Let’s just say that so far recognizing the holiday season as a family has not been the peaceful, picturesque scene I had imagined.
As we began our observation of Advent last weekend, none of the kids claimed to know the meaning of the word (“coming”) even though we’ve discussed this every season for the past however-many years. One child was more concerned with bickering over who lights the candles next than listening to the Scriptures being begrudgingly read by another child. Another offspring complained about not having the daily, interactive Advent calendars (i.e. missing the chocolate and trinkets) as in the past. Someone else wondered why I hadn’t made anything for dinner despite the abundant leftovers in the fridge.
I would normally react in one of two ways – be angry or be discouraged. But I’ve learned in recent years that some nights are just like that, especially with two teenagers and a tween in the house. I can’t always control how my family members will act, but I can keep trying to remind them of the meaning of the season, knowing that they’re listening even if not fully participating in the moment.
Choices abound during the holiday season, as do expectations. I’ve found that if I’m not intentional in determining how to approach and experience the Christmas season, I become too busy and distracted to appreciate all the wonder this time of year has to offer.
A podcast I’ve been listening to the past few months, The Simple Show, has been exploring the theme of essentialism and the practice of intentionally in making choices for our everyday lives. It’s been a weekly reminder that we often have to evaluate and say NO to the good in order to say YES to the great.
So that’s what prompted me to make my own list of what I say YES and NO to during the holidays… or at least during this season. Because the reality is that as our family changes and grows, we will adjust our approach. There is no one-size-fits-all forever and ever when it comes to the holidays. But our core values remain the same as we strive to celebrate our Savior’s birth and share his gift of love with others.
What I Say Yes To…
Whether it’s decorating our Christmas tree while the movie “Elf” plays in the background, loading up sugar cookies with an excessive amount of sprinkles, or opening one present on Christmas Eve, there are some traditions the kids look forward to each and every year. I would say we loosely consider whether we’ll start, stop or sustain a tradition based on what brings joy to the family members, what brings us together (instead of apart) and what has created (or has the potential to create) lasting memories.
Engaging our senses
I’ve recently taken a greater notice of the way our senses remind us certain moments. When I’m baking my mom’s sugar cookies, the smell takes me back to my childhood kitchen and blessing the neighbors with plates of her homemade goodies. I’m striving to more deliberately engage our senses while making these types of memories. Christmas lights and candles are lit a little earlier than usual to combat the long, dark winter nights. In an attempt to focus on the season, I’ve created an Christmas playlist on Spotify to fill our home with soothing sounds while washing dishes, folding laundry or other household tasks.
While we hope our children are generous throughout the year, there is no better time than the holidays to put this into practical action. This year we started a new-to-us tradition of honoring St. Nicholas on December 6 by discussing his life and filling shoes with small gifts, one of which was some cash for each of our kids to anonymously bless others. We’re also planning to be part of a group service project, because it’s honestly just easier (and often more fun) to get our kids engaged in helping others when it’s alongside friends.
And in order to be able to say YES to what our family values, I’m learning to say NO to some things as well…
What I Say No To…
The comparison game
Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on finding the perfect presents or decorating the most creative house in the neighborhood or even out-giving others during the season. While it’s tempting to give in to the voices clamoring to help us create the most memorable holiday experience, we’ve committed to finding what makes sense for our family when it comes to gift-giving, traditions and other meaningful holiday rhythms.
Cramming the season full
Since my husband is not coaching a high school sport this year, it’s led to a change of pace for our family this winter. We have more time and margin during the Christmas season. But this doesn’t mean we feel the need to say yes to every opportunity that comes our way. So whether it’s attending holiday parties, participating in Secret Santa drawings or other festivities, we evaluate each experience as they come to see if it fits our personalities and budget.
Counting calories and cookie-shaming
Tis’ the season for sweets and snacking! While we don’t run a tight ship when it comes to nutrition during regular months, our December days are full of snitching sugar cookies and indulging in marshmallow-filled hot chocolate. Stretchy pants are what we hope Santa brings us this year.
In all seriousness, the choices we make intentionally during this month will set the tone for the holidays. I’d love to hear from you: What do you say YES and NO to during this season?