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It’s a moderately wonderful time of the year image

It’s a moderately wonderful time of the year

These practical tips will help take the pressure off your Christmas season.

The weather is warming up, the kids’ school shoes are very tight and scuffed and the Jacarandas are blooming—Aussie signs that Christmas will soon be here! And it’s the most wonderful time of the year … right? 

I love Christmas and have happy memories of Christmases from my childhood (and adulthood), but even as a lover of carols and baking and shiny silver things, I find it easy to become overwhelmed, and unwittingly bury the joys of Christmas under the gift bags, menus and shopping lists. 

For many of us, Christmas is heavy with both positive and negative expectations, hopes and baggage from Christmases past. 

As Christian parents, we might be hoping that Christmas is a time to:

  • make special family memories
  • bless our kids with fun treats and gifts
  • catch up with extended family we may not see that often
  • wind up the year with work colleagues and friends
  • help children celebrate the end of the school year
  • honour Jesus and give thanks for his birth
  • share the great news of Jesus with friends
  • celebrate with our church family
  • serve the vulnerable in our communities
  • repair hurts associated with past Christmases

For a few weeks in December, Christmas sure has a lot of heavy lifting to do. Is it any wonder many of us find ourselves longing for Boxing Day?

How can we manage our time and our expectations around Christmas in ways that free us up to celebrate Jesus’ birth with joy?

Prioritise

Take a look at the list above or write your own. What are your priorities? What things are most important to you and to your family, and which are less important?

Though there are some non-negotiables, we can always be prayerfully considering what we can say ‘no’ to for the sake of our family’s sanity and joy. We do not have to accept every invitation, nor do we need to buy into the traditional ways of celebrating Christmas just because that’s what we’ve always done, or what others do. 

Focus

With your priorities list in hand, think about how you can put your time, money and effort where your treasure is.

In my family we prioritise honouring Jesus and celebrating with our church family by attending church on Christmas day. We start the day with Jesus-focused music—usually Colin Buchanan’s ‘Happy Happy Day’—and the final reading of our Advent calendar (and cinnamon buns!). The kids are, of course, over-excited and eager to get to the gifts, but we do our best to hold onto this before the day descends into (happy … mostly!) chaos.

We try to keep the focus on Jesus by keeping gift buying under control. Each child receives three loosely themed gifts: a ‘gold gift’ (something they’ve been wishing for), a ‘frankincense gift’ (something for worship like a Christian book or music CD) and a ‘myrrh gift’ (something for cleansing like bubble bath or perfume). It’s a fun (if not 100% historically accurate!) way of being reminded of Jesus’ birth and a useful limiter for me, who loves to buy gifts.

We decided years ago to limit our Christmas Day parties to one per year, and to celebrate with one side of the family on Boxing Day, alternating each year, thus focusing on quality family time rather than rushing about.

I’m a big fan of food and I enjoy cooking and hosting meals, so it’s easy for me to make lofty plans for Christmas meals and end up feeling frazzled. Each year I need to check myself and remember that extra time-consuming food preparation does not appear on my list of Christmas priorities!

Decentralise

Take the pressure off and consider what important events can be moved away from Christmas Day, or out of the Christmas week (or month) altogether. 

For my family, thoughtfully celebrating Advent has become a fantastic way to shift the celebration of Jesus’ birth off December 25, and celebrate him throughout December. We have an Advent calendar that holds a little ornament, a Bible reading and some chocolate for each day in December. It took some time to put together (over a decade ago!), but I’m always so glad I did it when I pull it out at the end of November.

Consider whether all the things on the priority list really need to happen in December. Can some gatherings with family and friends be moved to November or January? Can we plan ahead and organise gifts earlier in Term 4? Can we find ways to serve others and model service to our children throughout the year, rather than having to rush around at Christmas time? What meal preparation can happen ahead of time? And do all these things have to be done by you?

Delegate

If you, like me, want your Christmas tree to be just so, and have strong opinions on bright white versus warm white fairy lights, letting go of the Christmas reins is not easy, but it’s necessary if we are to enjoy Christmas and let others celebrate it in ways that bring them joy too.

Depending on the ages of your kids, they can help with gift selections and wrapping, decorating, food preparation and house cleaning. If they are too young to help, they are probably also too young to really care about the execution of these things, so let that be a reason to take the pressure off yourself!

If you can, speak to your spouse and children about the Christmas preparations that need to be done, and work out how to share the load. If you usually find yourself left holding the Christmas ‘baby’, ask for help and pare back your to-do list. It’s not loving to resentfully or exhaustedly do it all.

(And if you usually find yourself enjoying the fruit of your spouse’s labour at Christmas, seek insight into the work that’s involved, find ways to help, and acknowledge the blessing that your spouse’s efforts are to you and your family.)

Don’t try to make it the most wonderful time of the year

The pavlova, the (warm white!) fairy lights, singing ‘Joy to the World’ in church on Christmas morning, kids having water fights with cousins … I love Christmas! But the pressure to make Christmas the best time can end up making it a not-so-good time. 

Tired toddler meltdowns, family arguments, disappointing gifts, Christmas hams eaten by the dog … there are so many ways Christmas can turn out less than wonderful, and if we are counting on it to be the most wonderful time, that can be a real blow.

It’s helpful to have realistic expectations of Christmas. We can hope for Christmas be a joyful, spiritually uplifting, most wonderful time … but if it’s not, that’s OK too.

Our King Jesus is wonderful at all times of the year, so if our celebrations on December 25 don’t go quite as planned, we’ve still got 364 days left to be thankful for our Saviour’s humble, life-giving, most wonderful birth.

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Kat Israel is mum to five kids, aged from preschool through to high school, and a preschool educator. She is married to Toby and they live in suburban Sydney.

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