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 Thanksgiving? (Okay, before the Fourth of July.) Me, too. Ugh. But here’s the thing . . . If we actually get started early like the stores do, we can have a calmer Christmas. And who doesn’t need one of those?
The first Sunday in Advent is right around the corner—this Sunday, November 27. 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 to do now to insure a calmer holiday season:
- Decide to make Christ the focus. Pray for wisdom and ask God to help you. Set aside a little time this week to choose a reading plan for spiritual reflection. Do you need to order a Bible study or devotional book? If you plan to do an Advent wreath or calendar, time to get them out of the attic or order them. I subscribe to Shannon Gianotti’s Advent devotions because they’re especially good for right-brained people, with links to art and music.
- Plan your charitable giving. Collect coins and stick them in a pocket or purse, ready for the Salvation Army bell ringers. Decide now what charitable organizations should receive your giving dollars, and write the checks. When post-Thanksgiving food goes on sale, know what canned goods you want to pick up for food-pantry donations.
- 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.
- Order Christmas cards. If you haven’t already sat for a family photo, select a casual shot from the past year. And get those cards designed and/or ordered before next week’s rush.
- Order Christmas stamps, if you plan to use snail mail. You can buy stamps online now and avoid the insanity at the post office. And while you’re working on your cards, print out your mailing labels. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Prepare the car. Keep canvas bags handy for quick grocery runs—avoiding plastic. Carry some Granola bars and water bottles 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.
- Make scheduling choices. Prepare 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 attend. (I’m eager to see Endo’s “Silence,” which premieres December 23.) If you have a Pinterest account, create a board where you can pin your favorite 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, baking, and a bubble bath? Need your nails done for that party? Schedule them all now. If your health insurance has a December 31 cutoff, set up your doctor visits before everyone else remembers. And one more thing—that refugee family that needs friends: invite them to the kids’ program at church.
- Buy tickets today. Book flights—Tuesdays tend do be the best days for low air rates. And reserve your seats for holiday shows. Consider giving your family group experiences rather than stuff. Research says they’ll love experiences more.
- 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. Then start buying and making fillers: Rolls of quarters. Batteries. Lip balm. Movie passes. CDs. Hair bands. A hand-knitted scarf. Gift certificates. Hot chocolate mix. 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.
- Start freezing. Dough, not yourself. 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 making healthful appetizers like Chex mix and freezing some dinners like lasagna.
- 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, hairdressers, and salon servers. And start ordering. Buy gift cards. Drop by the bank for crisp bills. Order food trays. And pick up an extra Starbucks card to have on hand for the person you forgot.
- 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.