Carved pumpkins still line my walk. We still have some leftover candy. And I have yet to decide between apple or pumpkin pie for the family Thanksgiving gathering. So maybe it feels early. But the first Sunday in Advent falls on November 28 this year. And I want to create a sane, wise holiday season—and to replace debt with dignity. That requires planning ahead. If you want to do the same, here are my seven suggestions:
- Select your devotional reading. 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 remind you to read. 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 I just pick up where I left off every November. Do you need to order a Bible study or devotional book? Determine what Bible book you will read? Order now.
- Plan your charitable giving in money, gifts, and time. You have probably already tossed out some appeals. And you know you’ll get bombarded with more. So, think ahead about the best use of your dollars. Hop online and make your contributions, Venmo your financial gifts, and/or write checks. Once you choose your preferred methods and amounts, you can toss all the solicitations for other organizations guilt-free. Empty the coins out of the bottom of your purse so you’ll have them handy when you pass the bell ringers standing by kettles. When post-Thanksgiving food goes on sale, know what canned goods you need to grab for the local food pantry. This article provides a wish list, along with what to leave on the shelf. Is volunteering part of your Advent season? Will you offer to help with someone’s childcare? Work out the scheduling before the craziness of the season hits.
- Determine what events you really want to attend. Speaking of scheduling, if you love going to your city’s production of Handel’s Messiah or the holiday production for a church you don’t normally attend, mark your calendar and get tickets now. Schedule all the church concerts, family dinners, school programs, and parties you know about, especially events requiring you to take food or make costumes. Go ahead and say no to some. And plan around those you really want to attend.
- Plan for how you’ll communicate. Think about the message you want to send. Do you want to write a Christmas letter and/or send a card? Will you send greetings via snail mail or email a PDF? Send a photo card or traditional greeting? Schedule an afternoon to write and/or design. Order holiday stamps and return labels, if you need them. And get those addresses you need so you don’t have to scramble for them on Dec 22. Do you sponsor a child? If so, pick up bookmarks or some stickers, and drop 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, tape, gift labels, and scissors. Do you have what you need? While making your lists, remember that experiences are better than stuff. A trip? A day at the museum? A weekend at the beach? 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 given in their name through an aid organization? What about a book 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 to keep on hand for that person you forgot. Bear in mind the supply-chain challenges this year and shop early.
- Prepare the car. Carry with you some protein bars and water bottles to give the homeless. Choose a few of your favorite Christmas CDs and transfer them to your vehicle.
- Chop and freeze. Make or order cookie dough and freeze it now. Same with the favorite family cheese ball recipe. When the office sign-up list circulates, choose cookies or a snack you can make from something you’ve frozen.
Sometimes thirty minutes of planning can prevent thirty hours of chaos. 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 ways that bring joy to the world.