This festive season I am seeing the stress all over the place, not least on Facebook posts about Elf on the Shelf and reverse advents and a book a day for December. Here's some thoughts on how we can make this festive season a little less crazy.
1 - Pick one special family day or event
Don’t feel the need to attend every Christmas light switch on, Christmas fair, pantomime and special event going.
There’s no need to do more than one Santa trip, or watch every lights switch on you can think of. Pick one good quality event for your family to go to in the run up to Christmas AND THAT’S IT!
If you do Santa (we don’t) then you’ll probably want to go and do a Santa visit with your kids. There are some amazing ones out there that include storytelling, crafts, tractor rides or carol singing if you want to make more of a day of it. If we did Santa I’d totally do one of those Santa steam train rides.
For our family Christmas trip, we go to the Spirit of Christmas Past at the folk museum. It’s a Sunday afternoon when you visit the folk museum and the houses have Christmas traditions from Victorian times in them – you get to sample food, listen to traditional carol singers, and brass bands. It’s an enjoyable afternoon that is that bit different from the usual Santa based events and isn’t too loud or scary like the way a Christmas light switch on would be. (not that I find light switch ons scary, you understand, but Daniel isn’t a fan of busy crowds and loudspeakers)
2 - Don’t say yes to everything you’re invited to
Or much at all, really. On top of school nativities and your usual activities’ Christmas parties, there will be school Christmas fairs, church carol services, invites to friends’ houses, family get-togethers, work dos and you just don’t need to do them all.
Some will be priorities, but others might be things you just feel you have to go to and you can choose to say no. Could others be rescheduled to the new year?
Maybe not the carol services, obviously, but my siblings and I go out in the new year instead of the Christmas period; I’ve heard of more and more January work Christmas dos; and if your family live locally, why not have a new year gathering to cheer up those miserable January nights?
3 - Simplify what you can
If your children are still young you could decide to step back from the rat race of buying lots and decide to reduce the number of presents they get before they notice!
Don’t feel the need to do Elf on the Shelf or a crafty daily advent devotional with your child if you’re already overwhelmed, or do simplified versions of them. Pinterest is NOT your friend at Christmas, it makes all of us feel inadequate, doesn’t it?! Or find someone who has blogged some ideas or created a Pinterest board of a simple version if you really feel the need to do it.
If you’re cooking Christmas dinner, how about reducing the prep by buying premade parts of the food. You can get trays of honey roast parsnips and roast potatoes, pre made stuffing, even a turkey crown. These shortcuts will reduce the time needed to prep for Christmas dinner and honestly, no one will notice!
For me this year I think I might go simple on the Christmas decorations. Is that crazy talk?! I just can’t face all the cleaning and clearing required to get the decorations up. We don’t have a dumping room anymore as our three bedrooms are occupied so I can’t easily shift stuff around. It feels like leaving some of the decorations in the loft is so wrong, but this year, it may be the thing that saves Christmas from being overwhelming!
Plus the thought of trying to stop the crazy 17 month old from pulling the tree over, climbing on the tree, eating the lights…ugh!
4 - Prioritise what you enjoy
What do you normally like to spend any free time doing? Spend some time in December doing this! If it’s going to gigs, get tickets for something. If you love knitting, spend an evening or two in by the fire. If it’s playing board games with friends, invite them round and have a night with some red wine and Settlers!
Don’t think that the run up to Christmas has to mean pausing normal life and doing exclusively festive activities. Do what normally brings you joy. Even if that is sitting in with a glass bottle of wine by yourself!
5 - Think about the true meaning of Christmas
For many Christmas is all about spending time with family and friends. Maybe it’s thinking about those less fortunate and donating to charity or volunteering with a charity. For others it’s all about the food and drink. For us, it’s about celebrating Jesus’ birth and remembering that first Christmas.
Once you’ve thought about what Christmas means to you, you’ll know where to spend your time and money. Don’t get stressed out if there are things you can do to reduce the stuff you have in the diary and in your mind.
And if you're a Christian, let's not lose sight of what this season is really about. Love came down at Christmas to us in the arrival of Jesus as a baby and because of what He has done for us, we are to be a light in this world. Think about how your attitude to Christmas, the things you prioritise and how you spend your time - may it be for God's glory.
So let’s not start the festive season feeling like we need to create the perfect advent or Christmas experience for our kids.