So far for us, this Christmas season has felt chock-full of many to-dos.
I don’t know if it’s because Olivia’s birthday is at the end of November and being my mother’s daughter, I can’t let a birthday go by without a big celebration (a post with pictures to come at some point soon!), and so I was too consumed with her birthday to prepare for Christmas until it was over.
Or I don’t know if it’s because Thanksgiving was later this year so once we returned home, it was practically December, and we were off to the races with all we had to do.
Or if it’s because I am pregnant and so instead of wrapping presents and decorating the house, I mostly just want to collapse on the couch when Olivia is napping.
Or if it’s because Jared had LASIK surgery this past weekend so we traveled to Indy (for his brother, an eye doctor, to be a part of his care), which meant more packing and scheduling (but fun cousin bonding time too!).
Or if it’s because December just feels very full of lots of expectations, parties, Christmas shopping, Christmas card-writing, and Christmas decorating, and it’s easy to get overtaken and miss the whole point all together.
Whatever the reason, I’ve been trying to keep my heart tuned into God through all the busyness, but it definitely is not easy, as I am sure you can attest. I desire our Christmas season to be one that’s meaningful and not one that’s so full we don’t have time to look for and reflect on the meaning.
We are beginning to think about Christmas traditions and how we want to foster reflection in this busy time of year. Because as fun as all the Christmas activities are, the main point is slowing down enough to remember why we have Christmas in the first place. I’ve found that if we don’t actively slow down our minds, Christmas can come and go without us ever taking time to savor what God has done in our lives throughout the year.
Along with that, if I don’t take time to stop and look for Jesus in the midst of the Christmas excitement, I can easily fall into the trap of more, more, more–including more expectations for how magical the season will be. And before I know it without continual reminders back to Jesus, Christmas comes and goes, and leaves me with a big sack of disappointment with how “real” it felt instead of how magical I hoped it to be. Yes, there are moments that may feel magical, and I sure do love and treasure those, but when my perspective is where it should be, those are just icing on the cake of a special season rather than needed events to complete the holiday for me.
A few things have come to mind that we are trying to do to capture “the reason for the season” and so I thought I would write them down in hopes that they would encourage you as well as that you would share ways you have found to slow down at Christmastime as well. I am all ears!
- Quieting my own heart
Probably by far one of the biggest things I am learning as a new mom is how crucial it is make sure I am not neglecting myself. It is so easy to become consumed with our kids’ lives that thinking about ourselves as moms gets placed totally on the back burner. Now don’t get me wrong, I am also learning how motherhood is a lot about sacrifice and letting go of some of the luxuries I used to enjoy, but I don’t think it helps anyone if I don’t nurture my own self in this journey of being a mom. And then add on the pressures and expectations of Christmas, and I can see how moms get to the New Year and they’re barely keeping it together because they have given, given, given all season (and year). So, one thing I am trying to do for myself is to quiet my own heart to meet with God and stay in tune with how He is leading and speaking to me. (And this also helps keep my expectations in check too!)
Last year for Olivia’s birthday, my mother-in-law gave her The Jesus Storybook Bible. Not long afterwards, I read something on Pinterest about reading through advent with The Jesus Storybook Bible. Since my brain felt pretty fuzzy being a mom of a one-year-old, I decided that sounded like a good place to start to prepare my heart for Christmas.
Let me just say that it was such a refreshing read! If you have not read The Jesus Storybook Bible, I highly recommend it and not just for kids. It’s a fresh way to read the truth we find in Scripture and it’s communicated in a new way. I found the advent reading schedule here, although I am sure there are many reading plans out there.
This season I have been reading through Ann Voskamp’s new advent book called Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas. I didn’t really know much about it, but anything Ann Voskamp has written has caused me to think, so I decided I wanted to see what it was about. I have not been disappointed. This too is written with children in mind and is meant to be read as a family, though this year I am just reading it by myself. I love the questions at the end of each day to discuss together and then the action step to do as a family. Ann also created ornaments to go with each day but since I am just reading it by myself this year, I haven’t done that part (but look forward to someday!).
Ann also wrote a book last year called The Greatest Gift: An Advent Devotional that is geared more toward adults. I read it last year but honestly I need to reread it because I think my brain couldn’t handle too much depth at one time. (Oh, the life of a new mom!)
