Before we get to the list of ideas (that will come tomorrow), we need to talk resources. Resource management is where we will focus today.
The only unlimited resource available to us is God's grace! And He does some amazing things in us and for us by making that accessible to us but we need to always be reminded that while He is infinite, we are not. His grace, faithfulness, and love are limitless but our time, money, and energy are not. And we will sabotage the very goal we want most for the holidays if we don't manage our limited resources wisely.
Resources of time. Money. Relationships. How we steward these determine not only how our holidays go, but also our very lives.
Time. Often, we behave as though we have unlimited time and we over-commit, cramming too much "fun" into our schedules in hopes of not letting our families miss any opportunity. And what happens - lots of "instagrammable" moments but not much joy or peace. Kids (and adults...) benefit more from JOY than ACTIVITY. We need to focus our energy more on creating an atmosphere of love and joy than on conjuring up an overcrowded calendar. Think BLESS, not STRESS.
We all nod in agreement at this point but when it comes to actually implementing - when we need to turn down a fun event - we often balk. We act as though we fear missing out. Instead of missing a fun event, we miss out on sweet, enjoyable times together. My father-in-law once told me - "The 'good' is the enemy of the 'best' ". That certainly applies here! So let's agree to remind each other that what our families really want is more relaxed, loving family time, the comfort of simple family traditions, and a joyful Mom. Let's tatoo that in indelible ink on our arms and march forward to "BLESS, not STRESS".
Here are some tips to help us"
1. Enlist a friend or spouse to help you say no to the craziness. Before letting something get added to the calendar, if you can't say no, then have someone else evaluate with you as to the merits of adding this to your schedule. I am that serious. Say "NO" to the craziness. BLESS not STRESS
2. Early preparation can help a lot with alleviating time stressors. For example, make the picture for your Christmas card in August instead of December. Photo cards can be ordered this early and even addressed/stamped - just ready to put in the mailbox the day after Thanksgiving. Many many many things can be done way earlier than expected. One longtime friend shared this bold move - because of her job commitments in December, she decided a few years ago to decorate, shop, wrap gifts (AND place under the tree!!) in early November. She doesn't let the Christmas atmosphere detract one bit from her Thanksgiving celebration and it frees her up to enjoy much more of the holiday's events the rest of the season. Another reader shared that she shops for Christmas all year long, armed with her list which she checks off as evidence of what's been bought, and wraps the gifts as soon as she buys them. (Pretty sure I would need another list of where I stashed the stuff....but that's another issue!) Remember, too, that lots and lots of holiday treats and dishes can be made in advance - this is such a great timesaver for me that I utilize this lifehack all year long!
3. Elicit help with your responsibilities. Way too many times, we women work ourselves into an unnecessary state of stress and frenzy. Why do we want to "do it all"? We fool no one but ourselves, we often create an atmosphere of tension, and we are setting out a welcome mat for pride...and destruction. People WANT to help - let's allow them that blessing! If someone else offers to host the feast this year - let them (and make specific offers of how you will assist). If no one offers, do not play the martyr. Go to people directly and ask for help with specific duties - as in, Aunt So&So, would you please bring the dressing this year? Uncle Whatever, I need you to sweep the driveway. Cousins 1,2, 3 - how about you take care of drinks, desserts, and paper products?
Find other ways to obtain help with your to do list - while I love to shop local (and I do it A LOT - just ask the keeper of the purse at my house !), I have found online shopping to be my BFF during the holidays. In fact, a couple of years ago, I was compelled to announce to my family "This year's Christmas is brought to you by AmazonPrime!" And this may cause several of you to cringe and scream "SCROOGE!" but now that our family has grown up and expanded, we utilize Amazon WishLists for each other BIGTIME. The key here is to ASK FOR HELP. Bless...not stress.
4. Entreat the Lord for grace and strength and wisdom. This is seriously the most significant thing we can do (and not just for Holiday Help!). The busier our schedule gets, the more we should insist that time with the Lord is the priority. It's worth getting up earlier, it's worth saying "no" to good things, it's worth everything. Because it changes everything. This is the best way we can equip ourselves to Bless, not Stress.
Money. Spending more than we should can be a result of poor planning, unexpected requirements, or even feeling overcome by the spirit of generous sharing. But the end result is that feeling of guilt or panic come January. The reasons for overspending can be many and I don't have the cure for most of them but I will offer some suggestions that come from readers and from my own experience. Most of all, I will say - good luck! :)
If you feel as though you are spending too much on gifts, it can feel pretty helpless. Holidays are a season of sharing and generous love and no one wants to make someone else feel deprived. Or to come across like Ebeneezer Scrooge before the Ghosts of Christmas appeared! This is an area that pretty much has to be navigated according to your own personal situation but some of these ideas might give you a place to begin...
1. Draw names among extended family. This can often be met with resistance initially but usually winds up being a welcome relief. One reader says that her family picks a theme each year (and adds a spending cap) and that adds great fun to present giving.
2. Have a "contest" to see who can give the present with the greatest % off - with a spending cap. This places the emphasis on lots of fun rather than the pressure of finding the "perfect gift".
3. Give a family gift, rather than several gifts to individual family members. Board games, movie passes, etc are some popular suggestions.
4. Many readers contributed that the adults in the family only get stockings - everyone can add a small gift to each - and presents are reserved for the kids. (Or the other way around - however your family would like it!)
