December has arrived, and with it the bustle of the holiday season. Although, most retailers have been ready for a month now. I remember early in November I was in a dollar store in Ottawa and the Christmas tunes were blaring through the speakers so intensely it made my head spin and left me with a splitting headache.
Sometimes, that is how I feel when it comes to the holidays. Don’t misunderstand me, because I am a Christmas lover. I have always been dazzled by sparkling lights lighting up the dark winter sky. But lately, it has been a lot harder to become dazzled. Christmas always looks like a tornado of good intentions at our house. The excitement and anticipation are there, but most often they don’t unfold as we’d expect.
Take our Christmas tree, for example. This weekend we decided to dust off the totes that hold our Christmas treasures and decorate. We have learned from Christmases past that it is always easier to do all the preparations before involving the children. Assembling the tree, stringing the lights, wrapping the ribbon. All of these things come together before we call the boys in to help us hang the decorations. It never works out as I’d expect. I want to watch as each decoration is removed from the box and marvel at the memories. To look at the ornament that holds a picture of my husband and I when we were dating and smile and the memory of the day we walked for hours in Ottawa during the Tulip festival – but not to get caught up in how much thinner and prettier I looked back then. I want to cherish the sweet handmade ornaments the boys had made over the years, and remember how tiny their hands were when they made them. I want to step back and look at the tree and have it look as beautiful as the trees on my holiday Pinterest board. But you know what? I don’t have a Piterest life.
Instead, our tree looks like a happy afterthought. The decorations are whipped out of the boxes at record speed. Someone shoves the other one away and whines they’re hanging the decorations where the other had wanted to hang theirs. Another decides he likes every decoration on the same branch. As I step back and look at the tree it looks like a hot mess. Lights strung haphazardly, ribbon wrapped to cover connecting cords, but definitely not symmetrical or beautifully placed. Decorations all over the place, but not in a coordinated order. The tree branches itself that don’t expand enough to cover the metal pole that makes up the stem. It isn’t a thing of beauty. But it IS beautiful, because it represents our lives.
I will admit, I used to get caught up in comparisons when it came to the holiday season. Just recently, a friend of mine posted a photo on Facebook of an amazing, Pintrest perfect Christmas tree and fireplace. It looked like something out of a magazine. My first reaction was a twinge of jealousy, because it is the type of decor I would love to display. Several seconds later, I looked up at my tree and smiled. I realized I liked my tree better, because it is mine. Of course it looks the way it looks – that is just so us. It is easy to get caught in the comparison trap, but it steals your joy. And what is Christmas, if not a season of such?
In Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas, an over excited George wakes up the man with the yellow hat repeatedly, mistakenly thinking it is Christmas morning. After a few days of this, the man decides to make a countdown calendar for George so he could see how many days are left. When George notices there are several days left to go, he lets out a disgruntled noise. The man explains the best part of Christmas are the preparations leading up to it. The movie then continues with various holiday activities the man with the yellow hat and George partake in. But the sweetest part to me is that nothing about their preparations is perfect. That’s a wonderful representation of our lives. No wonder my boys still adore Curious George. (And why I have seen this so many times I can narrate it from start to finish!)
Yes, there is joy in the imperfect.There is also joy in simplicity. And that is my wish for this Christmas season. What does simplicity look like at Christmas? Making time for things that are important and less difficult and cutting out the rest.
Every other year, the Santa Claus parade is on our side of the city. In past years, we would attend the parade when it was in our area. We would bundle up and stand outside waiting for a glimpse of the floats as they went by. This year? We decided to stay home and watch a Christmas movie while eating a take out pizza. It is so difficult for our children to participate in any events past 6 p.m. Their behaviour gets the better of them and we have a greater risk of public meltdowns. We just don’t need that. Sadly, we also had to miss our church’s community Christmas tree lighting. The whole neighbourhood comes out to sing carols, watch as someone plugs in the lights and then celebrate with hot chocolate and cookies. I was more disappointed about missing that event than the parade, but I believe it was much less difficult.
Simplifying things in the home is helpful as well. That silly Elf on the Shelf we discovered a few years ago them jumped on the bandwagon is coming back to haunt me. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t bought one that day. Coming up with new, fresh ideas is like holiday hell. Especially when I have children who remember everything and any day now they”ll say, “she did that last year!” I asked myself why we even do it at our house since we don’t do Santa. What is the point? My husband and I decided Elf on the Shelf is getting a makeover this year. No mischief! She will be focusing on the gift of giving and loving others. I wish I had done this years ago.
Simplifying also helps our family shift the attention back to what Christmas is all about. It i so easy to say “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but it is also so easy to get lost in the commercializaion of Christmas. One way we have helped to combat this is to give five small gifts: a want, a need, a read, a handmade gift, and something that will draw them closer to the Father. They do not go without at Christmas, but there is not a mountain of gifts under the tree. I like it that way. We also started something new this Christmas by doing a devotional advent calendar from Thriving Family. In light off keeping things simple, I didn’t print off the full calendar but just downloaded the devotional portion and bought them a chocolate advent calendar at Walmart. We started it today and it was a nice time of togetherness where we read, reflected and talked about our day.
Keeping Christmas simple is not a new idea. It is not always easy to do with the holiday parties and events we will be invited to. However, when we focus on the greatest gift of Christmas, and less about the decorations and parties, it is easier to breathe and so much less stressful. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I see a sign for “instant Merry makers” at Timothy’s and the Gingerbread latte sure looks delicious! But I won’t indulge in the holiday desserts. I will keep it simple.