More than two thousand years ago a young couple made a trek that landed them in a stable for the night. A tiny baby’s cries rang out over the land. At that second, everything changed. A multitude of angels rang out into the night, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The shepherds in the field hurriedly left their life’s work to gather and see the newborn king. What they witnessed that night left them eager to spread the word about this babe. As they returned to their work-a-day worlds, they glorified and praised God for all the things they had seen and heard (Luke 2:8 – 20).
The first Christmas was a joyous, simple occasion. The only celebration of Christmas happened in a simple stable. No food, no trees, no lights, no gift wrap, no Christmas lights, no cookies for Santa. There was no fight over whether to say “Happy holidays!” or “Merry Christmas!” No cash registers were ringing all over town. No carolers either, unless you count a choir of angels. And yet, God was glorified, and the Savior’s birth was celebrated.
Now, more than two thousand years later, Christmas just does not seem complete without all the additional fuss, cookies, gifts, trees, lights and shopping. We all know that “Christmas Consumerism” is something we want to avoid. However, I grew up in the age of credit cards. People did not think there was anything wrong with showering their children with gifts they could not afford and paying it off until April. As a child, Christmas came to mean a bunch of food, a mountain of gifts, decorations, and lots and lots of garbage bags filled with torn-off wrapping paper. There were special Christmas foods and gatherings of family and friends.
As an adult, I had to come to grips with that whole picture and wonder, “Where was Christ in Christmas?” Yes, we went to midnight church service. We sang the songs at church. We sang the songs at school and made all the Christmas crafts, but where was the holiness in the Christmas holiday? How on earth was Christ celebrated when I barely took the time to acknowledge the King of Kings while rushing from place to place tending to all the details?
I am not quite prepared to ban the typical U.S. celebration of Christmas from my home. After all, I grew up loving the season and many of the trappings. But I have searched over the years for ways to make the entire Christmas season one filled with joy and peace and a sense of orderliness. Chaos cannot possibly bring the peace that was promised by the angels to those upon whom the Lord’s favor rests.
Following are eight steps we use to help trade in the panic and mayhem of the season for one marked with peace and delight.
Reduce and eliminate distractions.
Focus on keeping Christ in Christmas.
Limit consumerism in your home.
Have a de-cluttering challenge before the season begins.
Be responsible with your finances.
Make decisions ahead of time.
Delegate tasks to capable people.
Nourish yourself with God’s Word.
1. Reduce distractions and eliminate irrelevant traditions.
Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41 – 42)
Having a peaceful, joyous Christmas does not have to be an ever-elusive goal. Before the season begins, take a few minutes to ponder what you really love about Christmas versus a distraction. Next, take a few minutes to sit down with family members and discuss the following questions:
- What are your favorite things that we do around Christmas time?
- Whom do you enjoy spending time with during December?
- What was your favorite gift to give last year?
- What was your favorite thing you received last year?
- What foods do you always associate with Christmas?
- What things do we do as a family for the holidays that you really do not enjoy?
Asking these questions may help you eliminate all kinds of work and stress as it becomes clear what is or is not important to your husband, children and extended family. Be bold and eliminate those things that do not benefit your family. What we found to be true about the entire Christmas season was that the busier we were, the further we departed from our goal of celebrating the true meaning of Christmas. Some of the things that family do year after year are no longer pleasant or relevant. Eliminate those things, and consider what things you can do as a family this year to keep the message of Christ in Christmas.
2. Focus on Keeping Christ in Christmas
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Colossians 3:16 – 17)
Before the season is under way, have a family discussion regarding the true meaning of the Christmas celebration. Discuss how you can keep your focus on the Gospel and Christmas message this year – but remember that too much of a good thing is still a distraction from the main thing.
- Go Christmas caroling in your neighborhood or in a nursing home.
- Check with the local churches to become informed about some of their free Christmas programs. By attending free ones, you can feel free to leave if it is running long and you or your children are tired.
- Make a “Jesse tree.” You can print pictures for a Jesse tree off of the Internet, have the kids decorate them, and each day pull out a Jesse tree decoration and put it on your tree. I use the front of my refrigerator and simply tape each one there, in the shape of a Christmas tree.
- Make a homemade Advent calendar. For each day, select a Scripture verse or a Christmas song that your family will enjoy together. You can include small treats as well (tootsie rolls or kisses or homemade cookies).
- Have a “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” party.
- Sponsor an Angel Tree child.
- Create boxes for Operation Christmas child.
