It’s so easy to get carried away at Christmastime. While we’re dazzled by the glitz and magic of the season, the pressure builds to create a perfect Christmas holiday for our family, with a perfect tree, perfect gifts that are perfectly wrapped, a perfectly decorated house, and perfect get-togethers with family and friends. Our stress levels rise as we become buried in must-do lists, and we end up frazzled and exhausted by the New Year. In all of the bustle, it’s easy to forget that the real meaning of Christmas is the birth of a Savior, God’s perfect gift to us. Here are my five tips for staying grounded this year—and every year.
1. Start early. I know, I know—I hate to see Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween, too. But on the other hand, Thanksgiving follows right on the heels of Halloween and then suddenly Christmas is upon us and we feel rushed and stressed. So why not start making lists and thinking about Christmas in October this year? With your gift list in hand, you can keep an eye open for items on your list throughout the fall. By looking ahead, you can choose the best dates for entertaining and write in all of the events and activities that you want to include so the season won’t rush at you all at once when you turn the calendar page to December. Choose a new Christmas devotional and start reading it daily, well before December 25. You’ll have time to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas and truly anticipate Christ’s birth, rather than feeling overwhelmed when it arrives.
2. Prepare a budget. Take an honest look at your finances and decide well ahead of time how much you can afford to spend. If you start early (see tip 1), you’ll have time to put away a little extra money during the fall months by not ordering all those pumpkin lattes or eating out as often. A budget will help you stay focused and grounded when you’re tempted to max out your credit cards, or when those Black Friday sales seem too good to pass up. We don’t need to spend a lot of money to create a joyful, meaningful Christmas. Which leads to my third tip.
3. Simplify. One year I asked my family to list the top three things they had to have for an ideal Christmas. I pooled their answers and made sure we did all of those things. Interestingly, there were several stress-inducing Christmas traditions that didn’t make anyone’s list. Like baking dozens and dozens of cookies. And making a picture-perfect, candy-studded gingerbread house. And decorating every last inch of our home, inside and out, with Christmassy stuff. We set up a manger scene, a beautiful tree that everyone helped decorate (it was not picture-perfect with every ornament related to a theme) and decorated our fireplace mantel. The stockings we hung were actual socks, not matching needlepoint works of art. In other words, nothing had to be “perfect” or time-consuming. The time, money, and effort I saved by simplifying helped make the holiday less stressful and more meaningful for everyone.
4. Avoid temptation. That might mean avoiding the mall and the Internet with their endless images of Christmas perfection. Again, remember that what is truly important this season is celebrating God’s gift of His Son. The world has hijacked our holiday, replacing it with Santa Claus, commercialism, and bigger-and-better stuff. Getting stressed and short-tempered aren’t the best ways to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We can stay grounded by putting Christ first as we start each day (see tip 1 and that Christmas devotional!). Let the symbols of the holiday remind you of its true meaning: the evergreen tree representing eternal life in Christ, the lights reminding us that He is the light of the world (and so are we!), the gifts we give reminding us that God first gave His gift to us. When you’re tempted to overspend or go overboard, take a moment to stop and ask, “How does this celebrate Christ?”
5. Put people first. Christmas is one of the few times of year when people who don’t know God might think about heavenly things. Why not let everything you do, from decorating to gift giving to entertaining, be with the thought of pointing people to Christ and shining His light and love. Let’s teach our kids and grandkids to put others first by serving the less fortunate. Pack a shoebox for Samaritan’s Purse. Buy a gift for prisoners’ families through Prison Fellowship Angel Tree. Choose livestock for families in developing countries through the World Vision catalogue. Lasting Christmas memories are made by being together with friends, loved ones, and neighbors, not by buying things that will be used and quickly forgotten. Look back at some of the memorable Christmases in your life and ask what made them so memorable. Don’t be surprised if the best Christmases were filled with people you loved.
At the start of this holiday season, remember that the first Christmas came with great joy and love, even though it had only a simple stable, an ordinary couple, and the Savior of the world in a lowly manger.
Learn more about Lynn Austin by visiting her official website, LynnAustin.org
A Special Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers and Lynn Austin for the exclusive article and images.