Every year as Thanksgiving nears, I mumble: This is insane. There is no way we are going to [fill in insane activity] next year.
A few years ago, we actually began to change things as a family. These are some of the things we’ve learned on the way. Some we’ve nailed; others we’re still working on.
I know this topic is covered with landmines: relatives and friends with poor boundaries, incredibly high expectations (often from ourselves), a culture that screams “CONSUME!” and a nostalgic veneer that says this is the “most wonderful time of the year.” But Advent can also be a time of incredible hope, joy and love.
So here are my top 10 steps to a more sane Christmas.
Make a budget and stick to it. Having a reasonable Christmas budget and sticking to it is the most sane way to begin Christmas planning. Dave Ramsey’s organization has a lot of material on how to do this. This often involves up-front conversations with adult parents and children about how Christmas is going to be “different” (read: simpler) this year, but it’s well worth it.
Cancel everything. During the lead up to Christmas there are already a ton of activities that automatically appear on our calendar. Dial back as much of the other, regular stuff as you can. I like to treat December like July on my calendar: Assume everyone else has a full schedule and try not to add anything to it.
Buy an Advent wreathe–and use it. We began with a simple brass Advent wreathe years ago and have since upgraded to this one by Carruth. What makes it work, however, is lighting the candles together as a family and sharing devotions together.
Finish your Christmas shopping before December 1. I got this idea from Glennon Doyle Melton. This leaves a little wiggle room for those who actually kind of like the insanity of Black Friday. (Personally, I think you are sick, sick, sick… but that’s another conversation.) But it also means you can spend December not in a mall.
Get out of your family. (Some of you are already thinking this means something else.) What I mean is: Decide early how you can bless someone else besides those you’re related to and friends with. In Luke 14, Jesus invites his disciples to have a banquet for those who can’t pay us back. Getting out of (only giving to) our family helps us experience giving more fully.
Get rid of decorations when you put the tree up… and when you take it down. This has been a game changer. Each year, when we haul all the decorations out we choose some to donate. And then when we pack everything back up during the new year, we make another trip to Goodwill.
Move your family Christmas party. Nowhere in the biblical stories of the Nativity does God say, Thou shalt have thy family Christmas party before Christmas. Some of the best “Christmas” parties I’ve ever been to have been in early November or well into January. Why not have an Epiphany party on January 6?
Cut up and cancel your credit cards. This is more a “love your neighbor” thing this year, anyway. Who is the sadist who thought it was going to be a good idea to put the new cards with chips embedded in them in circulation right before the holiday retail season? In all seriousness, though, we have been credit card free since December 2008. It’s been one of the best decisions for our family and for our marriage. Plus, you can tell all of your friends you are having plastic surgery for Christmas!
Be present in the moment. The little books by Thich Nhat Hanh have been very helpful for me in this area. I still have a long way to go. But I feel like I’m beginning on the right path.
Lighten up, Francis. I mean this in three ways. First, have lots of lights. It’s the one Christmas excess I truly love. Two, lighten up in terms of stress. It’s just Christmas. No one was even ready for the first Christmas… and perhaps that’s the point. Three, Pope Francis has helped many of us lighten up and turn our faces to the Christ who appears in our midst.
Happy Advent, people!