Everyone has their traditions when it comes to the holidays. But have you ever noticed how the traditions seem to get more complicated each year? The family gathering has turned into mountains of pricy gifts, a quest for perfect dinners and non-stop fun. Yet this is not what the holidays should be about.
Years ago, our family was caught up in this holiday hype. The enjoyment that I had as a child going to Christmas Eve parties, time with friends and family, and a few modest or heartfelt gifts was getting lost. It was replaced with this quest to find the perfect combination of gifts for each person on an ever-growing list.
I felt lost. I felt frustrated. Why did the holidays have to be such a mess? That kid-like joy of seeing the twinkling lights was replaced with stress and a feeling of never enough time. That’s when we decided something had to change. A balance had to be found.
Over the last few years, our family has taken steps to change how we feel during the holidays and return the focus to what it should be. This article aims to share our changes with you, to help your holidays go better and feel more connected.
Focus on Christ
The first step often seems the hardest. But this one should be easy. Christmas is not about gifts. It’s not about a jolly guy called Santa. It’s about Christ and His birth.
One of Satan’s best tools is getting us to focus on something other than Heavenly Father and Jesus. And the commercialization of Christmas is a pretty darn good way to keep us from focusing on what is truly important. In the end, the gifts don’t matter. Neither do the lights, stories, or music.
We need to bring our families back to a focus on Christ during Christmas. Read the actual Christmas story. Pull out your scriptures and do some family reading together. Start with Luke 2:1-14. Work your way through any related references. Find ways to return your focus from worldly things to what Christ was born for.
Giving to others
Our next step was to become closer to Christ by helping others. Providing service, no matter how small is something Christ would do. Over the last few years, we have not had a lot of cash to give. But giving our time has made a difference.
We also bake goodies and give them to families from church and our neighbors. It’s a small gesture but it helps those people know that we are thinking about them and care about them.
At church this year, they are having a giving tree with gifts you can pick for those who can’t afford something. It does not matter how small, giving and serving others will help your family keep focused on Christ and the true meaning of the holidays.
Giving gifts without gaining debt
The whole gift-purchasing idea has turned into giving a gift while getting some more debt. Take greedy, all-about-me attitudes, plus the strong need to please everyone and before long you have created a monster. One that you are constantly trying to feed, and that just keeps growing bigger.
But it is possible to give gifts to people without sending yourself into a downward spiral and tons of debt. Remember that the true meaning of Christmas is not all about gifts. And we should not have to feel everyone has to get a gift just because the world says so. Sometimes the best gifts are kind words, hugs, and time spent together. The memories can be cherished long after the gift is gone.
Our first choice is often handmade gifts. We have a crafty and creative nature in our family, so coming up with and creating gifts from scratch is fun and can involve all of us in making some of the gifts.
The gifts that we have created and given our children are some of the ones that they play with and cherish the most. This is quite cool to me. They enjoy it and I enjoy the fact that we made them happy with something handmade, not a store-bought toy that will break soon after purchase.
Another change we made was to have our children make a list of four things: A need, a want, something to wear, and something to read. Our kids generally put toys or drawing supplies for their want list items. Ashley & I will pick either a fun book or a learning book depending on their age and interests. Clothing is always practical, first, we will look at what each child needs for clothing. But we also do a set of PJs for the entire family that we don’t count on the list. No, we are not crazy, and all match. We also do one family gift that the kids share. This last year we gave them a fort kit with blankets and a felt fire that Ashley made.
Adopting a short four-item list for each child cuts down on the random or overwhelming gift list. Each person must give their thoughts and come up with a list. We help our younger children work on their list, and of course, our very young children get our choice for what is needed.
They also know that the four items may or may not be there, and they might not even get four. One child might get a book and clothing, while another gets a book, clothing, and a small toy. It does not have to be even or complete.
Finding thoughtful gift ideas
Finding the right gift for anyone is hard. We all want to please those we are getting a gift for. Of course, this can add stress. At least that’s how it feels for me.
When I am struggling to find the right gift, I often step back and try to find something that I have in common with the person I need a gift for. I will also look at things that they love.