3. Limit Consumerism in Your Home
One year during the Christmas season we happened to be reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I realized that the picture the children had in their minds about Christmas was being altered. As they were reading about Laura making precious gifts for each of her family members, I could see the wheels turning. Instead of thinking about what they hoped to “get” for Christmas, they started imagining themselves making sweet homemade gifts for one another. I realized that by enjoying literature together from days when things were simpler and leaner, my children’s expectations were shifting. Since then, I have kept a steady supply of books with precious stories of Christmases from the past (Little House books, Little Women, Little Men, The Elsie Dinsmore Series). The fall and winter months are a great time to enjoy them. Help each child make a list of people to whom they want to give homemade gifts, crafts, poems and treats.
Here are some frugal ideas to help you think a little more creatively about the season and spend a little less time caught up in the typical consumerism:
- Stop now and look through your pantry. Do you have things there you can use to make special treats for gifts?
- Download some “Old Time Radio Shows” and listen to the ones with holiday themes each night leading up to Christmas.
- Make a scrapbook for each child. These do not have to be the expensive types that are on the market these days. You can make a simple one out of craft supplies that the children will love.
- “Shop at home.” Ask your older children if they own any books or toys they would like to give to younger children for Christmas. Of course, these must be in good condition.
- Purchase things your family would need to buy anyway, and turn them into Christmas gifts. For example, if you buy lunchbox treats for your children, get their favorite kind and wrap it up as a gift. Let them know they can save those treats just for their own lunches. You can do the same with calendars. To make a calendar a special gift for a family member, take the time to transfer all birthdays and important phone numbers from the old calendar to the new one for them.
- If family members ask what to buy you for Christmas, ask for gifts like a zoo membership or museum passes that your entire family can enjoy all year long.
- Make gift certificates that can be redeemed throughout the year for date nights with Mom or Dad or special movie nights. For homeschooled children, a couple of schoolwork passes can be a great treat! They can use them to “get out” of an assignment for a day. Be sure you have these outlined pretty specifically, or your gift may cause problems later!
- Make gift certificates for other family members, such as “coupons” for house cleaning, yard work, babysitting, or pet sitting while they are on vacation. If you are a “techy person,” you can give some tech time to fix the little bugs causing problems with computers.
- Ask grandparents to give “experience gifts” in which they take the grandchild to do something extra special. For example, the child could be invited to enjoy a manicure with Grandma or movie out with Grandpa.
4. Announce a “De-Cluttering Challenge”
“O Lord, help us to be content, Whatever we possess; Protect us from the foolish lie That ‘more’ brings happiness.” – David Sper
In our family, we institute a “giveaway day” in October. This is a time when a children and adults go through all their personal belongings and decide what they are ready to give away. We make a big, fun day of it and have a contest to see how many things we can give away.
It all started one Saturday morning. Everywhere I looked, I saw things that were ready to go bless another family. At 8:30 we made sure everyone is up and dressed, and as they ate breakfast, I told them the plan. “Today is decluttering day! Today we are going to all work together to get rid of the things we do not need.” Then I outlined the rules for them, and with great excitement and enthusiasm, I put the incentives on our white board.
- If (as a family) we gave away 100 items, we would get dessert with lunch.
- If we gave away 200 items, we could go out for ice cream one night this week.
- If we gave away 300 items, the family could go out to eat for dinner.
- If we gave away 400 items, we could have dinner out, with dessert!
Here were the rules of the Challenge:
- Trash did not count in the tally.
- Every item had to go through the dining room for Mom to make sure it was suitable to give away.
- Every item was to be recorded on a note pad kept in a dining room.
- Everyone got straight to work.
My oldest daughter emptied her truck and turned down the seats to hold the loot. My middle daughter got the trash bags and boxes ready. My youngest daughter got the laundry baskets to use to transport stuff from the rooms to the dining room.
It did not take long for the excitement to build as the kids discussed the “poor children” who would love to get the toys they no longer cherished but which were still in terrific shape. They joyfully brought out some little dolls that were always under foot but rarely appreciated. They brought out clothes that were outgrown and made room in their drawers for the things they needed in there.
Around lunchtime the truck was full. Our item count was very close to 300. Over lunch the kids discussed the progress so far and were excitedly planning when we would go out to get ice cream. Then the question came up: “What if we get to 500 items?” That got the excitement growing again, and after lunch we got everyone back in gear. We were all getting pretty tired by then, but we kept saying: “Look for one more thing; keep going! Almost to 400!”
Soon we were all in the garage and the number neared 500. Anne Mary declared that 500 items should be a family movie night with popcorn! “Yes!” everyone shouted! The excitement built as the 499th item was placed in the box. Then they started talking about donating their winter coats, shoes, umbrellas, and one another’s clothes!
