About ten years ago, with just five days until Christmas, I injured my back so severely that I was completely laid out until after New Year’s. For a busy mother to go down in the eleventh hour…well, it seemed possible that Christmas just might have to be rescheduled that year. Though we managed to rally, with a lot of coaching from mom to dad, being incapacitated for Christmas forced me to stop and truly reassess our family’s real values and priorities for the season.
Prior to the next holiday season, I made a list of the top ten Christmas traditions that brought my family the most joy. While the activities clearly mattered, those that built relationship and fostered nostalgia towards family tradition determined what was ultimately kept on the list. I scheduled the dates and times in and then designated them as sacred.
Everything else was a “maybe” or a firm “no.” Releasing the expectation of being “Super Jolly Christmas Mom” turned out to be the best gift of all, as I finally allowed myself the time and space to enjoy the Christmas season. Mom was no longer a stressed out basket case but an active participant in Christmas, relishing and treasuring the sweet joy of family, friends, and celebration.
Here are our top ten sacred Christmas traditions
The Trader Joes’ Chocolate Advent Calendar – Buy it early because they go fast! For less than a dollar, the kids can count down the days to Christmas. I steal the little chocolate lambs and wise men on nights when they aren’t home.
Christmas Carols – We attend a Christmas tree lighting at our church where we can sing to our heart’s content, but there are many community events that also offer a rousing round of jolly old Christmas tunes. Look in the local paper or gather a group of friends, print up some song sheets and go around your own neighborhood. Expect to drink a great deal of cocoa if you choose this option!
Finding the Tree – We plan this as a separate trip from the decorating day, so as not to stress out dad. In the evening, we pack up the kids, grab some Starbuck’s Eggnog Lattes and head off for the tree lot. There is something about the chilly night air, the smell of the pine, and arguing over the best tree that just puts you in a lovely holiday mood.
Decorating the Tree and House – We turn on Christmas music, drink hot cocoa, and the girls take over decorating the tree and interior ornamentation, while the men take on the great outdoors. My daughter and I reminisce over old ornaments and baby mementos, while the men get down to business hanging lights and battling the elements.
Christmas Cookies and the Gingerbread House – While I bake cookies to my heart’s content, I let my kids work on the gingerbread house. I buy a pre-assembled gingerbread house for each child, and let them go to town decorating. This was difficult for me at first, because I am somewhat of a control freak, but I have learned to distract myself with the cookies and let them create uninhibited works of gumballs and frosting while we all happily coexist in the kitchen.
Pictures with Santa – The older kids balk at this now, but the baby is still game on for Santa! I dress the kids up cute, wait in a ridiculous line, pay exorbitant fees to the mall Santa…and still, it is so worth it! I have years of Santa pictures chronicling my children’s growth and change. They are so precious to me and I display the pictures all over the house during the Season.
Crèche – I bought a darling crèche and nativity scene when my kids were babies and I let them play with the figures throughout the Christmas season. They loved holding the baby Jesus and acted out the birth of Christ with the whole cast of little plastic figures. I was very intentional about this. I wanted our Christmas decorations to be touchable and relevant, and our tree to be a wonderland of delights. Some of my best memories are of the kids playing in the tree with figurine ornaments.
Christmas Eve Service – This is a non-negotiable. It forces us to plan the day around the reason we are celebrating and helps our hearts to focus more on Christ’s birth than the presents and the hoopla all competing for our attention.
Late into the night of Christmas Eve – my husband and I wrap gifts, assemble toys, talk, plan and dream together over a glass or two of wine and some Christmas music. I spend time reflecting and thank God for the birth of His son.
And last… Christmas Morn – as I usher in the shrieks of children waking up to presents and stockings, pancakes and champagne, I am deeply relieved that I have thoroughly enjoyed the holiday season and allowed the peace of Christmas to penetrate my spirit.
Author’s Note…I gave up on Christmas cards, hosting lavish Christmas parties, and buying gifts for all but my family. Surprisingly, I haven’t looked back!