Making Christmas Less Nuts: traditions that protect

Christmas can be a loaded word.

It can bounce up memories of snow covered lawns with Christmas lights and calm restful moments talking with family in front of the fireplace.

It can also dredge up such moments of hurt and rejection that you want to burn anything remotely resembling Christmas and just call it a year.

Or, it can be something like the quirky Callahan family from While You Were Sleeping – which can have its own nostalgia or stress depending on the moment.

Whatever your version of Christmas Past, Christmas Future isn’t written yet and you have control over Christmas Present.

Christmas’s growing up were a mess. Getting married means you add someone else’s mess to yours and call it family.

For the last 15 years, we’ve struggled to build our own traditions and tried to create moments that bring us closer as a family but end up having a distinct National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation flavor.

Trust me! I REALLY tried for more of Bing Crosby than Chevy Chase! It just made me feel cheated when all the moments I set up ended in farts or burps or whatever – and lots of laughter. I was going for laughter, right?! So I just embraced it.

So here are some of the things we tried – and the results.

Cutting down a real tree

This was our yearly tradition up until last year. Having a puppy collided with having a real tree. She loves to chew sticks so it seemed logical to her that when her family hauled a huge stick in the house that it had to be just for her snacks. We found pine wood chips all over the house as she chewed the dry bottom branches off the tree. Not to mention the needles that would rattle to the floor every time she helped herself.

Though it felt strange not to trudge through fields hunting for the perfect tree, we set up our fake tree this year – and I enjoyed not having a needle poke or sap on my hands. It was glorious. (I do burn an evergreen candle because I love the smell of a real tree!)

Decorating the tree with the whole family

I remember our first Christmas and Mike bringing in the tree. He said, “The rest is your department.” My romantic idea about him helping me to put the ornaments on and dream together was definitely not going to happen. Eventually, I was okay with that.

God gave me a daughter who now loves the balance and thought that goes into placing each ornament in strategic places on the tree. In fact, this year she hung all the ornaments herself – see the post graphic for her handiwork! I enjoy listening to our eclectic Christmas playlist and hearing her sing as we change the fall decor for Christmas red. She’s such a gift to me.

The Jesse Tree

I think we started attempting this tradition around 2013. I’d gotten Ann Voskamp’s Christmas devotional The Greatest Gift the year before and tried to read it aloud together but it was rather cumbersome and not meant for 8, 6 or 4 year olds. The next year, Ann came out with the children’s version called Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. The ornaments I printed from her first book perfectly matched this new book and the kids loved the process of reading and hanging the ornament each evening.

(more on this tradition in next week’s post!)

Making Christmas cookies (with an engineer)

We tried this only once and I decided that there was no need to repeat the disaster.

Flour, small children, food coloring, icing, cookie dough snitchers and two recipe reading adults trying to make the same recipe different ways… I believe that speaks for itself – also the decorating of the cookies in the efficient precise way of said engineer.

Maybe some day we will attempt this again as a family. Maybe.

The Manger Box

This tradition began about 12 years ago when I received a section of fabric with characters pre-printed to create a stuffed Nativity set. So one November, my girl and I found the perfect gift box at Hobby Lobby – and I sewed up Mary and Joseph and all the rest. We’ve had our Manger Box ever since.

Now each December, until the week before Christmas (when the presents need to go under the tree because all of our hiding places are used up) the only thing under our tree is the Manger Box.

When the kids were little, they loved to play and pretend with the Manger Box. Now mostly we use it during our family celebration to tell The Story together.

I’ve found I need the visual reminder desperately. December can take on the frenetic and harried pace if I let it. I must remind myself that I’ve already been given the best, most perfect and needful Gift ever – the wrapped packages take second place to Him.

Our family Christmas celebration

If you live near family and your Christmas celebrations include extended family or family coming in from out of town, the timing of Christmas celebrations can get tricky.

Extended family celebrations usually take center stage as there are more people and schedules to coordinate. With the calendar moving Christmas Eve and Day around each year, we’ve never been able to create a hard and fast day on which we celebrate Christmas as a family.

So we just keep this tradition intentionally loose. It makes for less stress and unmet expectations. Whenever we do celebrate, the whole day (start to finish) is for us. Whether part of it’s spent seeing the new Star Wars movie or just sitting around building new Lego sets, it’s just our family.

Family Time

During December, we work hard at being Gatekeepers of our family schedule. All of us suffer if there are too many nights gone and not enough home. So I consider carefully before committing our weeknights or weekend evenings. If we do schedule something, I make sure there is buffer time the next day to recuperate and just be. The family introverts might revolt otherwise.

Christmas Books

Next to the Christmas tree is my comfy chair. Next to my chair is the black wire basket of Christmas books. They are never seen except during the month of December. So there is great excitement and exclamations when I set it out with the rest of the decorations!

There are usually a couple bodies sprawled out in the living room reading and remembering. When they were little, their absolute favorite was an activity book with  maps and puzzles and mazes and angels that came out of pockets and a paper star that unfolded at the end. This year, there was a lot of laughter at the discovery of the very loved but headless angel Gabriel!


I hope you didn’t hear a checklist to compare or compete. They are simply pieces of Christmas we’ve tried. Some have worked very well for our family – some not at all.

My hope in writing all this is to help you think through the why behind your choices. 

  • Do you participate in certain things because you feel you “should”? Or because people are expecting it of you?
  • Have you taken the temperature of your family during the Christmas season? Is it boiling with anxiety and fracturing with all the lists and expectations? Or are you all still able to BE in the midst of all the extra stuff?
  • Do you have a way to slow and be still in the bustle – a time where you all gather and rein in the crazy and be reminded of the manger?

In case you didn’t catch it before, I don’t have this perfectly balanced.

There are days when things go smoothly and others where I wonder if I will survive the bickering over who will read the Jesse Tree devotional for the evening.

But I can say that figuring out the “why” and “how” helps keep things anchored when you’re not sure which end is up. It also keeps you from deciding to avoid all people and just live in a hermitage for the month of December.

Balance and why: the introvert’s vocabulary for the Christmas season.

While having a stress-free Christmas may not be possible, we can make choices that protect what is important and grow traditions that help our kids remember the “why” and “how” so someday they can create traditions in their own families.

Here’s to making Christmas less nuts and remembering what is truly important!

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