We had a great time blessing other families, and at the same time we got our home cleaner and more orderly. Another thing that this project did for our family was rather unexpected. As we watched the hundreds of things we had accumulated get piled into the truck to leave (not to mention the bags and bags of trash we eliminated that day), we could all see the wastefulness that had crept into our lives. A toy that was highly prized months before had been lying in the floor of the closet, untouched for longer than it had been used. Even with eliminating bags of clothes, everyone still had drawers full of good, usable clothes. This eye opener came at just the right time – just before the Christmas season began. It certainly made it easier to pare down wish lists and think about what kinds of things people really do enjoy for a long time, and not what will be the toy on the floor of the closet in two months.
5. Be Responsible with Your Finances
“My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
Each year at Christmastime it seems we always have less money than we had hoped to have. As a result, we have learned many creative ways to give nice gifts to our children and family without completely destroying our family budget. If you commit to spend no more than your budgeted amount at Christmas, your family will indeed be blessed. Going into debt or dipping into emergency savings is a real detriment to the security of your family. Consider implementing some of the following ideas to help reduce your holiday expense. With a little bit of creativity, you can have a wonderful Christmas for a much lower price tag.
Most women have heard of cookie swaps, but did you know you can have other “swap” parties as well? Here are some great “swap” ideas we have used in years past:
- Host a toy exchange with your friends. A lot of people have toys that are in excellent condition – toys that their children either do not use or have outgrown. Plan a toy exchange in which everyone brings toys they want to swap. Everyone spreads their toys around the room (we group by ages), and then everyone “shops” and takes what their family would like. If there are leftover toys in good condition, the host can box them up and take them to charity.
- Host a clothing exchange or book exchange with friends.
- Plan a cookie exchange. You can use the cookie items from your pantry to make several batches of one variety of cookies. Your friends can do the same, and then everyone gets together to “swap.” You all leave with a nice assortment of cookies to share as gifts.
- Learn about Freecycle, Cheapcycle, and Craig’s List. Use these to get free or low-cost gifts for your family.
Swap babysitting days with friends to get your Christmas chores done in less time. On the day you keep hers, help her children make and wrap a craft they can give to their family.
Change the way you choose gifts for your children. Some families with many simply give each child one modest gift. Others have a “three gift” rule, inspired by the three gifts Christ received from the wise men. In our family we give each child the following:
- Something to read
- Something to wear
- Something to play
- Something to share
In essence, each child receives three gifts, and there is an additional gift for the entire family to share. This also makes shopping for children easy and more fun. I can run out in one quick trip and get all the children something to read at one time. Then, on my next trip I can stop and get a clothing item for each child. “Something to play” can be a doll or toy for a younger child or a CD or DVD for an older child. Our share gift is generally a board game or Christmas music CDs or DVDs. If this many gifts is beyond your budget, you can also ask grandparents to join you by asking them to cover one of the categories.
If you enjoy having lots of little gifts for the children, but not the resultant waste of money and excess stuff, do something I learned from a friend. In November, go through the entire house and gather up all the Christmas CDs, videos, books, devotionals, etc., and wrap them. Use what you have on hand. You can use wrapping paper, tissue paper, newspaper, and put them into a big pillowcase tied with a ribbon. If you do not have many of these, think about some books that have elements of Christmas (like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or many of the Little House books) and include those as well. Still do not have very many? Go to the library and check out their selections. Some of these can be just for fun, and some can be serious Christian devotional books for Christmas or Advent. Count how many you have left and how many days you have left until Christmas. Each day, allow the children to open a new one (or two, depending on how many days you have left and how many items you have gathered).
Consider including some low-cost but well-loved gifts for friends and family:
- Make a photo calendar for a family member. Order this several weeks before you want to give it away, since these are often requested at the last minute and delays occur the closer it gets to the holidays.
- Make an audio or video tape for family members. There are many options for this. You can ask grandparents to read books to your children on video. If you ask each grandparent to read one book, the child can receive a nice tape with several stories made just for him. You can also videotape the children sitting on Grandma or Grandpa’s lap to make a permanent record of that year and their ages.
- Make an audio CD of teaching poems, songs, reading, or grandparents just chatting with each child. You can use a free program on the Internet to record the CD. Print a paper label with a picture of your child on it. When we did this with one grandparent, she read eight or nine books and then recorded a personal message for each child. Each CD had all the stories, but each individual CD contained a personal message only for the recipient. This is still a much-loved gift among my children.
- Our children love to write poems, paint pictures, make clay figures, make soap, and bake goodies for family and friends.
- Homemade jams and flavored butters are always a great accompaniment to homemade breads.
6. Make Decisions Ahead of Time
“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” (Proverbs 31:27)
Sometimes the most stressful thing about the holidays is making decisions. Family plans, clothes, food, gift wrap, cards, finances, children, schedules, discipline, and entertainment choices – all these decisions seem to fall at the exact time you are getting everything finished. This means that you are making decisions when you have the least amount of mental energy to spend upon them. You will follow the path of least resistance and end up making quick decisions you later regret or being stressed because you must continually stop what you are doing to find the best answers.
