How to take the crazy out of Christmas

How is it December already?  Last Christmas was just the other day, right?

This will be Sausage’s second Christmas, and while she is ready for it, I just want to slow it all down.

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I had a rare child-free afternoon yesterday (mostly spent taking my time at my favourite second-hand mega store, bliss) and needed to get a few things at the shops.  My normally peaceful town was full of frazzled people laden down with shopping bags.  It was even hard to find a parking space, quelle horreur!

Now, for the record: I LOVE Christmas.  I love decorating the tree and our house.  I love sending Christmas cards to my overseas and out of town friends.  I love giving gifts, and I love having all my family around the dinner table on Christmas day.  I love having a special day where I can celebrate and reflect on Jesus’s birth.  And I looooove that we get to have Christmas in Summer.

I do NOT love the commercialism of Christmas, with all the pressure to buy, buy, buy.  I do not love the pressure to have a Pinterest perfect Christmas house, or a Martha Stewart dinner.  I do not love the pressure put on people to all ‘be together with family’, which means this time of the year can be incredibly painful and lonely for those who have no one to share it with, who have lost loved ones, or who are unable to be with their loved ones for whatever reason.  This one day can cause a lot of heartache.

As my children are still very small (almost 2 and 4 months old) what Christmas will look like at our house is very much a work in progress.  Here’s how I keep sane at Christmas time:

  • Scale back the gifts.  I must confess that this has actually proved quite hard this year!  Yesterday I went through the gifts I bought for my kids and found I had what I consider to be too many gifts (as I am a rather organised person and tend to buy things here and there in advance, I hadn’t realised I’d gotten so much already).  We have Dutch heritage in our family so we like to celebrate St Nicholas Day (6 December).  Our eldest child will be getting a few small presents (like chocolate coins) in her shoes tomorrow, like they do in the Netherlands.  Although we don’t do Santa, I grew up with a stocking on Christmas morning and can’t let that go, so my eldest will be getting a few things like a calendar and a candy cane in hers.  But when it comes to the ‘main gifts’ our kids get three presents like the Wise Men gave Jesus: something they want, something they need, and something to read.  (Our son is only getting one gift, by the way – he’s a baby, he’s not going to know!)  Next year I will keep better track of what things I have already purchased so I can keep things even simpler, because I think the focus of Christmas for children needs to be on giving to others, gratitude, and on Christ – not presents.  The adults don’t do presents for each other, instead we do a $5 secret Santa which we’ve done in various guises (for specific people, generic, present-swapping game etc), and I for one don’t miss getting lots of hand creams and soaps and all that other female gift stuff that I don’t really want.
  • Keep your gifts low-cost.  I get rather irate when I see ads exhorting people to buy Dad a $599 BBQ for Christmas, a $899 tablet for your 6-year old, or to give your girlfriend a $1000 diamond necklace.  Really?  $1000 on a Christmas present???  That’s just all kinds of crazy.  Even if you’re not a Christian, Christmas doesn’t have to be all about presents.  An inexpensive, or hand-made gift with lots of thought put into it says ‘hey, I really know you‘ means much, much more than some expensive trinket from a chain store.  When it comes to kids, save big-ticket items (like bikes or computers) for their birthday.  It helps Christmas seem less about getting presents, so that you can focus on whatever it means for your family.
  • Limit the number of Christmas-related activities you do.  This time of year is nuts.  There are end-of-year parties coming out your ears, carols by candlelight, church services, parades, and all manner of things that you could choose to go to.  In New Zealand December heralds BBQ season.  You don’t have to do everything.  You just don’t.  If you’re feeling pressed for time, ask yourself – do I really need to go to this?  Are my kids really going to be scarred for life if they miss their fourth end-of-year breakup Christmas party for a group they belong to?  If they don’t see this year’s Santa Parade?  Are they going to think you are the worst parent ever because you don’t do Elf on a shelf (don’t even get me started on that one!)?
  • Get your presents ahead of time so you can avoid the stores in December.  Yeah, I know, this one is a no-brainer.  But do remember that pre-Christmas sales are not the only ones stores have.  Most stores seem to have sales every blimmin’ week!  Here, one of our major stores has a big toy sale in July.  We bought Sausage’s main present (an easel chalkboard/whiteboard) back then for 50% off and stashed it away.  Buying throughout the year not only means our bank balance doesn’t take a big hit in one go, it also means I only have one gift left to get (my secret Santa gift) and that’s it, I’m done.  No more silly season shopping for me.  You might want to keep better track of your purchases that I have this year so you don’t forget how much you’ve already bought!
  • Share the responsibility for the Christmas meal.  New Zealand Christmases are much more casual affairs than our Northern hemisphere counterparts due to the weather.  Who wants a heavy roast dinner and to be cooped up indoors when it’s summer?  Actually, mine do.  I was hoping my family would be happy with a simple BBQ – but no, they want a roast.  Sigh.  Anyway, despite this, we won’t be chained to the kitchen all day.  Everyone is contributing to the main meal in some way – someone is doing the roast, someone else the veges, someone else dessert etc.    Good food without the fuss.
  • If you’re the one with little kids, make people come to you!  Travelling with tots is stressful.  You need to take what seems to be a metric tonne of kid-related stuff with you just to keep them fed, clothed and occupied.  And often when you get to where you’re going you have to deal with an un-baby proofed house, disruption to sleep routines and all that sort of thing.  Of course staying with relatives can be lovely, but if you find the thought of shlepping everyone over to Grandma’s house five hours away is setting your teeth on edge, don’t do it.  Ask your relatives if they would mind coming to you to spare you from the drama.  If there’s several of you with kids, maybe let those with tantruming toddlers decide where will be easiest.  Save Christmases away from home for when your kids are old enough not to break Aunt Essie’s china, and are reliably sleeping through the night so they can share a room with 10 of their cousins and think that’s awesome.  Yes, it’s nice to be together but the world won’t end if you need to have a few Christmases at home by yourselves.
  • Remember the ‘reason for the season’.  I just winced typing that, it’s so cheesy.  But it’s also true.  Take Christmas back!  Don’t let the Ad Men or Martha Stewart tell you what Christmas should be about.  I do appreciate this special time when I can focus on what the gift of Christ has meant to me.  I sing Christmas carols and let myself think about what ‘peace on Earth’ might actually look like.  Even for non-Christians, the Christmas break can be a time of rest, and a chance to spend time on the things that nourish the soul.

– Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas.

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