I am hoping we can read through the Christmas season next year as a family when Olivia is more able to grasp what is going on. (So far I am just trying to convince her that on Christmas it’s Jesus’ birthday instead of Livi’s birthday. For some reason she thinks every occasion now is a cause to celebrate her big day. Ha!)
One more note, Jared and I have found that another helpful way to quiet our hearts and reflect on the season is through music. My most favorite Christmas album these days is Chris Tomlin’s Glory in the Highest but of course Christmas isn’t complete without listening to all of Amy Grant’s Christmas albums too! We also are enjoying Michael W. Smith’s new album with many country artists. I am in love with his song with Carrie Underwood, All is Well.
- Making time for our marriage
In the almost seven years that we have been married, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s the importance of being intentional to set aside time to nurture our relationship. It just doesn’t happen otherwise. We are realizing that at Christmastime this is so key as well–otherwise we will get through the whole season and miss out on connecting at all.
We’ve started a tradition of going to a Christmas concert every year, though I am the first to admit it hasn’t happened every year and most likely isn’t happening this year (a good test for me to put into action what I’ve been writing–that if I need those magical moments to complete my Christmas season, I will be sorely disappointed!). Last year we saw Amy Grant and Vince Gill, and it was such a nice break to get away together for dinner and then time to listen to good music and take in the season together.
We also started a tradition early on in our marriage where we gave each other an ornament that represented the year. This is by far one of my favorite traditions for two reasons: one, it causes me to stop and reflect on what ornament represents Jared for that particular year. When we were working through our views of money and budget in our first year of marriage, I gave him a Starbucks coffee ornament to symbolize our many discussions; when we were writing more together, I found a pencil ornament to symbolize the project we worked on as a couple. And two, it reminds us of how faithful God’s been to us that year.
As I was writing this, I looked up at the tree and smiled as I saw ones that represented our times together as a couple. It’s especially been meaningful now that we’ve gone through some difficult times because Jared gave me some sentimental ones during my cancer road that I will always treasure.
We write the date on bottom of the ornament so that we don’t forget what was happening. Speaking of not forgetting, writing this post is reminding me I need to still get him an ornament for this year. (And just to keep it real- we have definitely had a couple of years in the past where we were shopping for our ornaments after Christmas!)
*12 Days of Christmas
Something I started last year that I am doing again this year in a new way is the 12 Days of Christmas for Jared. Last year, I found this idea on Pinterest (apparently last year I spent my down-time surfing Pinterest!) and found these great printables that made the whole idea pretty simple. Since Jared and I both are not really gift people, I decided to just think of things he needed (socks, chapsticks, collar stays, a snow brush, etc) and then weave it into the 12 days. And since I am a words person, I wrote a note with each one about how that represented something I loved about him.
It was surprising to me how much Jared appreciated this and he looked forward to what his new little gift was going to be each day. It was a reminder to me that we all love to be told the reasons we are loved, even for my non-words-husband!
So this year, I decided to tweak the idea a bit because more than little gifts, we need time together. Again, I saw this idea on Pinterest and knew one of my friends had tried it last year, so I decided to go for it. This year I am giving him 12 Pre-Planned Date Nights, and most of them are dates at home like a movie night, game night, reading night etc. I used these free printables, but really you could use just notecards. I haven’t done much beside writing out the date idea for each month and giving him a new one each day. It’s not much, but I think it communicates what I am trying to say–let’s make time to connect in 2015. With a new baby on the way, I think it’s going to be that much harder, so I am hoping these dates will help make our time a priority.
Thanks to pregnancy, I woke up super early this morning and have written this entire blog before Olivia is awake. That is a feat in and of itself but I better sign off because she will be stirring any moment. I would love for you to share in the comments if you have a tradition that either you enjoy individually, as a couple, or as a family to help capture the meaning of Christmas. And it doesn’t have to be super deep, I’d love to hear your favorite tradition because sometimes the most simple are the most meaningful (and a lot of times they don’t come with a lot of expectation weighing on the event–another big plus in my opinion!).
I’ll end with a quote that stuck out to me during my reading this morning from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift because it totally captured what God has been speaking to me about this season:
“Christmas cannot be bought in a store. Christmas cannot be created in the kitchen. Christmas cannot be made by hand, lit up, set out, dreamed up. Christmas can only be found–right there in the manger” (86).