Loving My Midlife Christmas

By on December 19, 2017

by Michele Morin

For the past several years, change has been the only constant in our Christmas celebration.

Grown-up sons marry, pack up their collection of treasured ornaments, and hang them on their own trees. College guys come home when they can and join in the fun on an intermittent schedule. Teens branching into individualized creativity stride manfully into the woods—ax in hand–and return bearing a Charlie Brown tree for their bedroom, which they will festoon with enough lights to interfere with normal sleep patterns.

Our Christmas gatherings have become a moving target with a schedule that requires both flexibility and diplomacy, but I’m learning to appreciate the Christmas that is and to let Christmas past be past, fondly remembered but not lessening my enjoyment of the here and now.

Alexandra Kuykendall, author of Loving My Actual Christmas, struggled with loving “Christmas present.” Visions of Pinterest perfection left her exhausted and so “done” with the holiday that she finished the season by stripping the decorations off the tree and stuffing them into their boxes, not caring if she ever saw them again.

In addition, Norman Rockwell gatherings around a flawless feast didn’t match the reality of the recent loss of her father and the empty chair at the table.

Alexandra wanted to make some changes that would bring joy back into her celebration of Jesus’ birthday. She conducted an experiment that she hoped would help her to capture the essence of the season, and Loving My Actual Christmas is her lab report.

She longed to set her family up for success by lowering expectations, lightening their load, and limiting their activity level. To accomplish this, she introduced her family to the celebration of Advent, a slow, methodical re-calibration of their approach to marking the holiday.

We’ve observed Advent every year with our family and have found that extending the celebration of the season over the entire month of December takes the pressure off parents who want to more intentionally consider the theological implications of the Christmas story. An Advent celebration means the Baby Jesus does not have to compete with the shiny new LEGO set on the morning of December 25.


Formulating honest wishes and realistic hopes for our Christmas season sets the foundation for enjoying one’s “actual Christmas.” Right-sizing expectations and then communicating well, creating a budget early on, and staying in touch with the transforming truth of the Christmas story are a few ways to realize those hopes.


God’s love for His children is not connected (either positively or negatively) to our to-do list. Focusing on God’s unconditional love, shown by His gift of the Baby in the manger, makes the holiday hoopla more meaningful and emphasizes the truth that Christmas is all about people.

Alexandra made this resolution for the season: “When given the choice between getting something done and enjoying the moment, I will take the moment.”


If, as C.S. Lewis has said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven,” it behooves us to take it more seriously here on planet Earth. Dealing with grief over the loss of her father, Alexandra wondered if joy could grow in the context of her deep sadness. She discovered that complaining was a joy slayer, that joy can be “quiet and steady,” and that by inviting others into her home, she turned the spotlight of her attention away from herself and focused instead on how she could serve and encourage her guests. The end result was a joy that was “part tactical execution, part heart work.”


In the fourth week of Advent, stress can demolish not only peace, but also love, joy, and hope if panic leads to blowing the budget, losing our temper, and resorting to sugar-fueled, all-nighters of wrapping gifts and addressing Christmas cards. This is the moment for flexibility: modifying or eliminating whatever won’t work; hanging on to those realistic expectations set up in week one; and sticking close to the story that featured a manger, a fairly awkward set of circumstances, and all the messiness and chaos that surround a new birth.

As my family and I celebrate Christ’s birth once again this year, we will do it with the uniqueness of a Morin Christmas. It will be different from yours–no better, no worse. The goal is to celebrate the birth of our Savior in the language my family understands. This year, only one son will be home full-time for our Advent celebration. The others will come and go as college schedules, work responsibilities, in-law expectations, and their own growing independence dictates.

If my heart can receive “My Actual Christmas” with hope, love, joy and peace, the gift will come in the form of a bit more quiet; a slower disappearance of the Christmas cookies; a less-frenzied, more contemplative celebration of Advent Truth; and time spent with my good husband over cups of Christmas tea.

We both remember enjoying holidays alone before children arrived; we can enjoy it again someday if the occasion arises. In the meantime, when the nativity scene gets packed away after Christmas, I will find myself taking special care with the figures of Mary and Joseph. I’ll wrap them carefully and place them side by side in the box for the long dark of another year in the attic. I’m glad they have each other, and I wonder what Christmas will look like next year when they see daylight again.

This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional Resources

Alexandra engaged in a soulful and enlightening conversation on the Ears to Speak podcast, episode 5 in which she discussed the Christmas realities of budgets and complicated relationships, planning realistic and joyful traditions, and her journey of discovering how to live out a Christmas that’s full of love and spiritually intriguing to the people around you.


michele-morin Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who blogs at Living Our Days. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate.  She is active in educational ministries with her local church and her writing has appeared at SheLoves Magazine, The Mudroom, (in)courage, and elsewhere. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy, finds joy in sitting around a table surrounded by women with open Bibles, and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash



December 19, 2017 @ 17:11


Excellent review and I’m happy to discover this blogger, as well, Michele. Thank you. And Merry, Quieter, perhaps, Christmas!

