhyme to determine what gifts to give (“something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read”). We don’t have a formula, but we give each child a stocking (usually toiletry items and a few treats) and several gifts, usually one larger and a few smaller (books, art supplies and games are favorites here). Santa Claus brings each child one gift. We have generous family members, all of whom live out of state. We have talked to them about our desire to instill gratitude and a lack of materialism in our children, and mostly they are on board. We cannot control the gifts of others, though, and we try to accept them graciously. We tend to separate gift opening experiences, so our children can focus on the gifts and the givers.
3. Focus on Experiences – We use a homemade Advent Calendar to ensure we make time for the simple joys we don’t want to miss (think: drinking hot chocolate while looking at Christmas lights, watching Elf). This calendar helps us determine which commitments we can take on during the busy season of celebration. Sadly, we cannot attend every party. We say no more than I’d like. But the activities on our calendar have become family traditions over the past few years, and we think that’s worth missing a party or two for.
5. Make Time to Serve Others – We include service in our Advent calendar to make sure we don’t miss it. Our kids shop for gifts for children in need each year; we make special donations to our favorite charities, and we provide food for Christmas meals for families in our area. This may look different depending on your situation. Serving others does not necessarily require money; you might give the gift of time. But regardless of what we give, serving alongside our children is a privilege that shows them what we really value.
6. Build Jesus into the Season – Include stories that focus on the real meaning of Christmas in your child’s bedtime routine. Use a nativity scene that is safe for little hands in your décor. Harness the anticipation inherent in the season to talk through the characters in the story: What must Mary have been feeling while she waited? What do you think it was like for the shepherds to follow the star? Weave the story of Christmas through your preparations and celebrations to help children see that Jesus isn’t at odds with the excitement of the season; He is the reason for it.
7. Be Present – Several circumstances seem to compel me to check out, especially this time of year: having too much to do, being around too many people, or being overwhelmed by the mundane. I find myself scrolling through things on Facebook or Instagram that I really don’t care about. When I catch myself doing this, I try to ask myself why I’m doing it—am I hiding from anything?—and what is it I really need? Maybe it’s a one-on-one conversation, time alone, a break (even better if it’s a dance break), prayer or reflection, or time reading or writing. I’m working on training myself to identify the need and spend that time doing something that actually might meet it.
May you be present with those you love this holiday season, and may you find hope and joy.