5. Pare down the number of gifts for immediate family. Some folks do three gifts, representing the Wise Men's gifts to Jesus - gold (something significant), frankincense (something spiritual like a devotional book, music, etc) myrrh (something practical like clothes). It's hard to limit yourself to this when it comes to your kids but if you establish this, it becomes a tradition. You can even do 4 gifts of "something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read". Here's a link with some helps https://www.laurengreutman.com/why-my-kids-get-only-3-gifts-during-christmas/
6. Ask grandparents to give "experience gifts" instead of material gifts. One of my friends shared that her folks got her son the gift of golf lessons one year - that was such a great idea that I have borrowed it and shared it all around. Grandparents (generally) want to please both generations so have this conversation with them - I'll bet you'll be glad you did.
7. Speaking of experiences, I love this one. Some families opt out of exchanging gifts among themselves and instead pool their gift resources to go on a shared vacation. This is a really great way to keep bonds strong as families expand and move away.
I doubt that any of us sets out to sabotage relationships ever, but especially not during the holidays. But sometimes, it happens, doesn't it? Misunderstandings happen, feelings get hurt, and breaches occur. Our goal is for the holidays to honor Christ...and that means that relationships are of utmost importance. I've had my share of tears in the midst of the season that's supposed to be jolly...and I expect that I've been the cause of some tears as well, in spite of my best intentions. I am the last person ever to claim I have this stuff all figured out but maybe a thing or two I've learned can help encourage you. It is a bit lengthy but please read this section all the way to the end. Here goes....
1. Where to spend the holidays. My husband gave a newly married husband the best advice ever. This new groom was stressed (translate - he was feeling the pressure between his wife and his Mom!!!!) and he wondered what would be "the right thing" to do for the holidays. My wise hubby said "We've found that if you spend a good amount of time with extended family all throughout the year, being together during the holidays is less of a big deal". We've found that to prove true time and time again. When we lived out of state, we decided not to snatch our kids away from their stockings on Christmas morning just to make it to family dinner at Grandma's. Even though that wasn't the favorite move for some of our relatives, we did it anyway and found that the holidays still happened, the sun still came up, and we still had plenty of time to spend with our loved ones. Another popular suggestion from readers is to alternate spending the holidays with her family/his family. It can be a bit tricky to coordinate as families expand and new members are grafted in, but it is possible for this to be a viable suggestion. One of the ideas that I like the best re where to spend the holidays is choose a day other than when the calendar mandates the celebration to be. I grew up spending the Sunday before Christmas with my Dad's family of ten kids and all their extensions. This was sacred space on our calendar and we all guarded it intensely...as I grew up, I realized how this also graciously allowed all the extended families to spend December 25 with their own immediate members.
2. Manage expectations. Wow, this could be a lifehack for all of life, right? Especially so at holiday time. When it comes to your presence at the table on a certain day, have the appropriate conversations earlier rather than later. Unless absolutely unavoidable (as in you are unexpectedly giving birth on December 25!) let your plans be known as far in advance as possible. Like maybe July! Seriously, manage the expectations of all concerned by communicating clearly, kindly, and early. As far as gifts, managing expectations is crucial. Really. I had a close friend in high school who thought he was getting a car for Christmas. I don't know what led him to expect that (maybe he was in denial or he still believed in Santa Claus, I don't know) but he was genuinely and hurtfully disappointed on Christmas morning. Another acquaintance of mine believed with all her heart that a diamond was to be hers that December. Now, again, I can't speak to what created those expectations but you can well imagine her heartbreak when that familiar little box contained a watch instead of a ring. So, the moral to these stories is manage expectations. Whether it's for a puppy or a Porsche, having those difficult conversations early is far less painful in the long run. All around.
3. I hope you're still reading. This last tip is really important. In fact, it is the key ingredient to all the other suggestions. Without it, we will be helpless in our attempts to make the holidays "Holy Days". Without it, we won't make great memories, build strong ties with others, nor point the way to Christ. Without it, we are in danger of doing great damage. When it comes to gifts or money or where to spend the holidays, this verse is the key. Romans 12:10 says Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.
Meditate for a few minutes on these precepts : devotion to one another, brotherly love, preference in honor. Wow. Those are powerful behaviors.
Think for a second how we can apply them in the context of the holidays. I've seen the absence of them, haven't you? I've seen parents not show preference to adult children by insisting on their presence to keep tradition alive. Several years ago, I witnessed this very scene to a newly married couple and vowed to myself that I would do whatever I could to never place this burden of expectations on my kids. I cried alongside this anxious wife as she desperately tried to please five different sets of grownups...grownups that should have known better.
I've also seen adult children refuse honor to their parents by making (selfish) moves in the name of declaring adult independence. Never am I suggesting slavery to traditions but honor can still be upheld in the breaking. Continuing on that soapbox, adult kids of all stages, the culture we are a part of places less honor on the aging than the Bible teaches us to. Show preference to them with honor. At all times, including the holidays. No need for a rule to follow, just treat your parents and grandparents with honor. Doesn't mean we abdicate our immediate family in order to go to Grandma's house (see previous paragraph) but let honor and love be your guides in how to handle it.
When it comes to gifts, realize that we can view the giving and receiving of gifts with different perspectives. For some people, their significance to another person is wrapped up beneath that bow. For others, gifts are nothing more than a seasonal obligation, in no way representing the value of a relationship. Let's be sensitive to the differing perspectives and purpose to show preference accordingly.
When it's all said and done, the holidays are just days. Days that will come and go. But relationships...they are intended to last forever. Treat them carefully. With devotion. Love. Preference. Honor.