Christmas is week after next! And I still haven’t done any shopping! And you know what the best part is? I don’t care. I’m not stressed about it at all, and this is a huge victory for me this year.
I always give lip service to the fact that presents are not the center of Christmas, and then I spend most of my mental energy thinking about presents. In my defense (and in the defense of everyone who has a lot of people to shop for), getting gifts for six kids when you’re on a tight budget really does require a lot of planning. When you add the issue of making sure that everyone gets roughly the same number and quality of gifts so that no one feels slighted, there’s almost no way to keep it simple.
This year my strategy is to not give it a second thought for most of the season, do all the shopping at once on the third weekend of Advent, and turn it over to God as to whether the number and type of gifts I get are the right fit for everyone. I honestly don’t know whether this is an intentional strategy or just me being a lazy procrastinator again, but wherever the idea came from, it’s working.
You may recall from previous years’ ravings that I love Christmas cards. LOVE. I love getting them, I love sending them out — I even love updating our address database and printing labels.
My friend Kathryn Whitaker is as much of a fan of the tradition as I am (which I like to point out because it gives the extremely inaccurate impression that she and I have a lot in common in the domestic arts). She wins Christmas every year with her beautifully designed, tri-fold family photo letter that arrives promptly on the first of December. And my favorite part is this:
Throughout the year, the Whitakers go through their Christmas cards one at a time to pray for the family who sent that card. I just love that tradition, and I think it speaks to the enduring value of Christmas cards, even in the online age. There’s something special about having a physical object that you can hold and feel, like a picture or a card, instead of pixels confined to a screen.
That said, I totally get why some people don’t send them. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it. We can’t do it all, especially during the holidays, and some activities have to go, even if they’re great in theory.
One of the things I’ve realized only recently is that I need to find as many liturgical year traditions as possible that are not work for me. Doing Christmas cards, for example, does not feel like work. Each evening I look forward to pulling up my basket filled with envelopes and pictures and our family newsletter and new pens and sharpies. I can’t wait to jot down little messages on the back of the cards and smooth labels onto envelopes, all with a favorite show playing in the background and a glass of eggnog at my side. It truly makes the holiday season more special for me.
Baking, on the other hand, makes me lose my will to live entirely. I know that it would bless my family if our counter were spread with warm cookies and pies throughout the season, but my children lost the mommy lottery on that one. I occasionally make some treats with them because they enjoy it, but you’ve seen how it tends to turn out, and then I feel like I need 10 hours in a Relaxman to recover. I have a friend who is the opposite (hates Christmas cards, loves baking) which makes me realize that the key to maintaining sanity during holiday seasons is to find activities that you genuinely enjoy.
I think that one of my projects for the New Year is going to be creating a list called Fabulous Liturgical Year Activities that Don’t Ruin Jen’s Life.
Once again, I’m living in fear of Christmas carolers showing up at my door. No, wait, it gets weirder: I love the idea of Christmas caroling. In fact, I submit that the health of a civilization is directly tied to the percentage of its population that goes Christmas caroling. I think it’s a beautiful and important tradition, and if I were rich I would donate money to charities that fostered Christmas caroling organizations in neighborhoods…on the condition that they gave me a 10-minute warning before they showed up at my house so I could hide in the closet.
I can already hear my mental dialogue if I opened my door to encounter people singing at me.
Oh gosh…so I’m just standing here…they’re singing…should I nod my head to the rhythm of the song? I’ll try to sing along…okay, that’s going well…WHAT? Who knew that Jingle Bells had a third verse?!?!?…I wonder if they can tell that I’m just moving my lips now…hopefully they’ll be distracted by the fact that there is a dismembered Ken doll wearing a dress on the doorstep.
I mean it in all sincerity when I say: Christmas carolers, the problem is me, not you.
As much as I love the way our Christmas card turned out this year, I fear I shall never beat my parents’ Christmas card shot from 1981:
A super-talented designer whom I follow on Instagram came up with a fantastic idea for a Christmas gift: a beautifully-decorated certificate that offers to let a child choose a memorable experience for 2014 — things like going to the circus, enjoying a night at the theater, and so on. She generously offered to make a printable available through her website, and I was just about to snatch it up for my own kids’ stockings. Then I mentioned it to Joe, and he pointed out that we should be careful not to make promises we can’t keep right now. We started thinking about things that we could actually commit to in this season of life, and we laughed until we cried when we realized our list was something like:
- Extra hour of Minecraft.
- Mommy doesn’t yell when you get snack without asking.
- Mommy keeps your two-year-old sister from attacking you while you watch TV.
- Play with ball on back porch (if we have one that’s not deflated).
- You choose whether mommy does Twitter or Instagram when she stares at her phone in a sleep-deprived stupor all afternoon.
- Doritos for dinner.
Here is something I really need to be reminded of this time of year: guests are more important than food (via Abigail). Because I’m not a natural chef, it’s all too easy for me to get in over my head by attempting to create dishes for guests that are easy for other people but overwhelming for me. So it really resonated with me when the author wrote:
The only cooking technique that everyone needs to master is being ready on time. If you’ve reined in your ambitions and planned a reasonable menu, you’ll be prepared when family arrives. Because the second they walk through the door, your guests — not your dinner — need your attention.
Families often lose out on the hospitality we offer to strangers. But when your cousins come in out of the cold, pumpkin pie in one hand, toddler in the other, they appreciate having someone take their coat. And get them a drink.
Close family members require less ministration. New family members and boyfriends and girlfriends who aren’t yet familiar enough to put their feet up on the sofa may feel less comfortable. They deserve extra attention.
What they need, what we all need, is to feel special.
Wise words for the holiday season.