I know that many (most?) of you have taken down your tree and moved past Christmas at this point, but I’ve been trying for days to fit in one fully Christmas-themed piece before the season officially came to a close (Happy Epiphany!) and I allllmost made it. Almost. So, whatever. I’m posting this rambling thing anyway.
Plus, here I sit (for at least part of the writing of this post), in front of a lovely fire, with my equally lovely (if crispy, because we never remember to water it) Christmas tree in the background for the last time this season. And despite the detritus of stuff strewn about our entire first floor (a result of two consecutive days of Daddy on Duty) and the vaguely bleh feeling of recovering from a stomach bug (which sent me to Labor and Delivery for a not-so-lovely few hours Friday night), I’m still feeling that warm-fuzzy Christmas feeling.
So, here’s a little review of how our family prepared for and celebrated Christmas this year, as well as some thoughts on such things in general, and on how we can maybe do ours a little better next year. (If I write about it here, I can check back on it then, right?)
But, fair warning: much of this post (especially the stuff in the middle) is probably of interest to just one person – little ol’ me. This is how I’m choosing to get it all down, to remember it for next year. If you like pictures of Christmas decorations, details about how other families do holidays, and musings on how one might do holidays better, then settle right in and enjoy. If you find such things B.O.R.I.N.G., then maybe just check on back here in a couple of days, okay?
— Advent —
We… um… didn’t do much for Advent this year.
Last year, I made a little paper candle for each day of Advent and wrote on each the name of a loved one. I taped them to our kitchen mantle and set up a small Christmas tree in our dining room, decorated with nothing but white lights. Each day, we took one of the candles off the mantle, prayed for the person named on it, and hung the candle on the tree in the dining room. I meant to do the same this year. I set up the tree and pulled out last year’s paper candles. But, intending to switch the names around a bit, I never hung them up. Fail.
I also thought about doing that whole opening-one-children’s-Christmas-book-each-day-of-Advent thing. I even have nearly enough books. But I didn’t get around to wrapping them. Fail.
Didn’t do the advent wreath either. Pulled it out, set it on the table, and never dug out the candles. Fail.
I didn’t even do daily Advent reflections, which I’ve almost always done in the past. Fail!
So, what did we do? It wasn’t much: we brought out the nativity scenes at the start of Advent and we talked about them. For most of the month, we kept our decorations simple and our preparations quiet. We had nativity scenes (with Baby Jesus tucked away and wise men set off to the side) throughout our first floor and we had that simple little dining-room tree with white lights. We talked about Jesus’ birth and we sang Christmas carols.
You know how people display placards and memes admonishing folks to “Keep Christ in Christmas”? I’m a little turned off by them. I always want to answer, “So, do it! Take a look around at your home and your traditions and your stress level and do what you can to focus on the ‘Reason for the Season.’ You – not society at large – are in charge of how you celebrate Christmas.”
Personally (and I admit I’m at a pretty good place in my life for this – just a few years into parenthood), I’m trying to set the course for the way holidays will be celebrated in my home. If I don’t want Christmas to be about materialism, I don’t let it. If I want it to be a season of peace, that’s what I focus on. If I want to keep it about Christ, that’s what I do. I think we should orient ourselves to our goals and just go ahead and live them out the best we can. So, that’s what we did with Christmas. If the boys brought up Santa, sure, we indulged their excitement a little bit. But we didn’t make out that Christmas is about Santa and gifts. We made clear that it’s about Christ’s birth.
Next year, I’d like to have our Advent activities all planned out and ready to go before Thanksgiving. Maybe I should take things down from the attic, dust them off, and set them aside in mid-November, even. Then I could simply set them out the first Sunday of Advent and be done with all the “Ohmygosh I don’t want to go to the attic and dig into bins and deal with all that dusty stuff.” I’m particularly lazy with that sort of thing, so I should probably schedule it on my calendar now.
— Cards —
Cards were and weren’t a kind-of failure this year. On the plus side, we had family photos taken in October (October!) and I ordered the cards on December 4. (Which seems chest-puffingly early to this procrastinator.) On the negative side, the cards were delayed, then delivered to the wrong address, and so re-ordered and delivered to us just before Christmas. Also, blinded by a good Shutterfly sale and free shipping, I went a little overboard with the design. We ended up getting them done, though most arrived after Christmas day. Next year, as much as I hate to say so, we should probably order our cards before Thanksgiving. (Shudder!)
— Parties and activities —
This is where I think we struck the right balance. We did three simple, Christmasy out-of-the-house activities: we went to our parish’s Santa breakfast, we drove around one evening to look at Christmas lights, and we went to our town’s tree-lighting ceremony, where our 3-year-old sang with his preschool class. We attended our usual two family parties: one at my grandparents’ on Christmas Day, another at my parents’ on the previous weekend. We also hosted two parties and an overnight visit: a weekday, brunch-time St. Nicholas Day party for little ones, a post-Christmas open house for friends and family, and a New Year’s Eve/Day visit from my best friend and her family. The activities were nicely spread out over the month and other than pre-party house-cleanings (which are good to do in and of themselves), none were too labor intensive. I’d be perfectly happy if we did the same assortment next year.
