tree and Advent candles

hands up if you’re stressed

It’s the common refrain as we gather with friends, acquaintances, or even strangers. The season of stress is upon us and our hands are high in the air embracing the busy-ness in solidarity.

Not this year, I say. Not again. This year, I’m determined my hand stays low. I’m tired of being tired from Thanksgiving until the New Year. So, I made a list of the things that turn this season from a time of joyful preparation to a time of unfathomable chaos.

Christmas cards – I love receiving them. I love sending them. So, they’re still happening. I wish I could see my favorite friends and family every single year, but sometimes I can’t, so you far off friends are always top of my list. If I see you often, though? You’re probably not getting a card. One of my friends is brilliant and, due to their Irish roots, sends St. Patrick’s Day cards. Maybe next year, our family will find a Norwegian Saint and send our cards on their special day, moving this task to a less busy season.

Find the Advent Wreath and unwrap the Nativity – Buy your candles now. Advent comes quickly and a lit candle a week with a little prayer around the dinner table is a simple way to bring the family into this time of preparation. Find that special table to hold the nativity, reminding you every time you walk by about the reason this season came to be special. Don’t forget about the baby Jesus.

Christmas baking – If you love it, do it. If you don’t, don’t. This one seems best saved until the close-in family days right before Christmas, when you and your family can enjoy the memories and eat all the cookies in peace.

Christmas parties – Go to the ones you love. Don’t go to the ones you don’t. This seems like such simple advice, but this season is meant to be spent with the people you care about. If your office has a holiday party, make it a date night with your loved one and leave when the free drinks end. Can I say this, is this okay? You don’t need to buy a hostess gift. It’s nice and thoughtful if you’re so inclined, but I think most people throw parties these days because they want to see you, not for the present you may deliver as you walk in the door. Don’t let the stress of finding a gift deter your participation.

Christmas presents for friends and adult family – This one always causes me undue stress. Here’s the thing, people. I am an adult who pretty much buys everything she wants when she wants it. And this is the truth, if I haven’t bought it, it’s likely I can’t afford it, which means you can’t either. What I want more than anything is time with the people I love. Granted, this may be because my love language is “quality time” but I think that even if yours is “gift-giving”, you’ll agree that maybe Christmas isn’t the time to buy gifts for every single person you know. Nobody can afford it, even with the sales. Oh, the temptation of the sales. How many times have we gone looking for a gift for somebody else but found something that we cannot live without and buy it for our own self. Better never to enter the store. If you want to give me something to open on Christmas, make it little and fun, or sharable and edible. Please.

Christmas presents for kids – We’ve used the following mantra for years and our boys love it: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. Four gifts, three of which are functional, all of which are fun. Keep track of them all with the Santa’s Bag app on your phone. Life just got a little easier.

Holiday Teacher Gifts – Beg your room-parent to collect money and then hand them your cash. Done. Then, the next time your child wants screen, task them with making a handmade card for their teacher. Done and done. Once January arrives, offer to buy them all the supplies they need for second semester. That’s how they know you really care.

The School Christmas Concert – I’m sure you have at least one to attend. Go with a smile on your face. Leave the recording device at home and just enjoy the music and the joy in your child’s face. Oh, and don’t forget to buy pants or a dress and shoes for your kids. Stop what you’re doing and shop online right now. Stopping at Kohl’s on the way to the show is never fun. My kids will attest to that.

Holiday Outings – Our family is extremely guilty of this one. There are so many fun events in our fine city and I want to do all of the things. We’ve finally settled on two per season. Two is do-able for us and so that’s what we do.

Decorating the House – Pull out the ladder and get this done. Or hire a high school student. I think neighborhood lights are my favorite way we communally celebrate this season. Don’t tell me you’re not smiling when you see your neighborhood filled with little lights blazing through the darkness after an exhausting drive home from work. We’re in this together, people. Light always vanquishes darkness and these twinkle lights remind us every year of this truth.

Don’t forget to look at those lights – Hopping in the car to look at Christmas lights does not have to be a big, pre-planned event. Just do it. You’re all home and dinner is finished? Hop in the car! Coming home from evening church? Drive through a neighborhood! Better yet, detour through neighborhoods on your way home from the school Christmas concert. To make it even more special, stop off at a coffee shop for a cup of hot cocoa. Simple and memory-making. And this little tiny event reminds us of the wonder and beauty that surrounds the season. 

Decorating the Tree – Honestly, this is one thing I don’t enjoy doing yet love to have done. If you love it, find the time to do it. Enlist the help of your children and put it up when you have the time to actually enjoy the process. If it’s not fun, it’s probably not worth doing together, so buy some gourmet chocolate, make yourself a hot toddy, and spend an evening all by yourself lost in memories of handmade Christmas ornaments. Remember, the tree doesn’t actually have to be up until Christmas, so you have a lot of time. We leave ours decorated until Epiphany, which gives us until early January to enjoy the beauty.

Wrapping the Gifts – If you don’t like wrapping, ask Amazon to do it. I happen to enjoy the process, primarily because it’s my excuse to watch one of those silly Christmas movies where the city girl shows up in the country and falls in love with the owner of the hardware shop. Sometimes I go with the classic White Christmas with Bing Crosby. Either way, the task of wrapping can be made fun with a Christmas movie.

Don’t forget to pray – This one is so easy to let slide with the unending task list before us. All it takes is a few minutes of prayerful silence to help us refocus and recenter. Taking a moment to raise our eyes and hearts towards God brings us the peace necessary to truly see the beauty around us.

Listing all of these things to do in the next month was actually a little exhausting. What have I missed? What else can we simplify or set aside so we can more fully enjoy our time together with family and friends?

Take a minute, make your list and remember that none of this needs to be stressful. Often, we’re the ones who place unreasonable expectations upon ourselves. Nobody else is looking at our house or our gifts or the ways we choose to spend our time and judging our choices. We’re all doing our best. Even the simplest tree with a single gift brings joy.

Most importantly, don’t forget to laugh.

The Holidays will not be Happy without a little peace, hope, love, and joy.

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