We serve a creative God who loves to celebrate. Since we're created in His image, it's not unexpected that we humans would love celebrations, too. Knowing this, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate many events each year, each with its own traditions, ceremonies, and foods. We in the 21st century are no different--we love a party. But if we don't guard ourselves, it's easy to become weary in all the well-doing of the holidays, too tired to enjoy the refreshment they were created to bring to our souls.
We women often pressure ourselves to be perfect. We think the house, the children, and the food must be just right. We try to prove to our friends and family (and ourselves) that we are Super Moms. Our holidays become harried-days.
The word "holiday" finds its root in the words "Holy Day." How can we plan our celebrations so they bless us instead of burden us? A good first step is to determine the essence, the true meaning, of each special day. Then we can plan activities that highlight the day's purpose and don't overwhelm us.
When Firstborn Philip turned two, I invited all of the local relatives over for dinner and birthday cake. Never mind that I was still post-partum with Newborn Nate. I was organized. I could clean the house, make dinner, and decorate a Kermit the Frog cake. Never mind that I'd never attempted a shaped cake, or even used pastry tubes before. I was Super Mom! Prepare to be impressed!
Here's the play-by-play: put boys down for naps. Bake cake. It falls apart. Follow directions for prepping pan this time. Mix up another cake. Last egg into the batter is bad. Dump the batter. Borrow an egg. Mix up another batch. Third try works! Mix frosting. Birthday Boy wakes up. "What's a surprise, Mommy?" Bribe him to stay out of the kitchen. Start squeezing hundreds of froggy-green stars onto the cake. Newborn Nate wakes up at 110 decibels. Try to nurse him while squeezing frosting through pastry tube. Fail. Wonderful Husband comes home. Super Mom bursts into tears. Wonderful Husband assigns her to nurse Newborn Nate and amuse Birthday Boy while he finishes the cake. Super Mom is relieved. Wonderful Husband places finished cake on top of refrigerator, safely out of Birthday Boy's sight. Super Mom, now revived, clears dining room table for dinner, sliding fruit bowl on top of refrigerator out of the way. Did I say that Super Mom is too short to see the top of the refrigerator? Moral of story: recognize limitations--simplify celebrations.
Subsequent birthdays at our house featured several different traditions--none of which involved a shaped cake! The birthday child could choose his favorite breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. Mom retained scheduling rights as to which days surrounding the birthday the meals might be served. Each child could host a birthday party for friends at age eight. By that age, the guests could feed, clean, and toilet themselves and were still young enough to enjoy Mom's corny games like Pin the Tail on the Pig, relay races, and the water balloon toss. This policy of only one "friends" party per lifetime saved lots of money, energy, and figuring out where to store yet more toys that the guests gave as presents. Lest you think we were hermits or party-poopers, we often had friends over to visit and play--just not related to birthday celebrations. We did invite the local relatives for the boys' birthdays every year, however. This was a great way to keep everyone in touch, share family stories, and teach the joys of multi-generational living.
Do consider marking your child's spiritual birthday and commemorating his decision to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. A time of reflection, re-telling his conversion story, and praying for God's blessing during the coming year would be appropriate, along with any other festivities you wish to include.
Christmas is a time of mixed feelings for many people. Maybe you didn't grow up in a Christian family. Perhaps you associate the holidays with drunken relatives or the highway death of a loved one. Perhaps it was a time when your mom went all out with cooking, cleaning, baking, and wrapping gifts--and tensions ran high because she couldn't get it all done. If you do not have happy memories of the season, determine to rewrite your story from this point forward. Start your own traditions, ones that both highlight the meaning of Christmas and fit in with this season of your life. Be selective--remember, you're adding to your already heavy workload, so choose wisely. Here are some traditions that have worked in our family.
In place of Christmas cards, I send photocopied letters, personalizing each with a brief note. Sometimes they're sent late, and one year I didn't send any at all. No one has disowned us yet. I'm even considering emailing this year's batch. Is that allowed?
Our large local extended family always shares Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, rotating between homes. The hostess prepares the entrée and develops a menu of options for the guests to bring. This way no one ends up making the whole meal, and the foods still coordinate with each other.
Christmas gift-giving began as a way to remember both the gifts of the Wise Men and the greatest gift of all--Jesus. Unfortunately, we often allow buying and wrapping presents to become the focal point of the Christmas celebration, depleting our budgets and ourselves in the process.
Gratitude is a powerful antidote to greed. Our family learned to open gifts one at a time, stopping to thank the giver (if present) with a hug or kiss. We made a point of sitting down together to write thank-you notes. Little ones can dictate theirs for you to write. A picture of the gift with the child brings a smile to a distant relative who couldn't attend your celebration.
What to do with Christmas gifts after you receive them? That's a tough one. If you're really ruthless, you can decree that nothing comes into the house unless another item goes out. We all seem to have the "I might need this someday" attitude. It's as if we think God can't provide for our future as well as He has provided for our past. Work with each family member to find a home for new items. If it has an assigned place, it is more likely to be put away each time. Consider rotating old toys into storage for awhile.
We did several things to keep the focus on Jesus' birth. Each evening during Advent, we opened a new little door in our Advent calendar, reading a stanza of the poem until Christmas Eve when we finally opened every door. Hearing the poem every night, the boys had much of it memorized by Christmas, and they still recall it as adults.
In the early years, the boys acted out the Christmas story on Christmas Eve, each doing several parts. I played the part of Mary, and whichever baby was youngest got to be Baby Jesus. Visiting grandparents enjoyed the boys' creativity as they wore makeshift costumes and made a donkey from cardboard and a wagon. The play was followed by a birthday cake for Jesus (not shaped!).
Consider the ages of your children when decorating. After our firstborn pulled the Christmas tree on top of himself, I decided to make unbreakable ornaments--quilted hearts to remind us of the Love that came down at Christmas. We used those for many years. When the children were older, we changed to more fragile ornaments. We wanted the tree to reflect the meaning of the season, a silent witness not only to our family, but to my many piano students and other guests.
Ultimately, we ended up with two trees: one in the music room and a second in the sunroom where students wait for lessons. The music room tree is more formal. We call it the Creator Tree because everything on it reminds us of the Lord or one of His names. Each ornament is either gold (His kingship), crystal (His purity), or pearl (He is the Pearl of Great Price). It is topped with a golden crown. Gold and pearl beaded garland is arranged on the boughs. I purchased the decorations at half price for about the same amount I would have spent on a new dress.
The Creation Tree in the sunroom has lots of birds, moose, bears, and other ornaments, reflecting some of the things we enjoy as gifts from the Creator. We hang a replica of the crown of thorns at the top as a reminder to us that men used items from the creation in their rebellion against the Creator and that the story of Christmas culminates at Easter.
Don't feel that you have to try every new idea you hear about for your family celebrations. Ask God to help you center your celebrations on Him, keeping it simple, yet meaningful. Your family needs a refreshed and joyful you, not a cranky, perfectionist Super Mom.
©2007 by Marcia K. Washburn, who writes from her nineteen years of experience homeschooling five sons. Adapted with permission from an article first published in The CHEC Update, 4th Qtr. 2005. For information about her workshops, articles, or books, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-842-4776.