A ceramic pumpkin centerpiece still decorates my table. And we have yet to plan the Thanksgiving menu. Maybe instead of turkey we’ll have breakfast for dinner like we did last year—complete with Eggs Benedict slathered in Hollandaise sauce. For some of us it feels a bit early to plan now for the Christmas season. But the first Sunday in Advent falls on November 27 this year. And we want to experience a sane, wise holiday season, right? We want to eschew the insanity that often comes with the celebration. And that requires some planning. And so I give you my annual list of seven suggestions. Here’s the 2022 offering.
- Select your reading plan and devotional practices. If you use You Version, check out these two reading plans: “Advent Chai with Malachi,” which my seminary students and I wrote, and “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a collection of pieces I wrote. If you subscribe to one of these (or any) plans, the YouVersion app will send you reminders to read if you forget. Prefer a book? I love Fleming Rutledge’s Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. I get through only about half of it each year, so every November I pick up where I left off. The Dwell app, which I love because I can choose the voice in which it reads aloud to me, has a good list of Advent options. Do you need to order a Bible study or devotional book? Determine what Bible book you will read? Plan and/or order now. Will you do an Advent calendar or Jesse Tree? Plan for it. Do you do an Advent wreath? Maybe it’s time to order candles for it.
- Plan your charitable giving in money, gifts, and time. You have probably already received some catalogs and tossed out ads for appeals. Of course you’ll get bombarded with more. Consider that a good thing: so many people doing good in the world! Think ahead. What’s the best use of your dollars. If you have a husband and/or kids, gather them to talk about options. Make some decisions together. Get intentional. Will you serve the homeless instead of having a feast of your own? Will you invite an international student with nowhere to go? Who will receive your giving dollars? Once you’ve decided, hop online and make your contributions, Venmo your financial gifts, and/or write and mail checks. Having done so, feel free to toss out solicitations from other organizations guilt-free (but also with a prayer for their thriving). Empty quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies from trays or banks where you collect them—including the bottom of your purse. Keep these coins handy when you pass bell ringers standing by kettles. When post-Thanksgiving food goes on sale, know what canned goods you’ll grab for the local food pantry. This article provides a wish list, along with what to leave on the shelf. Maybe you should consider doing a Reverse Advent Calendar, filling a food basket with one new item daily. Is volunteering part of your Advent season? Will you offer to help with someone’s childcare? Work out scheduling before the craziness hits.
- Determine what events you really want to attend. Speaking of scheduling, ifyou love going to your city’s production of Handel’s Messiah or the holiday production at a church across town, get tickets now. Schedule the cantatas, concerts, family dinners, school programs or parties you know about, especially events requiring you to take food or make costumes. Go ahead and say no to some. Get the ones you really want to attend on the calendar so you can plan around them. While you’re at it, schedule haircuts, nail appointments, physical therapy, flu shots, booster shots, and/or doctor visits now before everything fills up.
- Plan for how you’ll communicate. Think about what message (if any) you want to send. Will you write a Christmas letter and/or send a card? Will you send greetings via snail mail or email a PDF? Send a photo postcard or a more traditional greeting? Schedule an afternoon to write and/or design. If needed, order holiday stamps (you don’t have to actually make a trip to the post office) and make or order address labels. And get addresses of friends who’ve moved so you won’t have to scramble for them on Dec 22. Do you sponsor a child? Pick up a bookmark, postcards, some stickers or other flat items, and get them in the mail ASAP.
- Select gifts wisely. Avoid last-minute gift panics. Decide on a date for when you will make gift lists and shop. Take inventory of wrapping paper, gift bags, tape, ribbons, bows, gift labels, and scissors. Do you have what you need? While making lists, remember: experiences are better than stuff. Will you give someone a trip? A day at the museum? A weekend at the beach? Free childcare? For under-the-tree items, ask yourself who might appreciate fair-trade jewelry or a purse. Would someone on your list appreciate a water filter or lamb given in their name through an aid organization? What about a book or music that will bless them? If you create works in wood, the kitchen, the arts…determine who should receive a homemade gift. When will you make it? Buy an extra gift card or two to keep on hand for that teacher or party host you forgot. Bear in mind any supply-chain challenges and shop early. Or consider celebrating a no-gift Christmas.
- Prepare the car. Stock the car with protein bars and water bottles to give the homeless. Create MP3 playlists and/or choose a few of your favorite Christmas CDs to transfer to the car if you have an older vehicle.
- Chop, bake, freeze. Make or order cookie dough from your neighbor’s fund-raiser and freeze it now. Same with the favorite family cheese ball recipe. And some entrees. When the office sign-up list circulates, choose cookies or a snack you can make from something you’ve frozen. Have a homemade dinner stashed away to take to the person in need or for a night when you lack time to cook.
Fifteen minutes of planning now can prevent fifteen hours of chaos later. So schedule a date with your calendar—perhaps while having a pedicure. Take the insanity out of the season so you can bless others. Christ the Savior is born! Let us celebrate his birth in intentional ways that bring joy (and not more insanity) to the world.