Monday, January 28, 2013

Five Ways to Make Christmas Awesome!

Are you surprised by the title? Yes, Christmas is over a month past... but here at our place, the tree and all the decorations are still up, I'm still playing Lawrence Welk CDs, and Christmas is still very much an ongoing reality! Not that that's anything new... our family once left our tree up till April. We don't plan to surpass that record this year. But having all the decorations still up has led me to ponder this past Christmas season to see what I can learn from it.

Cinnamon Ornaments! 
We really had an awesome Christmas season. It looked bad from the outside, because we spent all of November and December dealing with rolling illnesses - one or more of us would still be sick from the last illness when the next one moved in. We had to miss church for almost two months straight, and we had to cancel almost all of our Christmas season engagements (parties, concerts, etc.).

But despite all of that, we had a blast!

Our Advent Wreath!
 Because I had purposed to use Christmas as an educational tool, I did a TON of planning for crafts and activities, and we had a wonderful time with all of that. We decorated the house, played music continually, and did lots of crafts.

Elf on the Shelf, with a new book each day! 
We were able to be together (all the more so during this period of unemployment for DH), and we were able to learn so many wonderful things and build so many family memories.

Lepkuchen Day 2012!
It was only a few years ago that the extent of my Christmas season observations consisted of, "Come on, hon! We're late for Christmas Eve service and we forgot to get out our tree! Hurry!" True story. Having children and homeschooling them has been such a wonderful way for God to work in my life - Christmas decorating included!

Snow ice cream! 
We had a wonderful time, and I've learned so much that I hope to carry into next year.

Christmas Tree decorations, courtesy of The Happy Home Fairy
 Looking back on this Christmas season, here are a few things that I have learned about how I can work to make Christmas even better:

Crafts and Activities Need to be Planned for Early in the Month! 

Crafts and activities in early December = fun! Crafts and activities in late December, with family visiting and the schedule ramped up with cooking, cleaning, and gifty-stuff = a nightmare. This is one of the reasons that my idea of doing a "birthday cake for baby Jesus" has never worked out - I always plan it for too late in the month. I read of moms who make this a Christmas morning activity - frankly, either they are insane or have achieved parenting perfection, because the one time I tried that it was an utter disaster. "Stop looking at your presents and come over here RIGHT NOW to make this birthday cake! And you'd better have FUN doing it, buddy!" Nope. Never again. Sometime around December 1st would be ideal.

Shredded Wheat Christmas ornaments - these things are awesome! 
I Need to Let Go of Non-Essentials....

This year, I had a very short time slot to wrap presents (especially considering that I was wrapping presents for the entire family). When it came around, I grabbed my supplies and the wee Chublet, and dove into the bathroom for a frenzied hour and a half of gift-wrapping.

And what did I find myself stressing over? Ribbon! I did not have time to do "proper" ribbon around each and every (or any) package, but I was beating myself up about it - real presents have real ribbon on them or they don't count!

Thankfully, I came to my senses. The ultimate truth = Ribbon does not matter. No one will notice, and trying to keep up with my childhood standards will only stress me out for no good purpose. So I started slapping on ready-made bows with vigor, and released that self-imposed expectation to the winds. Ribbon may never again appear at our house.

When it's unnecessary expectations vs. our family happiness or personal peace, the former has to go to the wall. And quickly, lest we get caught up in the dreaded Merry Christmas Madness.

... But Keep Up With the Important Things!

While letting go of non-essentials is important, I find that there are some traditions that I (or our children) especially cherish, and those are worth fighting for! 

For our eldest, those things are our advent calendar, our Elf on the Shelf, driving to see lights, and similar things. 

For myself, the especially-treasured things include mailing Christmas cards, celebrating Lepkuchen Day and making decorated sugar cookies, having traditional Christmas foods (or at least cooking them!), Christmas Eve service, and going out to look at Christmas lights. 

I also especially love involving our neighbors in our celebrations. My dream is to have neighbors who have the same amount of intimacy and friendship that I experienced in my childhood neighborhood. Though I am too miserably introverted to do this well or quickly, I work toward that goal steadily, which includes our annual open house for our neighbors (and friends!), and handing out Christmas cookies and cards (this year we gave cards and cookies to our entire neighborhood, rather than just our adjoining neighbors). 

Those things are worth the work! 

Santa Lucia Bread! 
Gift Stuff Needs to Happen Early

I'm about to disclose a dirty little secret - are you ready? Here it is: We don't usually buy our children Christmas gifts. (*Gasp!*) Or rather, not many gifts. They may get one present from us on Christmas, but that's about it. The reason? Simply that because our children are the only grandchildren (and nephews) on both sides of the family, they are absolutely inundated with gifts on Christmas and birthdays. Add to that the fact that we are usually strapped for cash and that I do not enjoy shopping, it has never made sense to spend money that we don't have doing something we don't enjoy to add gifts to the pile that the kids don't need.

(*Feel free to send venomous emails about how we are ruthless child-abusers.*)

This year, however, multiple life circumstances brought around a curious set of circumstances - every set of extended family gave us money instead of gifts, and said, "Because of such-and-such, we can't do the shopping this year - would you do it for us?"

And so, behold! - My first experience with major Christmas shopping.

May I say that I hope it goes back to normal  next year? My goodness! Keeping track of orders, making orders, trying to avoid imbalances in gift-buying - it was exhausting! And because I waited far too late to do it all, it was crazy. (Though I must credit The Vision Forum with coming to our rescue, as almost all of our gifts came from there - highly recommended!)

The next time I have to do major gift-buying, I really need to do it earlier - and even more so with wrapping (though one presupposes the other!).

Our family's first snowman, all four inches of him! 
The More Children, the Fewer Plans

I need to be realistic and realize that the more children we have, the fewer things that I can plan (at least until the children get older). Several times this season I looked around and saw catastrophic messes, piles of dishes, three cranky and needing-to-eat children, and thought... "And I'm supposed to be making Christmas cookies? You've got to be kidding!" And frankly, that's just the truth. Life needs to slow down. We can't attend every function, do every craft, and make every cookie. I want to do Christmas well, but that means paring down activities to what we can do while maintaining family unity and cheerfulness. Anything more is too much for this season of life.

I am very much looking forward to next year's Christmas season, though this year's will be hard to beat. And I might even take down the tree before it's time to put it up again! (No promises.)

I'd love to hear about your lessons that you've learned for doing Christmas with kidlets!

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