For example, our daughter is a bookworm. I struggle with finding her new books that she will like or that are good books for her to have. She enjoys a totally different style of book than I do, so I don’t know much about them. But we both enjoy going to a bookstore or the library and looking at the books. For me, it’s a sense of nostalgia for my childhood. For her, it’s fun to explore new books. This allows me to find a gift book, without her knowing and less stress on me.
This kind of concept should work for most people. Find a connection and work with the person to have them give you gift ideas. Not directly, but through the common things you like doing together. Then you can see if those ideas must come from a store, or if you can make them yourself. Think about a trip to the store where you both browse randomly and see what piques their interest.
If you can make it, they will no doubt cherish that more than anything you could buy even if it’s not perfect or the same.
Planning activities without going overboard
As we added more and more things to our schedule, the stress of the holidays became unbearable. I am naturally an introvert, so large gatherings cause me stress and make me feel fatigued. This drains me and makes me not want to do anything.
When we first got married, Ashley & I tried to travel to everyone during the holidays. We thought that to enjoy Christmas, we had to visit everyone. Everyone wanted to see us, so why not? This quickly became a nightmare. We were on the road, tired, and never got to really enjoy the visits without stress on when we needed to leave to make it to the next stop.
To combat this stress, we plan our holiday gatherings. We decide whose house we will be at if we choose to travel. We no longer try to see everyone in a few days, or hours. Sure, not everyone gets to see us each holiday. But instead, we make phone calls or even video calls. The stress has cut down a ton, and we get to enjoy the holidays.
You can do the same thing. Plan out what you want for your Christmas holiday. Talk to your children and see what they want to do this year. Pick only a few activities to ensure you don’t overwhelm yourself or them.
Make time for your family and yourself
Life is nothing without family. But that does not mean you need to throw yourself to the side.
Years ago, I would have dropped everything, and we would go visit someone. Our plans revolved around everything and everyone else. Our family needs were second. Everything was put in front of my internal needs or the needs of Ashley & the kids.
But as time passed, we learned that what we needed was more time as a family. Time to sit down and do scripture reading. Time to watch a movie together. This really hit home during Covid. While everyone was going nuts being stuck with their spouse at home, our family grew closer than ever.
That time together allowed us to learn more about our needs and stop focusing so much on others. Yes, we still helped people, but we looked at what mattered to our family. We read scriptures together more. We worked together and gained a much better balance in how to function.
Now I certainly would never recommend another lockdown to bring your family closer together. But start this holiday season with family reading. With time spent together playing board games or going for a drive. You won’t see a change right away. But by the end of this season, with effort, I would bet that you will feel closer and happier as a family.
Don’t make a New Year’s resolution that is so far away you can ignore it. Start doing something today to strengthen your family.
Finding joy in the holiday
My kids have this love of singing a song until they kill it. They learn a half dozen words and repeat them to death. You can only take so many Jingle Bells or Frosty the Snowman before you go crazy. But I enjoy listening to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But for me, I remember sitting in the audience, with Ashley, her parents, and my parents during the concert in Portland. It brings me fond memories of the past.
My joy came from the memory of a great evening and the joy it brought my family.
Think back to when you were a little kid. What was your favorite part about Christmas? Now fast forward to today. What do you enjoy now? Is it the lights? The music? What moves your spirit?
Now, look at the opposite side. What brings you stress? Dread? What makes you unhappy? Use these questions and make a list. Next to each item write down how you can avoid the negatives or bring the positives.
This Christmas season, use the list that you created to guide you through the holidays. If your list says you enjoy Christmas music, turn it on more often. Enjoy the movies? Plan a movie night with your wife.
I am not saying you can avoid all stress. But fill up as many positive memories as you can. Make new traditions to drown out ones that you don’t like.
There will always be stress in life. But you don’t have to dread holidays or feel overwhelmed. Start by recentering the Christmas holiday to include Christ. Then let the spirit guide you into what you need to make the holiday season family-focused and low-stress.
Balance the need to give gifts with your budget, and the time it will take to do all the work involved. Drop extra gifts to avoid overspending. If you need, cut gifts down to only your immediate family. But don’t let it stress you that you can’t give so many gifts. Instead, find non-gift replacements to let those who don’t get gifts understand and feel loved. Make the holidays what you want and not what the world says you should do. In a time where everything is cookie-cutter perfect, make your family a different shape.