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.”
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 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.