There is a better way. Look ahead as far as you can into the holiday seasons and make your decisions ahead of time. Once the decisions are made, simply follow the plan. I love how Elisabeth Elliot uses this phrase: “Do the next thing.” That is such a wonderful way to view a very stressful day; however, it does assume that you have some semblance of order and do know what the “next thing” is!
Of course, all decisions cannot be made in advance. You must make some decisions in the moment, but many of the major stressors can be reduced or eliminated altogether with a little planning.
Some of the decisions that are best made early in the season include:
- Holiday schedules
- For whom do we buy or make gifts?
- When/if to travel to relatives
Once those decisions have been made, then it is time to make those decisions that are more detail-oriented:
- What is our total budget for gifts?
- Where will we capture gift ideas?
- What food will need to be prepared?
- Food prep chart
- Freezing ahead food and desserts
- Cookie exchange
- What schedule will we follow for our household duties and special events?
- How will we conduct our homeschool? Will we set some subjects aside during the holidays?
- Will we send Christmas cards this year, and if so, to whom?
- Will we have a family photo made?
- What traditions are important to our family?
- How will we wrap our gifts this year?
- What books/movies/CDs do I want to allow the children to enjoy this year during the holidays?
Once you start making these decisions, capture them in one place together. Use a little notebook that you can carry in your purse or a binder you can grab and take with you. That is where you can keep all the details that can be easily forgotten and cause stress later.
7. Delegate Tasks to Capable People
“You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you. You cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:18)
“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
Often when Mom is running around doing everything, the children really long for her attention and want to be a part of all the excitement. But one problem I have noticed in delegation is that I come to rely upon my oldest children for everything, and the younger children are left idle and restless. The better way to delegate is to give tasks to the youngest child capable of handling a task, even if that means it is not done as efficiently or well as you could do it. Children will often rise to the occasion of completing difficult tasks when given the opportunity.
- What can be delegated to the children?
- What can I complete online? Gift certificates, groceries, gifts/wrap
- Gift wrap (gift wrap center) – tape/scissors/tags/unwrapped gifts
- Sewing and craft projects
- Get recipes out for meals
- Mix up dry ingredients in baggies – be sure to label them!
- Pie crusts (make ahead)
- Eliminate dishes no one likes
- Save leftover popcorn in 2-gallon sized bags to let it go stale for stringing
- Ship packages early and pack them well
- Family photos
- Stop now and look through your pantry. Do you have things there you can use to make special treats for your family or as gifts for extended family?
Way back at the beginning days of creation, the Lord delegated the task of tending the garden to his very first human, Adam. Certainly we can all agree that the Lord Himself would have been much better at maintaining the garden. After all, He created every part of it and understood the intricacies and special needs of each and every plant. However, he did not choose to keep that job all to himself. He gave Adam a part of the work. He allowed Adam the privilege of sharing in the work and learning to appreciate the joys of ownership.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with all the preparations for Christmas, and you are doing all the tasks by yourself, it is no wonder you feel overwhelmed! None of us can “do it all,” and based upon God’s example in the Garden of Eden, even if we could do it all, it is not the best way to go.
Do notice that even though God does delegate many tasks to Adam, He does continue to be God. He is still in charge. He controls the sun and moon and stars and seasons. He makes sure that fruit grows on the trees that Adam tends. I hope from this you can clearly see your role as the primary homemaker. You are not slave labor. No, you are a servant leader. You manage your home most effectively by focusing on those tasks that only you can do, while graciously and specifically enlisting the help of those for whom you created the home in the first place.
8. Nourish Yourself with God’s Word
“I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.” (Job 23:12)
As you prepare your heart and home to celebrate the birth of Christ, be sure to carve out time to nourish your spiritual life. If you go through your entire day and never come to the Lord for the nourishment He offers, you likely will not experience the full refreshment of God.
Before the hustle and bustle of the season gets under way, go ahead and create a special place where you can study God’s Word, write in your journal, and pray. Consider designating a spot where you can keep your Bible, a notebook, and a pen. Once you establish this place, use it faithfully. As Corrie Ten Boom says: “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”
A sweet time spent with the Lord each day may be the very best thing you can do to celebrate the entry of the Savior into the world. Just like the shepherds who left their flocks in the field to come and gaze at the baby in the manger, spending time gazing upon Him will give you the strength and ability to return to your work, glorifying and praising God for all the things you have seen and heard from Him.
Copyright 2010, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the 2010 Digital Holiday Supplement issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.