Many people approach Christmas day as the one day when everything will be perfect. The house will be totally clean, free of clutter and decorated beautifully. Everyone will receive a gift that is exquisitely wrapped and the perfect choice for them. The meal will be superb and everyone in the family will get along with no squabbles.
It’s hard to escape from this perspective as we have been barraged by these prefect images of Christmas since the middle of October. Seriously – have you ever had a friend who was surprised when their spouse bought them a luxury car and it magically appeared in the driveway on Christmas morning with a big red bow? If either of us did that without talking to the other, it would be cause for much turmoil and angst in our marriage.
So in our house on Christmas, there will be no luxury car with a big red bow in our driveway, the house will be semi-messy, the presents will be wrapped as well as possible (considering my gift wrapping prowess), some of the food will be under done, over cooked or dried out and the usual family squabbles will eventually surface. And that’s okay.
The people who go into Christmas Day with the expectation of absolute perfection will be disappointed. We are merely human and will never achieve perfection, yet we continue to seek it. In reality perfection is enjoying what you have, no matter how messy, disorganized, muddled and chaotic it may be.
One of the problems is that we have a months-long rush into Christmas day, then suddenly it’s over, leaving us with a dull sense of melancholy. In order to overcome this aura of sadness, practice contentment this year by adopting an unhurried pace during the holidays so you can savor the day.
One way to slow down is to draw out the gift opening on Christmas Day in order to foster an attitude of gratitude. We use a very elaborate present opening process: The children take each gift under the tree and pass it to the recipient. When everyone has their presents in a pile in front of them, we start with the youngest, who opens ONE present, when that one present is open, and everyone has oohhed and aahhed over it, the next oldest opens ONE present. We go through the family in rotation from youngest to oldest with each person opening ONE present when it’s their turn, till all presents are opened.
This slow process accomplishes several things. First the children know who gave them each gift and it eliminates the ‘what’s next’ attitude when there is a big build up to Christmas presents, then and the presents take less than 5 minutes to open. Slowing down gives the kids time to get interested in one of the presents before their next turn to open a gift. They are able to enjoy their gifts more and they appreciate what they have instead of racing frantically to open the next present. We’ve even stopped opening presents for a few hours while they played with their gifts.
The other thing that happens is that the oldest people (usually parents and grandparents) generally have the fewest gifts and drop out of the present opening rotation earliest. This situation results in the kids being worried about how few presents dad or grandma got, so you have lots of opportunities for talking about what’s really important as far as gift giving and appreciating what you received, even if you received fewer gifts than others.
Giving children an opportunity to be grateful trains them in the verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
Here are some other ideas to develop traditions that are specific to your family to bring everyone together for simple inexpensive fun and take the focus off receiving presents:
- Donate your time on Christmas day to work at a soup kitchen as a family serving meals to the homeless.
- Bake a birthday cake for Jesus and retell the Christmas story before singing “Happy Birthday” and cutting the cake.
- Build a fire and roast marshmallows or make s’mores
- Pick a favorite family game and have a tournament – Spoons; I Doubt It; Monopoly; Uno, etc.
- Look at pictures from past Christmases and recall memories of who was there and what happened that specific year. This is especially healing if you lost friends or family during the year.
- Watch traditional family movies on Christmas Day. Here are some suggestions form the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: The Bells of St. Mary’s; The Bishop’s Wife; A Christmas Carol; A Christmas Story; Christmas with the Kranks; Come to the Stable; The Fourth Wise Man; Fred Claus; It’s a Wonderful Life; Joyeux Noel; Miracle on 34th Street; The Muppet Christmas Carol; The Nativity Story; The Polar Express; Prancer; The Shop Around the Corner; Three Godfathers; White Christmas.
- Put together a jigsaw puzzle. Have it set up on a card table, in a corner where people can work on it sporadically through out the day.
- Read a Christmas story. The kids love it when different people read different parts in voices appropriate to the character. Even the little ones can get involved if you have them say some key phrases during the story–make it up as you go along for fun. The sillier the better.
- Take a hike. After Christmas dinner, get out and walk as a way to get some exercise and also use that excess energy the kids have from all the excitement.
- Play – flag football; build a snowman; have a snowball fight; make snow angels; volleyball; corn hole; bike riding. The kids will love it if it’s outdoors and the adults are involved.
When you really think about it; what do want to accomplish during the Christmas season? Isn’t it all about building memories you can enjoy the rest of your life? Memories centered around celebrating the birth of Christ, and memories centered around being together as a family and memories centered around enjoying one another.
This Christmas season, don’t let the world make you discontent with its focus on buying and getting. Instead, learn to be content. Develop traditions for your family that are meaningful, fun and inexpensive.
By consciously making plans to slow down and enjoy the holidays. “Then you and your family… shall make merry over all these good things which the LORD, your God, has given you.” Deuteronomy 26:11.