What began as a simple story in a manger that changed the entire world has now become a season of rush and hurry, hustle and bustle, and the focus is no longer on the humble beginnings of a King. In fact, I dare say my own spiritual life has actually suffered over the holidays in some past years because I always feel rushed and pressured. This year, with some advanced planning and preparing ahead, you and I can enjoy a different kind of holiday. I am not yet ready to “give up” presents and meals and traveling to relatives. I still like my Christmas tree and lights, but what if we could do it differently?

What if we plan ahead to do small tasks over the course of several weeks so that when Thanksgiving rolls around, we can focus on the “thanks” in Thanksgiving, and when Christmas arrives, we can truly celebrate the Christ in Christmas?

One excellent activity to keep Christ central in Christmas is to plan to spend some time each day pondering the true miracles of the season. You can do this by reading through Scripture or by using a special devotional written just for the season. Whichever you choose, get it ready early so that you can start as soon as the end of October rolls around.

The first Christmas was a simple, joyous occasion. The only celebration of Christmas happened in a simple stable. No food, no tree, no lights, no gift wrap, no Christmas lights. There was no fight over whether to say “Happy holidays!” or “Merry Christmas!” No cash registers were ringing all over town. No carolers were heard either, unless you count a choir of angels. And yet, God was glorified and the Savior’s birth was celebrated.

Now, more than two thousand years later, Christmas just does not seem complete without all the additional fuss, cookies, gifts, trees, lights, and shopping. We all know that “Christmas consumerism” is something we want to avoid. I grew up in the age of credit cards. People did not think there was anything wrong with showering their children with gifts they could not afford and then working extra hard through April to pay off the debt. As a child, Christmas came to mean a bunch of food, a mountain of gifts, decorations, and lots and lots of garbage bags filled with torn-off wrapping paper, along with special Christmas foods and gatherings of family and friends.

As an adult, I had to come to grips with that whole picture and wonder, “Where was Christ in Christmas?” Yes, we went to midnight church service. We sang the songs at church. We sang the songs at school and made all the Christmas crafts, but where was the holiness in the Christmas holiday? How on earth was Christ celebrated when I barely took the time to acknowledge the King of Kings while rushing from place to place tending to all the details?

Before the season begins, take a few minutes to ponder what you really love about Christmas. Next, take a few minutes to sit down with family members and discuss the following questions:

  • What are your favorite things that we do around Christmastime?
  • Whom do you enjoy spending time with during December?
  • What was your favorite gift to give last year?
  • What was the favorite thing you received last year?
  • What foods do you always associate with Christmas?
  • What things do you do as a family for the holidays that you really do not enjoy?

Asking these questions may help you eliminate all kinds of work and stress as you identify what is or is not important to your husband, children, and extended family. Be bold and eliminate those things that do not benefit your family. What we found to be true about the entire Christmas season was that the busier we were, the further we departed from our goal of celebrating the true meaning of Christmas. Some of the things that families do year after year are no longer pleasant or relevant. Eliminate those things, and consider what things you can do as a family this year to keep the message of Christ in Christmas.

Take notes as each person responds to that list of questions, but do not get your feelings hurt if the thing you love the best is not even on their radar. This is not a time to get defensive or to try to state your own case. Remember to ask yourself these questions too! This will be the starting point of your planning this year. This may be an eye-opening experience and may free you from some tasks you have always done—just because you thought it was necessary. When you eliminate the things that no one loves, you will find that you have more time and energy to devote to the things that really matter.

As you plan your events, try to focus more on the things that share the story of Christ and a desire to express thankfulness rather than focusing on activities that lead to consumerism and greed. Teach your children to share of themselves and to expect less. One of the ways we do this is to watch older movies and read books together that talk about a time when Christmas was more than just a reason to go to the mall. For example, the Little House on the Prairie books have stories of Christmases when times were simpler and when there was less emphasis on receiving tons of useless gifts and gadgets.

In order to have a more peaceful, focused holiday season, we must reduce some of the chaos that seems to be a part of many holidays. To do this, one thing that really helps is to reduce the sheer number of decisions to be made. Once a plan is in place, it is usually easy to follow the plan. Tired, busy people tend to make rushed decisions and are forced to live with the consequences. So, right now—before the “holiday rush” begins:

1. Get a little notebook you can carry in your purse or a binder and that you can easily grab and take with you. That is where you can record all of the little details that can be easily forgotten and cause stress later.

2. Start making some decisions ahead of time:

  • What is our total budget for gifts?
  • Where will we capture gift ideas?
  • What food will need to be prepared?
  • What schedule will we follow for our household duties and special events?
  • How will we conduct our homeschool? Will we set aside some subjects during the holidays?
  • Will we send Christmas cards this year, and if so, to whom?
  • Will we have a family photo made?
  • What traditions are important to our family?
  • How will we wrap our gifts this year?
  • What books/movies/CDs do I want to allow the children to enjoy this year during the holidays?

If you can’t make all your decisions right away, that is fine. Take little steps! Being organized, reducing unwanted traditions, and making decisions ahead of time will all go a long way toward a peaceful, Christ-filled Christmas. Once you have the answers you need, get out a calendar and schedule one or two small tasks to do each day. Doing this will help you complete your preparations well ahead of schedule. With a couple of months to go, you will have ample time to work peacefully and joyfully on those things that your family truly treasures.

Malia Russell is the blessed wife to Duncan, thankful mother to five children (newborn to 21), and an author, conference speaker and director of www.homemaking911.com and www.wheatnthings.com.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: December 6, 2013