— Decorations —
Well… we put up a tree! A whole week before Christmas! Though I think I might not have finished decorating it until Christmas Eve. We hung our Moravian star on the porch and put candle lights in the front windows, also (ahem) on Christmas Eve. Let’s see… what else… Brennan put up a pine garland over the parlor fireplace. There were the aforementioned nativities and the dining room tree. And stockings. And the Christmas cards we received. That’s it.
Last year I decorated our mantles, which I love doing. I’m sorry I didn’t get around to it this year. Next year, if I can manage it with an 8-month-old underfoot (not to mention a 4- and 3-year-old), I’d love to do the mantles up right again. Plus the assortment of basics we pulled off this year.
— Gifts —
I have to say, given all that not-focusing-on-Santa-and-gifts stuff, it was pretty darned fun to have a child old enough to get excited about Santa this year. Our 3-year-old had been talking about wanting a guitar for months and he was delighted to learn that he could ask Santa to bring him one. Fortunately, good ol’ Santa Claus did not disappoint. Nor did he (I think) spoil the kiddos. He brought our older boy the guitar and a cowboy costume and our younger boy a fire engine and a fireman costume. He also brought each boy a puzzle and a wooden truck. They. were. thrilled. In fact, once they saw the guitar and the fire engine, they really didn’t care about anything else.
And it’s a good thing that Santa’s gifts (oh, and Grandma’s too) were fun, because Mommy and Daddy’s were mostly practical: namely, we gave the boys the bedding they’ll need for the big-boy beds they’ll be getting this spring. The boys gave each other a toy: tools for one, a truck for the other. And this year, in a first, I think, my ever-practical hubby (whose past gifts have included a floor mat and a bed pillow) gave me a gift that is pretty. He gave me a lovely art print for our dining room. It’s the first thing we’ve properly hung on a wall in the 1.5 years we’ve been in this house. (Everything else has been stuck on nails that were already there when we moved in, because I’m too chicken to mess with plaster walls unless I’m really, really sure about what I’m hanging.)
Regarding shopping for gifts, I did most of it at the last minute. Which you would think would be a recipe for high stress. Except that it actually wasn’t, and it even lead me to a new philosophy for Christmas gift shopping. Behold: Shop for tough people (i.e. out-of-town Godchildren, my hubby, and my dad) well in advance. That is, whenever in the year I can find something that suits them. And by Thanksgiving at the latest. But shop for easy people (i.e. my boys, my nieces, and my mom) at the last-minute. Tons of cool things can be ordered easily from Amazon and lots of good sales abound in the last days before Christmas. In short, get the stressful ones over with early and save the fun ones ‘till the end.
— The Christmas Season, Proper —
I’m actually kind of glad that we didn’t get a lot accomplished this year until Christmas itself was right around the corner. I feel like my default is to feel guilty the whole first half of December that I’m not doing more, then desperate to get it all done the week before Christmas, then let down as soon as Christmas day passes. Oh, and then guilty all over again, because I’m nowhere near ready to take everything down, but Christmas is… you know… over.
Except that it’s not. It’s really not. Sure, it makes sense for retailers to start hyping Christmas in November (Earlier? Ouch!) and then pressure you to DO! MAKE! BUY! in the final weeks that lead up to December 25th. And sure, it’s natural for folks who have been immersed in that environment and that hectic pace to feel DONE with it all as soon as Christmas day ends. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not even supposed to. If I view Christmas as a religious holiday, then I should look at it from the vantage of the religious calendar: December is dominated by Advent, not Christmas. Advent is a season of preparation, reflection, and penance. Christmas arrives on the 25th and lasts for twelve days. Epiphany, the feast of the magi, comes in early January.
I feel like we kind of got the tone right this year. Next year, I want to be really purposeful about the days. We’ll still put up our Christmas tree during Advent, but we’ll never be weekend-after-Thanksgiving people. We’ll add to our decorations and shopping slowly, so that we’re ready (but not frantic!) on Christmas day itself. Next year, I want to mark each of the twelve days of Christmas somehow. Perhaps we’ll give our own Christmas gifts to the boys bit-by-bit, stretched over those twelve days. We’ll see. I also want to mark Epiphany next year, maybe with a fun little party for our (fun) little family. We’ll see on that count too. Regardless of how, exactly, we work it all out, I want to teach my boys that Christmas matters and I think that observing it fully will help to teach that lesson.
— This New Year —
I’ve never been a big New Year’s resolution person, nor have I ever landed on a “word of the year.” But this year, I felt like a few things just came to me naturally, that the past few months have pointed me in their direction. So, I guess I’d better pursue them. One relates to what I wrote above: I want to be purposeful about this year’s holidays and liturgical seasons. Another is more basic and more important: I need to (sleep and therefore) rise early so that I can have some quiet prayer time for myself each day. (No, I haven’t been praying daily, which I usually blame on the ever-loving lack of quiet in this house. Unfortunately, it’s become an easy excuse.) And lastly, I have a word for 2014. One that came to me clearly, one that has been coming for some time: Generous. This year, I need to be generous, I need to learn to respond generously, both in my mind and in my actions.
So, there you have it: My look back on Advent and Christmas 2013, my look forward at what those seasons should be in the years to come, and my outlook at the beginning of 2014. May you and yours have a peaceful, healthy, joyful year ahead of you.