No-o-o! Did I just say "Christmas"? it's too early! Don't you hate it when stores put up their holiday displays before Halloween? Me, too. Ugh. But here’s the thing… If we actually get started when the stores do, we can have a calmer Christmas. And who doesn’t need one of those?
The first Sunday in advent falls on November 29 this year. Don’t let it sneak up on you, or you might get caught in the usual vortex of mega-debt and uber-busy insanity. This year you can get it right. Here are my twelve suggestions for what we can do now to insure a calmer Christmas later:
1. Decide to make Christ the focus. Pray for wisdom and ask God to help you honor him during the holy season. Set aside ten minutes this week to decide what reading plan you want to use for spiritual reflection. Do you need to order a Bible study or devotional book? If you don’t have one in mind, consider ordering a copy of Dallas Seminary’s annual Christmas devotional. It costs less than a buck. If you plan to do an advent wreath or advent calendar, order kits or get up in the attic and find them before Thanksgiving.
2. Plan your charitable giving. Collect coins and stick them in a pocket of your purse, ready for the Salvation Arms bell ringers. Decide now (with your family, if married) what charitable organizations should receive your giving dollars, and write the checks. When post-Halloween candy goes on sale, know what you need to add to your Samaritan’s Purse Christmas box and/or holiday stockings. When post-Thanksgiving food goes on sale, know what canned goods you want to pick up for canned-good donations.
3. Think about your correspondence. If you sponsor a child, you can’t wait till December 22 to mail a card if you want it to arrive anywhere near Christmas. Pick up a bookmark or some stickers and get them in the mail now. If you send out a Christmas letter, pencil in a date when you’ll create it, and allow yourself plenty of time to get it printed. Limit what you write to one side of one page.
4. Order Christmas cards. Get the family photo made. Or select the photo you want from the past year’s options. And get those cards designed and/or ordered before the rush. Don’t forget the reason for the season.
5. Order your Christmas stamps. Do it now and avoid the insanity at the post office. And while you’re working on your cards, print out the mailing labels. Plan to drop your correspondences in the mail the day after Thanksgiving. You’ll thank yourself later.
6. Prepare the car. Carry some Granola bars and bottles of water for the homeless. Choose your favorite Christmas carols and the Book of Matthew on CD, and make the most of drive time. Consider ordering an audio production of classic Christmas radio plays, like the one narrated by Orson Welles, Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O'Hara and other great voices. When you’re stuck in the Chick-fil-A drive-thru six weeks from now, the stories will take the edge off your aggravation.
7. Make scheduling choices. Make a list of activities you want to do and get them on the schedule so the rest of your life won’t crowd out what matters. Reserve the date for the kids’ musical. And for Christmas caroling. Or the holiday show you want to see. If you have a Pinterest account, create a board where you collect your ideas. (You can make it private so you won’t spoil surprises.) Schedule that tour of Christmas lights or the arboretum Christmas event you’ve been wanting to attend. Need a day off work for Christmas shopping and baking and a bubble bath? Ask for it now. If your health insurance has a December 31 cutoff, schedule any doctor visits you need before everyone else remembers they also need an end-of-year appointment. And one more thing—that refugee family that needs friends: invite them to dinner and plan to share your Christmas traditions with them.
8. Buy tickets this Tuesday. Book flights—Tuesdays tend do be the best days for low air rates.And reserve your seats for holiday shows. Consider giving your family experiences rather than stuff. Check out this research that explains why it’s better to spend on experiences than things.
9. Stock up for stockings. Has your family grown this year? If you have a new in-law or grandchild, make or purchase a stocking for the newbie, or assign the task to someone who would love to do so if given enough advance notice. Then start buying and making fillers. Rolls of quarters. Batteries. Chapstick. Movie passes. CD’s. Hair bands. A hand-knitted scarf. Gift certificates. The accumulation can be lots more fun when collected over time vs. the last-minute dash to Wal-Mart on December 24 at 7:45 PM.
10. Start freezing dough. Not money—cookie. Get the big mess out of the way so you can enjoy great sweets and smells later without the time drain and sloppy kitchen. Double up freezing some healthful appetizers and meals while you’re at it.
11. Make a list and check it twice. To whom will you give gifts? After you’ve included the essential family members, add the teachers and neighbors, delivery people, and salon servers. And start ordering. Buy gift cards. Obtain crisp bills. Order food trays.
12. Collect others’ wish lists. If your family exchanges gifts, ask your spouse and/or kids to tell you what they want. And carry their lists with you. Making homemade gifts? Get started.
Schedule a date now with your calendar—perhaps while having a tasty kale salad (insurance against the seasonal sweets ahead). Take the insanity out of the season by planning ahead. Why? So you can worship your Lord and bless others rather than modeling stress. Let us celebrate the Savior's birth in a way that, instead of pushing him to the margins, places him in the center. Where he belongs.