This is a post by Jeremy Skrdla, homeschooling father of 7 in Nebraska. You can learn more about him at our Blog Contributors Page.
One Christmas memory from my childhood was gathering with my uncles and cousins in Grandma’s living room to watch A Christmas Story (the 24 hour marathon). In one scene, Ralphie wakes up Christmas morning and the first word out of his mouth is “Wow”. He and his brother rush downstairs with more excitement than most adults will feel in an entire year. That was me. I knew exactly how he felt. Everything about Christmas was magical and full of joy. From the decorations to the Christmas movies; from the goodies to the Christmas programs. December often felt like the longest month waiting in anticipation for the exhilaration that was Christmas.
As I grew up, the magic turned to work; anticipation to anxiety. Wanting to give my children a “magical” Christmas was stressful and expensive. I was making Christmas about the gifts, goodies, and glitter, the material things, then feeling disappointed when this caused greed instead of gratefulness in my kids. I mean, don’t they know that Christmas is about Jesus… oh… I see what happened.
To truly keep Christmas, I needed a change. We all needed a change. I needed to find the childlike joy, but as an adult, so I came up with this.
Every Advent seems to speed by faster and faster. It’s a mad scramble to get the Christmas decorations up, goodies baked, presents wrapped, parties scheduled, and “Oh my goodness, Christmas is over.”
Slow down. Take some time with your spouse (and kids) and look at each of your traditions to decide which are most meaningful to your family. Trim out anything that just isn’t worth it. Maybe your traditions involve 6 kinds of goodies, 5 totes of decor, 4 Christmas parties, 3 Christmas trees, 2 turtle doves, and… sorry got off track there. Traditions are great, but if you rush through each thing, do you enjoy them? If you don’t have any traditions that are meaningful, maybe try a new one that will fit your family: a low key Christmas party with friends, a movie night, or a Christmas light tour. One of my favorite Christmas traditions growing up was decorating the tree. My mom would sit on the couch and hand out ornaments to each of the kids and we would carry them over to the tree and hang them on. She might mention the significance of an ornament and pass along a bit of history. “You made this for me when you were in 2nd grade.” I’m sure she could have decorated the tree beautifully on her own in half the time, but letting us help made it special for us. Maybe you enjoy carolling, making goodies, looking at lights, a Jesse Tree, Advent Wreaths, or watching your favorite Christmas movies (Muppets Christmas Carol is a family favorite at my house). Don’t let the stress of trying to do it all keep you from the moment. While traditions can be wonderful, filling up your Advent and Christmas with more and more traditions drives the Jesus out of the season.
One big stressor for parents (and people in general) is the gifts. If you can get this done early it will save you time (and probably money). We are bombarded with ads for things and feel the need to get bigger, better, latest, etc. Then everyone needs to be equal. Everyone needs more. Take a moment to think of the best gifts you’ve ever received. They were likely given by someone special who put thought into it and considered you. Don’t ask your kids what they want (unless you want to hear what everyone else has/is getting). Instead, ask what they would give each other.
Instead of getting the latest gadget, you can give someone tickets to an event, make them mittens, or put together a gift basket of small things that they love. The extra thought is going to mean something to them long after that iPhone is defunct. I still have things my grandma made for me decades ago; but I couldn’t tell you the whereabouts of that video game I had to have. Try to find something that will let them know just how much you love them, something you just can’t wait to give them. Give a piece of yourself and not just a piece of your wallet.
(photo of Advent Countdown Tree is courtesy of Callie and her two girls in our Cullman, AL Chapter)
As a child, it felt like years between each Sunday of Advent. A big part of that was the anticipation. Now, Christmas is over before we start enjoying it. Try to build the anticipation. Each week do something to get you closer to being ready. Slowly decorate the tree. Do a Jesse Tree or an Advent Calendar; something to mark the passing of time. Anticipate gathering with family. Anticipate the kids’ Christmas recital. If you get someone a gift they’ll love, you will find yourself longing for them to open it. More importantly, look forward to the coming of Jesus!
The Reason for the Season
Perhaps the best way to get yourself in the Christmas spirit is by doing things for others. Studies have shown that charitable acts will actually boost your mood. When you find those things about Christmas that you enjoy, share them with others. If you like baking goodies, share them with your neighbor or an elderly relative. If caroling is your thing, share your beautiful voices. As the Prayer of St. Francis says, “It is in giving that we receive.” And in all giving remember that God is asking us to give and he is never outdone in generosity.
Enjoy the Day
When Christmas morning finally arrives, wake up with joy, remembering what Christmas is. We were trapped by sin and barred from Heaven. Then God gave us a gift. Imagine being alone in prison on Christmas Eve only to have someone give you a pardon, hand you the key, and set you free. That is what God did for us. He sent His Son to a family in the form of a baby. Take a minute and think about that gift, think about the nativity scene, and let that overwhelming joy of being loved that much sink in for a second. Start the day right and keep it going.
I’m not sure that this is a foolproof method. I’m just trying it out myself. But I feel like it is worth a shot to bring back the joy and wonder that I knew as a child and make Christmas special again. It needs to be about Christ again. It needs to be the kind of day where you wake up and the only word you want to say is “Wow!”
This is a post by Jeremy Skrdla, homeschooling father of 7 in Nebraska.