November has been the busiest month for our family for the last three years, since living in India. My husband is part of a long residential art program, which is a fantastic thing, but we barely see him for three weeks. I don’t mind all that I need to do during this time to hold down the fort, but we all feel pretty exhausted by the end of the month. Especially when lovely factors like monstrous pollution come into play and bring gifts of sickness and closing of schools for days. We hold it together though, making the best of the little snippets of time we have together. This means that during our short nights with my husband, we talk less about our newfound cockroach-problem and the kids’ homework, and more about his experience at work and some meaningful things at home. Hey, some nights we just cuddle on the couch and watch Netflix.
I know by now that we arrive at December physically and mentally drained and ready for rest, ready for connection and quiet, but also with regular life tasks to catch up on (see: cockroaches). This time we will add having to find a new apartment by the end of the year. Advent? Christmas? Can it all please just wait a month?
Looking towards Christmas, I already feel the pressure, the gap between the kind of season and atmosphere I would like to create and what I feel we have the mental, emotional and physical resources to do. I would love to bake Hungarian pastries, do cute crafts with the kids, create homemade gifts for friends and neighbours, go carolling, watch Christmas movies, make a wreath and an Advent calendar, spend time with people in our community, create new traditions, all the while focusing on the meaning of this time. I feel anxiety rising already as I’m typing this.
So I am deciding that instead of the all too familiar mom-guilt over failing to achieve the Pinterest Christmas season I dream of, I will aim for a simple Advent of true possibilities for our family. I will focus on the values we want to pursue, more than the activities. I have yet to find Mason jars, food colouring and glitter in Delhi, anyways.
For me this means making a plan ahead of time and putting down on paper what really matters, so I can come back to it when the pressure rises. What are some practical things we can do to emphasise peace, love, joy and hope during the Advent season? How do we make it a time that we can enjoy, when we can rest and offer rest to others, when we have space to quiet down outside and inside and be in awe? How can this season, even if busy, not be a flurry of frustrated activities and never-ending to-do lists in order to satisfy our perfectionism, but a time of joyful waiting and preparing our hearts?
Here are some ideas I came up with. Maybe they can be useful to you and your family as well.
Say no to things that bring anxiety: We don’t have to decorate the whole apartment. We don’t have to bake six different kinds of dessert. We don’t need to send out hundreds of Christmas cards. Pick some things your family enjoys and do them with care and love. I will choose three and only three craft activities for the month and do them with my son and daughter with patience, joy and silliness. (My daughter asked for a big pack of white paper for Christmas so she can draw as much as she wants. There’s plenty of imagination here, no need for crafts overload.)
Get involved in the story: We will use a simple Bible reading plan for Advent that we can do together as a family, and we won’t leave it for the last 5 minutes before bedtime. I am looking forward to walking through the story and taking time to reflect together as our anticipation grows.
Pray for others as a family: Instead of revising their Christmas gift list for the 54th time, my kids can write a list of people and things to lift up before our heavenly Father. We can put them in a jar and pull one out each day of Advent.
Invite others in: Enjoying food and fun and creating new traditions with people from our church family is a great way to tighten friendships. It might even help with homesickness for some of us. We can also remember that Christmas is not a happy time for everyone and ask God to give our family sensitivity and openness to include others in our days.
Be present: Limiting our time on electronics allows us to be in the same spot physically and mentally and give the most precious gift to each other: attention. As a plus, spending less time on social media will help us compare less to other people’s amazing Christmas projects and preparations 🙂
When the gap widens between your hopes for the season and your reality, take some time out: Quieting our spirit and coming back to basics on the meaning of Christmas can help us realise that some of the stuff we want to do is less about love and more about pleasing people. Christmas is not about pleasing our families, our friends, our children, or the perfectionist inside us. No food, tradition, gift or “fun” activity is worth it if it will leave us grumpy and frustrated with each other.
No matter how idyllic our Christmas season turns out, we have plenty of reasons for thankfulness and joy. The cookies can burn, the decorations be scarce, the tree fake and our plans unfinished, but we can choose peace, joy, love and hope together. The babe is born; God with us.
What are some of your ideas for a slow, peace-filled Advent season?
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