Michele Morin

December 19, 2017 @ 21:39


This is a great gathering place! Glad you have found your way here, and trusting that you will also have a peaceful celebration.


December 19, 2017 @ 19:36


Thank you for this excellent and helpful review.
This sentence really popped out at me: “She longed to set her family up for success
by lowering expectations, lightening their load, and limiting their activity level.”
Wow, does that ever sound “un-American”? Us, lower, lighten, limit??? in the land of more and bigger and better is always best?! But Alexandra is SO right and wise: “To accomplish this, she introduced her family to the celebration of Advent, a slow, methodical re-calibration of their approach to marking the holiday.”
I pulled out my Webster’s to look up the definition of “observe”: the 6th def. says “to keep or celebrate” (e.g., a holiday)
So in “keeping/observing/celebrating Christmas” her exhortation and yours Michele, to spread Advent through the month, “so Baby Jesus doesn’t have to compete with . . .on the morning of Dec. 25.” are the reminder we need to bring our focus throughout the season back to Him again and again and not just on His birthday.

Michele Morin

December 19, 2017 @ 21:41


Such great observations, Katie.
I also appreciated that angle on Alexandra’s “experiment.” So often we set ourselves up for failure by pumping expectations so high that there ‘s no way we can humanly meet them.
And may we all truly “observe” Christmas this year — wholeheartedly.


December 19, 2017 @ 19:38


What a wonderful discovery – the book AND her wisdom. Thanks for sharing this Michele. I do enjoy your book reviews.

Michele Morin

December 19, 2017 @ 21:42


This was certainly a timely find for me. Alexandra is writing from a bit different phase of life than I am presently, and yet the principles she discovered and test drove are so applicable to the mid-life adventure.

April Fields

December 19, 2017 @ 20:05


Really love this. No, I mean REALLY love it. 🙂

Michele Morin

December 19, 2017 @ 21:48


I’m really glad.
No, I mean REALLY glad.


December 20, 2017 @ 11:12


We also give our boys ornaments each year to take with them to their first home. Can you believe I lost my nativity pieces one year… I literally lost Mary and baby Jesus! That was an interesting time…

Michele Morin

December 20, 2017 @ 13:17


Liz that’s a wonderful tradition. Our two oldest boys have been so thankful for their collections of ornaments as they have decorated their first beautiful little Charlie Brown trees in their newlywed apartments. We had a dear friend who made ornaments (gorgeous rug hooked or paper mache creations–unbelievable) each year for our kids since they were born. Sadly, she went to heaven in August, and we’ve been mourning her all over again this month as so many of our ornaments were crafted by her gifted hands. We’re thankful that she is with Jesus as she suffered from dementia for the last few years of her life, but oh . . .
And what is it with packing those ornaments away and then not being able to find “that box” 11 months later? I’ve done similar things, and then they turn up, somehow.
Blessings to you, Liz. Thanks for reading.

Lisa notes

December 20, 2017 @ 20:34


Our Christmas traditions have been in flux the past few years too (why do those kids have to grow up?) so I’m learning that flexibility is key. This book sounds like a wonderful way to both be flexible AND stay rooted at the same time. Thanks for sharing this resource, Michele!

Michele Morin

December 21, 2017 @ 02:10


I appreciate this reference to flexibility AND roots. Our kids do look to us for the traditions and the dependable fun — but it’s important for us to be willing to let them go as well.
And then along come the grandchildren . . . (Hooray!)


December 21, 2017 @ 17:24


Michele, you have such a way of making reviews so personal and interesting. I so enjoy your writing, friend. Thanks for sharing; I’m making a list of books I want to look into for next Christmas season and I just added this one to the list. Our Christmases look a little different these days too, with college kids coming and adult-childrens’ work schedules, etc. But, one thing remains. The main thing. — Hope you and yours enjoy your quieter season. Advent graces to your household. xoxo

Michele Morin

December 21, 2017 @ 23:10


I love it that we are navigating so many of the same transitions at the same time, Brenda. And what a great idea to make a list of books for next year. I have a pile of old favorites that I pull out every year, and I try to add something new each year as well, but . . . true confessions: this year instead of a new Advent book, I read Jan Karon’s new novel, and loved every relaxing and comforting word.
Merry Christmas, my friend. May your days be merry and bright as you celebrate in the midst of all the changes.

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