How much time during this madness do we have to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas? Why do we fall into the nearest comfy chair on the 2nd of January, collapsing and saying, "Phew, I'm glad it's over for another year. I need a vacation!"
Every year, we may think, "OK, this year, I'll have my act together? shopping will be done by Thanksgiving, and everything will be wrapped long before Christmas Eve. I'll have fresh-baked goodies for everyone within a 60 mile radius, our feast table will be the envy of all (including Martha Stewart), and my children will not spill a drop of holiday punch on their velvet dresses."
Sound familiar? It's frightening, the pressure we put on ourselves. So what's the answer? Learn to say no, learn to accept the holiday season as it comes, and worry more about contributing to the honoring of the holiday itself rather than trying to please everyone you know. It sounds so easy, and I know it isn't.
Steps to simplify
First, take a look at your holiday calendar. Is every night filled with something? A play, an office party, a craft bazaar, maybe? Take a good look at some of these events, and see if there are one or two from which you can excuse yourself this year.
Our goal is to make the holidays beautiful memories for our children, so you could use those open evenings to browse through photo albums recalling past Christmases. Or you might keep an Advent calendar handy and discuss the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. You could have an evening of just baking cookies with your children.
Second, try to simplify the gift-giving part of Christmas. How much do our children really need in order to have a merry Christmas? Do they need the expensive toys piled up to the ceiling, only so they can be cast aside when they're bored with them? Human nature dictates that the more we get, the more we want. I'm amazed at the vast difference in our day and that of many years ago when children might get an orange in their stocking, a peppermint stick, and maybe a new wooden toy, handmade by Daddy.
I'm not suggesting that we simplify to that degree, but it wouldn't hurt to take a good look at how much we're spending on gifts that we're not even 100 percent sure the receivers will like.
Handmade gifts certainly carry more meaning, and they show children that they are worth spending the time it takes to make those gifts. Rushing and pushing around a mall with thousands of other shoppers doesn't always inspire that kind of warm, fuzzy feeling this time of year.
Third, take the time to explain, in as much detail as you can, the events of Christmas. Spending time with your children, teaching them the meaning of it all, and sharing in the spirit of Christmas is the greatest gift you can give them. This time can be spent curled up on the couch with hot cocoa and popcorn. You might turn off all the lights except for the lights on the tree, and tell about Joseph and Mary traveling into Bethlehem and not being able to find a room.
Help your children imagine how anxious and frightened they must have felt at that time, but then how joyful it must have been for them when their baby was born.
A better way
When I look back on past holidays when I was a child, the things I remember are not the gifts under the tree. They are things like going to midnight Mass as a family, waking up first thing and staying in our jammies on Christmas morning, my family gathering for dinner together, and being with my grandparents.
The holidays are about joy and peace. It's sad how we've turned that into frustration and depression. But it's not too late to teach our children a better way. I think we owe it to them.