I find it interesting every December when I slip into the spiral of Christmas chaos--worrying about getting the Christmas cards out, the tree decorated, the presents purchased and wrapped. I have a goal every year of having this all finished by Dec. 1 so I can really enjoy the Christmas spirit. So far I am batting zero on that one.
This year I’m trying something new. I’ve decided that my December days can partially be filled with the inevitable lists of to-dos. Yes, because that matters too. My tree is up and I fully intend to mail our family Christmas cards, buy presents for loved ones and attend most of the parties. I even climbed on the roof last night to string lights on our house. (They’re not perfect, but they’re on, thanks to my neighbor who taught me what “blown fuse” means).
What I’m not going to do is let the glitz-and-glam, somewhat-stressful side of the holidays take away from my favorite part: the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the feelings of Christmas. It’s the focus on family, friendship, kindness and love that will take center stage this year, if I have my way. Here are a few ways you can stay focused on what matters most this year, too:
Invite family members to give a gift of love every day, whether that’s by sharing a toy, helping someone clean up at school, or saying “thank you” to a teacher or grocery cashier. Talk about what you did at the end of the day. This is a wonderful way for family members of any age to think about what they can do for others.
Focus with your children on the gifts your family wants to give. Making gifts or picking out gifts at the store--and thinking about how much the receivers will enjoy them--can be a great exercise in empathy and love. It also helps reduce the “gimme” factor.
Listen to Christmas songs at home and in the car. Talk about what the songs mean. Even try caroling around the block. (Check. It was cold, but fun. My kids loved knocking on doors, ringing the jingle bells and dancing for our neighbors. I loved watching them.)
Simplify your shopping. If you have a lot of cousins or siblings in your extended family, try drawing names for gifts. Then everyone feels loved while spending a fraction of the time and money on gifts. Remember, more doesn’t mean better.
Relax. The tree doesn’t have to be up with the holiday cards mailed by Dec. 1 (heaven knows mine weren’t). Visit with friends and family, have a cup of hot chocolate and remember that every once in a while cold cereal is a perfectly acceptable dinner. And if people receive your holiday cards in January, that’s okay too.
Read Christmas stories with your children. The days can be hectic this time of year, but I love bedtime in December because that’s when we settle down and pull out some of our favorite Christmas books. There’s nothing quite like cuddling up with stories of the first Christmas, sugar plum fairies, or the magic of Santa Claus.
Plan a service project for your family. Christmas is a wonderful time of year to help your family focus on those in need. Look into opportunities to give or volunteer with local charities. My kids had a great time tossing toothbrushes, shaving cream, toothpaste, shampoo, and winter hats into our grocery cart to make gift bags for our local homeless shelter. Besides helping someone else, the service will remind your family of your blessings.
Spend time together. Consider planning a fun, memorable Christmas gathering with your family. Yes, sometimes the holiday events can seem infinite and overwhelming. But the right one at the right time can bring priceless Christmas magic. Take a drive to see your neighborhood Christmas lights, watch a Christmas movie together, decorate cookies, or simply have a special holiday meal.
Start a family tradition. Looking back on the Christmases of my childhood, a favorite tradition was when my little family would get bundled up and go downtown to enjoy the Christmas lights at Salt Lake City’s Temple Square. The lights covered the trees and bushes like glowing sugar in an enchanted candy land. Then we always warmed up with a cup of hot chocolate. I also loved our annual tradition of reading from the scriptures and singing hymns on Christmas Eve. The wonderful feelings captured in these traditions are seared in my memory.
Prioritize the feelings in your home rather than the “stuff.” Some parents feel that if they don’t buy everything on their child’s wish list then Christmas will be a disappointment. Of course it’s fun to buy a few gifts for your little ones. That’s part of the fun of being a parent is watching your child unwrap that long-awaited Lego raptor vehicle or the beautiful doll with the long, silky hair. But when your children look back one day, their most precious memories probably won’t be about the toys they got Christmas morning. Try to keep the gifts simple and focus on bringing the spirit of love into your home. If you do, Christmas will be a treasured time of year.
One of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou once said you can tell a lot about people by the way they handle a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas lights. This year, I’m committed to enjoying the true spirit of Christmas, even if my lights get tangled and my stack of unstuffed, unstamped holiday cards are waiting in the corner. For now I’m going to take my kids upstairs to read a story and sing a Christmas carol or two. That’s what matters most to me anyway.
For more ideas to enjoy the holidays see the Familius Christmas Anthology, 2012