Like many of us, I always looked forward to the most wonderful time of the year with such anticipation! I loved it all: the lights and music, decorating the tree, putting milk and cookies out for Santa, dressing up in Christmas finery for church, gathering together for joyous fellowship and mouth-watering meals with family, and of course, the presents.
I especially loved going to the Christmas Eve services held at Valparaiso University’s mesmerizing Chapel of the Resurrection in my hometown, where I gathered with family and friends to sing cherished Christmas carols that reverberated off the walls and colossal ceiling of that impressive building. The atmosphere in the chapel on Christmas Eve was surreal— eyes were drawn to and captivated by the stained glass windows and the statue of our resurrected Savior while the magnificent organ played. At the same time, a procession of students walked down the aisle singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and the service closed with the singing of “Silent Night” surrounded by tiny candlelight flickers.
Following the service, my family would go to my grandparents’ historic, charming home, where my beloved grandma played the organ as we all sang Christmas carols before dinner. It was truly magical!
My Unrealistic ‘Magical’ Expectations
As you can imagine, because of these “magical memories” of my childhood, as a young Mom, I felt that nothing I would do for my children would ever measure up to what I’d experienced. My beloved grandmother and grandfather who’d hosted those dinners were deceased, my parents and siblings lived far away, and our church building was nice but nothing like the one-of-a-kind chapel I’d attended as a child on Christmas Eve.
When I recall the Christmas season as a young mom, I vividly remember working long hours at my executive job and then coming home to frantically pack for our six-hour journey to the home of either my parents or in-laws. I remember feeling like I barely had time to breathe during the holidays, much less time to focus upon the real meaning of the season.
How to Relish the True Meaning of the Christmas Season
I have learned a few things over the years that may help you have a Christmas unridden with anxiety so that you may genuinely relish the season.
Focus on the Christ in Christmas
Remember whose birthday it is that we are celebrating; it’s easy to get so focused on giving gifts to others that we leave the “guest of honor” off of our Christmas list. One of our family’s favorites was baking a birthday cake and singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus to remind us all of the birth we were celebrating.
You may want to begin a family tradition that focuses on the true meaning of the season.
- Build in time for nightly devotionals that are appropriate for the different ages of the members of your family.
- Have an advent wreath.
- Read through one of the gospels and discuss it together during December.
- Read the beginning of Luke together and learn about the shepherds and their role—especially those in Bethlehem who were assigned the task of sending unblemished lambs “wrapped in swaddling cloths” to the Temple in Jerusalem for sacrifice.
- Study the Magi (the Wise Men) and why they visited the new King to worship him. Contrast this with the modern understanding.
- Discuss as a family what the birth of Christ means to each of you and how you can share His love with others, both those you know well and those you don’t.
- Who do you know in your neighborhood, school, church, or work that you could reach out to and be the light of Christ to during this time? – For example, our family’s favorite Christmas memory was when we went toa ministry on Christmas Eve and ministered to the homeless in the streets of Atlanta, providing them with coats, gloves, and warm refreshments, singing Christmas carols, and sharing the gospel with them.
Emphasize the Joy in Your Heart, Not the Perfect Christmas
Your kids won’t remember all of the activities you engage in during the season, but they will remember the atmosphere in your home and the joy—or lack of it—in your heart. You may feel stressed about providing the “perfect Christmas” for them by decorating your tree and house like a showplace, attending every Christmas activity and program available, and perhaps spending more money on gifts than you can afford. This may cause you to feel overwhelmed and unable to focus on what is most important.
A good question to ask yourself, especially during the holidays, is whether or not the Holy Spirit is leading you. Through being led by the Lord, you will find true peace. Ask God to “order your steps and gather your thoughts” each day, and He will be faithful to do it.
Sometimes the most important thing you can do is say no to the good opportunities so that you are available to do the best. For example, although I enjoyed going to the Nutcracker, ice shows, and other events of the season, my favorite holiday memories are being at home baking cookies with my Mom and siblings and gathering together as a family to read stories and watch Christmas movies.
Remember, Less is More
Often, “less is more,” not only when it comes to activities but also gifts. Our goal for ourselves— as well as our role as parents— should be to ‘feed the spirit and starve the flesh’. When we shower our children with physical gifts, it can communicate to them that they are the center of the celebration rather than Jesus. Plus, excess almost always leads to a heart of ingratitude rather than praise and thanksgiving for the blessings received.
Think back upon your childhood: do you remember every gift you received, or do only a few of them stand out as truly memorable? The vast majority, even those you thought you had to have, were set aside not too long after the festivities were over.
The most memorable gift I received was a poncho my grandma sewed for me, and it was due to the love that I knew she had for me and the time she took to make me something in my favorite colors that she knew I wanted. I imagine that for you, as for me, your most treasured Christmas decorations have little to do with the attractiveness of the items and everything to do with the fact that they remind you of people you love. So let that be a reminder that it truly isn’t the gift itself that you give to your child or loved one that they will cherish; instead, it’s the love they feel behind the gift.
I know of several people who’ve instituted giving their children just three gifts—in acknowledgment of the three gifts the Magi gave to Jesus (gold, frankincense, and myrrh). The “rule of 3” usually represents giving 1) something to read, 2) something they need, and 3) something they want. I think this is a fabulous idea to reduce Christmas anxiety and help you and your children focus on what Christmas is all about.
Pursue a Heart of Understanding with Your Family
Much of our anxiety surrounding Christmas and other holidays is because we gather together with family members who aren’t perfect and who know we’re not perfect either. Isn’t it amazing how family members often say or do the very things that can push our buttons like no one else can? And don’t forget we can do the same button-pushing for them!
Part of our problem with those we know best is that we assume we know the thoughts and intentions of their hearts; so, we quickly jump to conclusions and respond to them in the present based upon past experiences or our perceptions of them. I encourage you to approach your holiday with the intent to listen to your family members with fresh and loving ears, seeking to understand them and where they are coming from more than seeking to make your viewpoint known.
Before gathering with your family, I suggest that you read and pray through the life-transforming admonition from 1 Corinthians:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:1-7 ESV).
Pray to the Lord and ask Him to give you that kind of love for those you’ll gather with during the Christmas holiday. Ask God to forgive you when you fall short of loving your family unconditionally as He has loved you, and be willing to humble yourself and ask for your family member’s forgiveness if you offend them.
Seeking to love others, forgive them, and be reconciled to them no matter what they say or do will represent God’s heart of love for them and help you point them to Christ. If you lean upon and trust God to love them through you, it will help reduce your anxiety about needing to be perfect as you gather with your imperfect family.
Pursue Jesus, not a ‘Perfect Christmas’
In general, most of our anxiety is due to our trying to provide a ‘perfect Christmas’ experience, which is unachievable if our standard is to please everyone else and convince them we have it all together. However, we can be relieved of anxiety if our goal is to point them to the only one who has ever been and is perfect; Jesus.
Share with them the love that He has for all of us sinners, a love so great that He left the glories of Heaven to come and reconcile us imperfect beings to our Holy Creator so that we might know Him, who alone can cast out all fear and bring us everlasting peace and joy.
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