It doesn’t have to happen again—the insane pace, the big-dollar debt, and the no-time-for-the-main-thing rush in the hustle and bustle. With a little forethought, about 30 minutes today, you can get it right over the twenty-six days between now and Christmas. Here are some suggestions.
- Make a spiritual reading plan. Think ahead about what you plan to read, when you’ll read it, and why it’s important to carve out some quiet time. If you want specifically Christmas-related content, you can find numerous options online for holiday-themed meditations, many of which you can have sent to your in-box daily.
- Be intentional in your giving. First, there’s the charitable giving. Over the next month worthy causes will bombard you with requests. Rather than grumbling, be grateful so many good organizations exist. Pray about how much and to whom you can give. Then there’s the personal giving. For the people on your Christmas list, look for ways to give of yourself. For example, a family member might appreciate receiving Grama's holiday recipe in a basket full of all the ingredients. Also, give to benefit others. Purchase fair-trade jewelry. Or donate a goat to an impoverished family and give it in honor of someone who doesn’t need another necktie. Give books that inspire, CDs that lift the heart, and even cooking, knitting, or art classes instead of expensive junk. If you have no money, consider how to offer the gift of your time—redeemable in January. Or perhaps you can sell some used books or that old bike in the garage? Take ten minutes now to plan ahead. One friend wrote me, “We are skipping Christmas gifts this year and saving our money to take a family trip. I feel so free from all the glitzy Christmas marketing. It's liberating, I tell ya. (And wait until the kids find out where we're going. It's totally gonna be worth it.)”
- Write to encourage. If you sponsor a child, write him or her a letter and tuck inside a bookmark or Christmas stickers. Send a card to a member of the military who’s far from home this year: Holiday Mail for Heroes, P.O. Box 5456, Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456. If you teach a Sunday school class or Girl Scout troop, write a group letter. As for cards or letters to your own friends, do you really want to send those this year? If so, think about how to keep them simple, warm, and humble.
- Embrace a free tradition. Consider adding a practice that deepens the season’s meaning. For example, you could place your crèche in a central location, but leave the cradle empty until Christmas morning, when you make a grand celebration of the baby’s arrival. Or read one chapter of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the dinner table every night. “God bless us, every one!” (Last time I checked, that story was available as a free Kindle download. But I’m sure your public library has a copy or two, also.) Or schedule a family night of popcorn, root-beer floats, and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
- Fill your life with pleasant sounds. Christmas brings a great opportunity to publicly and privately listen to inspiring music. Pull out the Handel’s “Messiah” CD. Select your own faves and carry a few out to the car. Replace the droning TV and the sound of honking horns with melodies of the season.
- Think about who needs you to listen. It’s been said that “listening is the new apologetic.” In the craziness of the season, some deeply hurting people get overlooked. Consider who would appreciate one phone call or an invitation to an event you’re already attending, such as your church’s musical. Joy energizes, and there’s joy in serving.
- Lower your expectations, or “prune your perfectionism.” Make your holiday party a dessert thing and forget cooking a full dinner. Promise yourself you’ll focus on time with loved ones, not clean bathrooms or presents.
- De-clutter and donate. Take a load out of your purse and go prepared to encourage that Salvation Army bell ringer with lots of pennies clinking. Send your stack of extra Bibles to Bibledonate.org, 601 S Washington, Suite 200, Stillwater, OK, 74074. Collect your extra bedding, pillowcases, and coats, and set them aside to deliver to a women’s shelter—in January.
- Decide what you want for Christmas. When people ask, “What can I get you?” provide them with the name of your favorite charity. Or direct them to your Amazon gift list (you can create one for free, for yourself and every member of your family—and include on your lists items requested by charities). If you think ahead, you’re more likely to receive what you can really use, instead of one more fruitcake.
- Cut back. Really do it. Defy commercialization and give of yourself. Start with scheduling “down” time in the same way you would schedule cooking and football time—go ahead and mark off those days today. (Maybe this would be a good time to find out when the church parties, office parties, kids’ concerts, and musicals will take place, so that I-need-a-costume demand doesn’t catch you by surprise.) De-stress with prayer, stretching exercises, hot peppermint tea, and sticking to your boundaries.
One factor that will help significantly in making this holiday season less insane is allowing yourself some quiet think-time so you can be intentional. To think further (more than the 30 minutes I promised) about this important topic, you can find lots of great ideas at adventconspiracy.org.