What do you remember most about your favorite childhood Christmases? What about the worst?
I know, I know. It's September. Christmas is just under four months away. That's soooo much time, right? You do realize that Mother's Day was four months ago, right? I swear it was last week because at that point I was still looking forward to summer break and now my kids are in their third week of a new school year. Four months is nothing. And that's why I'm talking about Christmas today - because if we don't think of it now it will be here and we will have done nothing.
I love planning for the holidays. Like, even if I wasn't blogging about the holidays I'd be starting to make plans already. We've already got some Christmas shopping done for the kids and we have been stashing money away in various rewards apps to cash out when we are ready to do more. Planning food is my favorite part so I know I'll kick that into gear come the end of the month and I can start looking for good deals and gathering non-perishable ingredients (one of the best ways to save your budget for your holiday meals!).
But something planners often forget to plan for is the unexpected (hello, exploding diapers and huge snowstorms!). Or real life for that matter. Why plan an eight course feast if you have a new baby, a toddler, and husband that travels for work? This stage of life is not an eight course feast stage of life. Why plan to travel seventeen hours one direction when you live in a snowy climate that almost always has storms over the holidays? Stay put and enjoy your family in your own home. Why try to attend four events on a single day when the kids still need naps and you are an introvert? Pick your favorites and wish the rest of the people a Merry Christmas.
I couldn't have said it better! Just because everyone is doing Elf on the Shelf with crazy and elaborate ideas doesn't mean that you need to do it too - if you don't want. We don't all need to bake thirty varieties of cookies or make homemade ornaments with our kids. Our presents can all be wrapped in gift bags with one piece of tissue paper. It's okay if our Christmas feast is several frozen pizzas and a bowl of ice cream.
Because of my love for keeping Christmas grounded in reality, I want to give your four tips that will help keep this Christmas time memorable. The good kind of memorable! Not the kind of memorable where in twenty years your grown child says, "Remember when you threw the turkey at the wall because you were so frustrated over..." We want fun memories! Joyful memories! Memories that come back year after year as we pull out ornaments and decorate the tree. Memories that our kids tell their kids about in twenty years. Memories that don't make us want to hide under the tree!
In Alexandra Kuykendall's new book, Loving My Actual Christmas, she sets up an experiment that follows the four weeks of Advent - the time of preparation before Christmas - to do Christmas differently so that she isn't going crazy or stressed out by the time it arrives.
4 Tips for Keeping this Christmas Memorable - in the good way!
1. Give yourself a heart check-up
Where is your heart right now? Is it already getting anxious about the parties to attend, the dozens of cookies to be baked, the gifts to buy, and the knick knacks to set up? Or is it ready for a season focused on the birth of Christ and celebrating God coming down in human form for us?
If your goal this Christmas season is to buy the newest gadgets or toys and be able to show off to everyone on Facebook how many gifts you could fit under the tree then perhaps you need a heart check. If you are already dreading pulling out the decorations and are already counting the days to the new year then maybe you need a heart check. If you are starting to recite "whens" and "if onlys" because those different circumstances will magically make Christmas better then you might need a heart check.
Alexandra offers a few questions in her book to help investigate what is in your heart as you approach the holidays. All of them are excellent but I want you to focus on this one to see if you need to spend some more time preparing your heart before the season arrives.
"How do you feel knowing Christmas is approaching?"
If your answer is focused on stress, budgets, decorations, or any "ugh" attitudes, can I suggest reading the Christmas story in Luke 2? Get back to the heart of the season. Get back to the real "why" of our celebrations. It is completely possible to have a wonderful Christmas with zero decorations, zero fancy food, and zero gifts. Of course that thought may stress you out, too! That's why we have a heart check up. Find out where your motivations and desires are pointing and recalibrate if needed.
2. Communicate wishes
Knowing for yourself what you want this season to look like isn't enough. You cannot pull off a full family holiday without notifying your family, sorry! Especially if you need them to do things to make the season work. If you want nightly family Bible time but never tell them and they make other plans in the evening, you will feel upset and they won't understand why you are hurt. Communicate your wishes.
But you also are not the only person in your family. What you think is unneeded might be your daughter's favorite. What you think is incredible might drive your son bonkers. The budget you have in mind could be far from what your spouse has planned. Communicate.
Everyone in the family should get a chance to communicate what they would love to happen this holiday season. If you have older kids you can have them list their three wishes for the season. Offer them questions like "What are the holiday activities you love the most?" "What would you be sad about if it didn't happen?" If your kids are younger then it might be a simple conversation verses a written wish list. You could even make this a new family tradition where you all sit around and share your favorite memories of Christmases past and decide which of those you would like to make happen again this year. If you do this, please do it early - like in the beginning of November. You want to give yourself and your family plenty of breathing room!
Then of course you actually need to take those ideas into account and make a plan. And that can get quite tough.
3. Make a plan
Not everyone's wishes will make it into the season. When the kids are really little it's easy to skip certain activities because they won't remember anyway. But suddenly you do an activity one time and they decide it is now a yearly tradition. This is where a plan comes into play.
Grab your calendar. I don't care if it's a fancy, shmancy planner, a simple wall version, or a printed basic calendar from your computer - just grab a calendar. Your first step is to write down all the non-negotiable events. Things like the church Christmas program or your daughter's 4th grade holiday concert. If there aren't real life consequences to skipping like a grade deduction or job loss then it's probably not a "must do".
Then begin to pencil in the hopes and wishes of the family being conscious not to overload. Please don't try and cram four activities into two days if you have really young kids. Remember real life? Remember how we want to love Christmas this year and lower the crazy? Yeah... that. It's perfectly acceptable to only have one event for the whole season. It's perfectly acceptable to have nothing on the calendar!
I want to encourage you to even pencil in things like baking day (or days in my life), decorating time, REST TIME. Seriously, plan some rest. I purposely plan movie days so the we can lounge around in pjs and watch our favorite Christmas movies. It's a real thing and it's amazing. I also plan the devotional I want to use so I know when to start in order to finish it in time for the end of the season, plus I add in a few buffer days just in case real life happens... because it always does.
4. Value relationships over the extras
Freaking out at the people around us because our expectations didn't get met is not going to have us loving our actual Christmas. If you have to choose between getting that extra type of cookie made versus snuggling your son on the couch, please choose the snuggles. If buying that extra gift is going to stress out your budget-loving spouse then it's okay to put the gift down. If cleaning up all the real life stuff to make room for the holiday stuff sends you into a panic and causes you to snap because they WON'T STOP TOUCHING the knick knacks, it's okay to not set up those decorations this year.
God came down in human form, as a baby, to have a personal relationship with US. He didn't come down so we could buy every person we've ever had contact with a Christmas card. He didn't take on human form so we could bake eighteen varieties of cookies. He didn't even come to earth so we'd have to sing Christmas carols. While there is nothing wrong with doing those things at Christmastime if those get in the way of loving the people around us then we need to evaluate why we are doing them in the first place.
Build and value the relationships most important to you - your relationship with Christ, your relationship with your spouse, your relationship with your kids, and others that are vital in your life. Spend time with them and that will be what you remember and love year after year. That is what will help you to love your actual Christmas.
Looking for more inspiration for loving your actual Christmas? Alexandra Kuykendall's new book, Loving My Actual Christmas, is now available. Part personal experiment and part practical tips, Alexandra gets real in what all goes into the holiday season and why expectations and real life don't always line up. With a husband and four girls she understands the desire to make Christmas special but also stay sane. Join her in this experiment and discover how you can love your actual Christmas as well.