In my imagination . . .
I decorated a full and beautiful tree with sentimental ornaments and glittering lights. I carefully wrapped each perfect gift right after I mailed the adorable family photo cards. The house sparkles, the menus are planned and the pantry is stocked.
Of course we’ll deliver homemade goodies to friends and neighbors this weekend. Here’s the honest truth. In spite of years of trying, seasonal perfection remains an elusive goal and I still don’t measure up to those magazine images that I carry in my head.
The good news is that my feelings are no longer tied to performance and I’ve learned some things about navigating the holidays with joy. I hope my personal discovery will help you as you work to make Christmas merry and bright for those you love.
1. Choose ”good enough.”
There are times when I settle for adequate instead of striving for excellence. For example, when my kids were little I wanted us to make and decorate gingerbread houses together. I had visions of the fun we would have and the memories we would make, but time got away from me. I realized gingerbread houses weren’t in the cards; however, I found a “good enough” alternative that proved to accomplish the same goals and required no baking at all.
I saved small milk cartons — one for each child. I bought canned frosting, graham crackers and a variety of candy. The kids used the white frosting like glue and secured the graham crackers to the outside of the milk carton. They filled in the “seams” with peppermint sticks and licorice. M&Ms and candy sprinkles and lemon drops added dimension and color. These weren’t the beautiful gingerbread houses I had seen featured in magazines but they were fun for the kids to create. Neighbor children joined us at the kitchen table and the project became an annual event.
Here’s another example of my “good enough” philosophy: Our family always made it to the Christmas Eve service but we weren’t always dressed in seasonally coordinated outfits. I removed “find cute Christmas sweaters” from my to-do list. The fact that we were relatively clean and ready to worship was “good enough” for me.
2. Do one or two things really well.
Through the years I collected children’s Christmas books and invested in a “child-friendly” nativity scene. We spent the weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas reading those books as well as focusing on the Christmas story from the Bible. We lit candles and talked about Jesus being the “light of the world.” When the boys were very young they carried the nativity figures around with them from activity to activity. I just kept a close eye on baby Jesus—we certainly didn’t want to find him between the sofa cushions or in the sandbox next spring.
I also value sentimental gifts so I spent the time to make Christmas calendars for our grandfathers. Each month featured a picture of one or all of the kids doing something with their grandparents. My dad saved each and every calendar and pulls them out from time to time just to relive good memories. Now that I have access to better technology, I make photo books as gifts. It requires more time but I enjoy the creative process and the sentimental gift is always the one that my family appreciates the most.
No matter what you choose to emphasize, I encourage you to be selective and specific. When you focus your time and attention on what you value most you will see the results and have the sense of accomplishment that you miss if you scatter your efforts.
3. Ask for help.
If your kids are too young to recruit go ahead and simplify your celebration. If they are old enough to participate, assign them responsibilities. My sweet daughter-in-law makes awesome cinnamon rolls and now our family anticipates the delicacies all year long. I am more relaxed because Eliza is in charge of our family brunch on Christmas morning and she has the opportunity to contribute something to our gatherings that she learned from her mom.
Invite others to participate in your preparations and you will give them ownership in the celebration. When kids are young, you must lower your expectations. Sometimes “Christmas perfectionists” give off a vibe that keeps people at a distance—far away from the critical eye.
When it comes to Christmas, I remain a work in progress. I still have flashes of frenzy when I feel overwhelmed but I’ve learned to stop the craziness as soon as I recognize the symptoms. I can prevent seasonal emotional disorder by spending time with God each day. I ask Him to help me recognize what is important and to be willing to take His agenda as mine. Each year I learn that the joy I crave floods my heart and soul when I substitute God’s idea of a perfect Christmas for the one I carry in my head.