For the past 25 years, I have tried to recreate the “Most Perfect Christmas Ever” with my family. Should we always make gingerbread cookies? Do we put a star, an angel, or something unique on top of our tree? Drive around to see the Christmas lights? Dress up in matching sweaters? Get new pjs?
There are just so many options. And as a mom, I want my children to have sweet memories of celebrating Christmas. Secretly, I would even like them to want to continue those traditions within their own households when they grow up. So I did whatever I could to make sure we scheduled (forced) our Christmas plans onto our calendar so we would be sure to create those warm Christmas memories.
My plans were sabotaged from the start.
One of our first Christmases included a joyful stomach virus which was shared with holiday cheer throughout the house. Stomach viruses aren’t Christmasy.
The following year, my beloved Christmas star for our tree-topper was crushed beyond recognition during a move. (Have you ever tried to glue 100s of shards of plastic together?)
Our one attempt at the “matching Christmas sweater” photo turned out OK, but then we had these matching Christmas sweaters for the children to wear the rest of the year. Now, we live in Florida, where the opportunities to wear sweaters are rare. Let’s just say that these garish things never wore out! I wasn’t about to buy more the next year. And my poor third son kept inheriting his older brothers’ sweaters each year as they grew out of them and he grew into them.
I could go on and on with tales of well-intentioned holiday plans that were dutifully messed up by the realities of life, but you get the idea…
Yet, as my children have gotten older, I have discovered something amazing. The traditions happened anyway. Some were traditions I had planned, such as reading the Advent story each week approaching Christmas day. But most…and I mean MOST…happened in spite of me. Last year, I wrote about the “Christmas Stocking Debacle” which took me by surprise.
You see, we can make lots and lots of plans, but the busy-ness of LIFE will often get in the way. Much as I want, I cannot control everything. So I have learned to be flexible. I started to pray before each Christmas season and ask the Lord what He wanted me to do. I stopped forcing things to happen just because I thought I should. And the memories were made.
We spend Christmas Eve with my husband’s side of the family each year. Well, one year, this Italian side of our family decided to make homemade ravioli for our dinner. It was such a success that we did it again the next year. And the next. Now that has become a Christmas Eve tradition that my children look forward to.
One year, during the drive home from Christmas dinner we stumbled upon a neighborhood that had beautiful Christmas lights. Driving around to see Christmas lights has become such a tradition that we now rent a big vehicle just so all of us can still be in the same car to “Ooh” and “Aah” together (We sold our old van a few years ago when everyone bought their own cars).
And there are many more.
So here are my recommendations for making the perfect traditions:
- Don’t plan too much. It is OK to plan an annual Christmas photo or a day of cookie baking, but don’t go crazy with your expectations. Those photos may not turn out one year (been there) or you may have a child who develops gluten issues (been there, too). And too many plans actually create stress!
- Aim for being together and looking for opportunities that present themselves. If you have a house full of sick ones, maybe this is a good time to begin a tradition of watching Christmas movies and eating soup and grilled cheese.
- Be prepared for things you didn’t expect to become traditions to worm their way into your family’s history (refer back to my Christmas Stocking Debacle).
- Maybe scale back on the amount or types of Christmas gifts you give. I can speak from experience that the stress of Christmas shopping and the expectations of everyone around you can squeeze the joy right out of this holiday if we let it. Perhaps use some of those cookies you made during your day of cookie baking to fill cheerful gift plates. A group invite to dinner (or dessert) with several families you were planning to host consolidates the events and increases the fun!
5. Make your goal to just BE with your family. Love them. Give extra hugs. Spend more time WITH them (not just in the same house as them) during this season where schedules have slowed down and school is out.
And don’t worry. The traditions will come. The sweet memories will be there. Just pray for flexibility and keep your eyes open to the opportunities around you.
Have a Merry Christmas with your family and friends!