If you're anything like us, chances the weeks and months leading up to Christmas are a mixture of fun and meaningful and completely chaotic and stressful too. We've all felt the pressure to pull off the perfect Advent season, and when we don't, it's easy to feel guilty, like we've let the family down, or not focused our attention on the right things—the things that really matter.
But it doesn't have to be this way! We're here to help you create meaningful moments during the Advent season, find the traditions that matter most, and help you engage with God and one another. It's not only possible, it's easier than you think!
Take a little bit of the pressure off this Christmas by answering these five questions now, well before Advent arrives, and enjoy a stress-free season this year.
1. How did last Christmas go for our family?
First, kick things off with a family meeting. We recommend doing it on one of your late summer pool days, or at dinner—someplace where the whole family is gathered together. What were the highs and lows of last December? Can you even remember it?
Take some time to have everyone think about it, share their good and not-so-good memories, the magical moments and the stressful ones, too. Don't worry about the schedule yet or making decisions for this year. Just invite everyone to reflect on their experience last year, and carry those thoughts with you through the next four questions.
2. Who are we dropping from the shopping list?
Hard left turn for this one! And while we suggest this one somewhat playfully, we're also serious! Maybe it's time to simplify your shopping list. We tend to add and add and add at Christmas time—to our schedules, our decorations, our shopping lists, our wants and "needs". At some point, it might be good to purge the list.
Or consider if there is another way to show people you care, without the focus being on materialistic things and gift exchanges. If nothing else, let this question prompt you as you engage with other people this season.
Does my giving at Christmas time reflect the values and relationships that I hold closest? Do my friends, neighbors, and co-workers know that I care for them? What might be more helpful and appreciated than a gift? Am I giving anyone gifts from a feeling of obligation?
Ask the questions, even if they're uncomfortable for a moment, and make a decision now that will be easy and meaningful for you to implement later on.
3. What is our Advent Tradition?
If you've found yourself mid-November starting to wonder, "What on earth should I study during Advent this year?" or "Is it ok if I repeat the same devotional from last Christmas?" or even "Is there an Advent Guide that everyone in the family can do, so we're not all doing our own things?" you're not alone! We've been there too. And we're here with a gentle suggestion. Resist the temptation to reinvent the wheel.
You (and especially your kids) will remember not what you did one year, but what you did year after year. They'll remember what you make a tradition, and what you build on each year. Find an Advent Guide (We humbly suggest that you choose Advent Blocks!); name it as a tradition; and keep doing it.
*A note to church leaders: This applies to you too! There is nothing requiring you to do a new curriculum each year. Decide once what your Christmas tradition is and stick with it. Plus, once you do it on year one, the families will communicate it for you on year 2 and 3. Find something they'll be excited about and want to do annually. And then build on it! With the Advent Blocks Local Church Program, it's as easy as simply ordering a few more sets of blocks each year as your church family grows.
4. Are we traveling this year?
This tip alone might reduce your stress by half! Start the conversation about holiday travel now. Yes, now! It will be so much easier to have a difficult conversation, if necessary, if you're not communicating about a holiday that is just around the corner, with anticipation already built up between kids and relatives.
Decide now if you'll travel at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or even the New Year. Decide how long you'll travel, where you'll stay, any kind of family dynamics that need to be addressed. And then communicate those decisions now—as early as possible!
If you need to take another trip to the pool and have the conversation by the water, you go right ahead! Chances are, communicating early will not just be easier for you, but will be a service to other family members who may need to make travel plans as well. No one ever complained about overcommunicating, right?
5. What are the most important events for us this Christmas?
Think back to your poolside family meeting for a minute. And grab your calendar. Now it's time to ask, "What are the most important events that we will be a part of this year?" Pick a few. Pencil them in on the calendar now, especially if the dates are already posted or are consistent year after year.
Have your kids outgrown the Polar Express extravaganza that's always crowded and stressful? Do you need to pick just one Christmas party to attend and others to politely decline? What about that cookie swap? Do you even eat those cookies?
Ask this question to help screen what's worth doing and what your family would be better off skipping or saving for another year. It's about creating margin in the calendar so that you're enjoying the season, not feeling burdened and pressured by it.
Resist the temptation to keep adding events, and find the courage to kindly decline what you need to. Having the conversation now will help you know when to say yes and when to say no in the moment.
Remember the goal: Engage with God and one another this holiday season.
Don't get wrapped up (see what we did there?) in the chaos, but name what matters, decide and communicate early, and enjoy a stress-free Christmas with your family.