Once upon a time, I realized that Christmas was an incredibly stressful time. It was overcrowded with outside activities and pressures to be the perfect hostess. It was full of expectations to give awesome gifts to people I barely knew. I knew Christmas was supposed to be joyful, but truthfully, it felt rather more like exhaustion. And the one thing I wanted most was the one thing that was missing. I wanted meaningful, peaceful family time. I wanted slow, quiet memories with my family. You know, Currier and Ives. Yep. I wanted that. But somehow it got lost in the shuffle at the mall.
So we decided to get off the Christmas Train. We pulled the plug on all those expectations. We started doing our Christmas differently.
Do you celebrate the Advent Season? Or do you spend the entire season just trying to catch up to yourself in a desperate attempt to be ready by December 25? That was me before we made the jump.
There are 1000 ways to celebrate the Advent season. I've seen everything from a simple Advent countdown calendar to elaborate daily celebrations. At our house, we try to keep it simple, but still meaningful. Our kids look forward to the Advent Season every year.
Our Advent celebration starts in about June. Before you panic, we don't start counting the days until Christ's birth in June. I'm not one of those people who puts up their Christmas lights in the summer. You can relax now. But I plan for our Advent season when I am planning out our school year. That usually happens in June (see, I told you I was normal. Ahem. Don't analyze that.)
Here are 8 things we did to Jump of the Christmas Train and start celebrating Advent:
1. We changed our schedule. I wanted things to be drastically different, so we took drastic measures. I started planning our school schedule to include a whopping 3 weeks off at Christmas. Three weeks to slow down. Three weeks to catch up. Three weeks to rest. It was the single best thing I did for our Christmas. I know not everyone has that luxury, but perhaps you can at least take a few days to slow down.
2. We stopped sending Christmas Cards. Call me the Scrooge, if you like, but we pulled the plug on all those expectations. Truthfully, when the Christmas Carol was written, Christmas was a much less commercialized affair than it is today. Charles Dickens might have written a very different story if he lived in modern America. But I digress. Christmas cards were one of the expectations that was eating my lunch, so I stopped sending Christmas cards to everyone I have ever met since I was born. The only people who get cards from us now are people who are afraid of the internet and live hundreds of miles away and have a very good reason to need a card from us. My card list shrunk from several hundred to under 5.
3. We stopped attending every event known to mankind. We are very careful what we attend. Just because we are invited doesn't mean we will go. I finally realized that it doesn't mean I don't love someone just because I didn't attend their event. We were on a mission to have a quiet, meaningful Christmas. That's hard to do when your schedule is over-packed.
4. We learned to say "No." That little word helps when saying no to all those events you get invited to. It also helps when you get asked to volunteer for the fourth annual Cookie Sale to Save the Squirrels. It seems like Christmas inspires a lot of events and not a single one can run without your personal help. When you learn to say "no" (and say it like you really mean it) those folks amazingly manage to find someone else to help them save the squirrels. Life goes on all around you while you make cookies with your kids. And believe me, your kids will remember the cookies you made together far more readily than they will remember the squirrels you saved. And the Save the Squirrels folks won't even remember they asked you. Don't let them shame you into a Christmas you don't even want.
5. We shop early. Sometimes we aren't able to shop as early as we like, but we try to get it all done by the first week in December. That leaves us with lots of time to enjoy the rest of the season.
6. We shop online. I don't remember when I first shopped online for Christmas, but I can tell you, it is magical. I tuck my kiddos into their warm beds. I brew a pot of tea. I put on some Christmas music. Then I shop. I have a list prepared ahead of time so I can shop for the best prices. (Here's a little tip, sometimes the best price is obliterated when you see the shipping costs. I add those in to the final cost before making my decision and try to get free shipping whenever possible. And I make sure to use reputable companies. Just saying.) Then I just wait for the elves to arrive with my packages. My elves usually wear brown.
7. I wrap the presents as they arrive. Rather than sitting up all night on Christmas Eve frantically trying to get everything wrapped, I just wrap things as they come. Lovely.
8. We plan our Meaningful Christmas Activities. Remember those 3 weeks off that I schedule at Christmas? My kids think they are out of school, but really, they are still learning and doing. I schedule a special activity for each day. We make things like gingerbread houses, pomander balls, paper snowflakes and Christmas ornaments. We make Christmas Cookies together. We open a small advent surprise each day. We read books aloud, and scriptures that tell the events leading up to Jesus' birth. In short, we spend time together. And our kids love it. Fancy that, kids that want to be home with their parents making memories together. That makes all those dirty looks I get when I say "no" to everything else totally worth it.