When You're Too Busy for Festive Fun

small boxes wrapped in brown paper with Christmas trees and candy cane ribbons

The past several years, Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone as I sat back and wondered, “Where was the fun in all that?” Typically, I’m your Pumpkin Spice Latte Queen, the one trying to find the perfect dog-barking version of Jingle Bells. I prefer holly—love jolly. But I haven’t felt the festive spirit in a while. Why? Well, I think time has a lot to do with the gap between checking a day off the calendar and actually taking up space within the day.

Humans don’t comprehend time well—guess it comes with the turf of imperfection, but we’re really good at looking ten years down the road, regretting five minutes ago, and forgetting that the present is constantly transforming into the past, flitting by without any chance of returning. So how do we make the moment count? How do we invest in the festivities that leave us saying, “That was fun!”? To be honest, I’m no pro at this. In fact, I’m simply sharing my 2021 strategy for ways to be conscious of making days count. Nonetheless, here are three ways I’m staying focused on the beauty of this season, even when I’m too busy:

1. Invest in a daily activity that keeps the holiday grounded.

In my nannying days, as I was struggling through grad school, I watched a family create a “thankful” pumpkin. After a trip to the pumpkin patch, they settled a pumpkin on their fireplace that they would write on, highlighting what they were thankful for that day. It was a morning activity that was part of their routine, a way for all of them to come together and celebrate what they were grateful for. Of course, the kiddos’ were hilarious, with “band aids” and “Octonauts” scribbled on the pumpkin, while the parents’ daily definitions of “thankful” ran a little deeper. Regardless of the object of their thankfulness, the thankful pumpkin brought them together each morning and set their minds on the reason for the season—a time to pause and remember the good of the past, absorb the good of the present, and look to the good that a good God would bring in the future.

Maybe the thankful pumpkin isn’t for you, but there are plenty of other options. Your family could spend each weekend raking leaves (then jumping in them). Or you could try taking some time each evening to let the kids script a Thanksgiving play they can share with all the family. Regardless of the method you choose, let the project take up significant, scheduled time to constantly remind your brain, “It’s time to invest in this season.”

2. Get creative with date nights—for the whole family.

A military brat, I was accustomed to lots of one-on-one time with my mom, but I loved it. She was so good at taking my little sister and me to the park, stopping by Dairy Queen for ice cream, or letting us visit the library each time a special guest came. The holidays should make this concept of one-on-one time, with a spouse or the kids, even more fun. Weekly, or at least bi-monthly, take some personal time with a member of your family but incorporate the season’s festivities. One of my favorite memories is when my husband scheduled us to take a sleigh ride through the snow, being pulled by two beautiful horses, Annie and Oakley. Meanwhile, we’re big fans of picking out each other’s tacky Christmas sweaters that we’ll wear to dinner that night.

These moments can be silly (with the kids), nauseatingly romantic (for the couples), or plain exciting for both parties. Either way, while one-on-one time creates deeper relational bonds, the holidays create the perfect setting to (pumpkin) spice up your memory-making.

3. Realize what needs to go.

Yes, this time of year packs everyone’s schedules with extra errands and extra stress. More cooking, more time with the in-laws, more time budgeting to make sure you can buy a present for that one cousin you see once every five years. But this can’t be an excuse to ditch the joy that comes in November and December. While I won’t encourage you to forget buying the gift for your cousin, I will challenge you to recognize how often you’re scrolling on your phone, how often refreshing your social media home page robs you of time you could use to rest from all the crazy. I wouldn’t dare tell you to ditch the in-laws, but I will ask that you consider how often you’re absorbed with keeping up with the Jones’ decorations across the road—all for keeping up your pride.

God paved the way for these holidays to allow us an opportunity to find rest, to discover a slower, sweeter momentum in the everyday routine. But, if we refuse to let go of needless habits consuming our time, we’ll step into New Year’s Day carrying the same exhaustion, carrying the same question of “Where was the fun in all that?” Again, I’m no pro at taking it easy, dropping my need to scroll through Instagram to carve a pumpkin instead. But I am a pro at recognizing how often I waste time, especially during the holidays, and I’m more than ready for a change of pace. I crave the peace I find in a crackling fire, apple cider-scented candles, and Oh, Holy Night. But these things require my senses to be prepared, willing, distraction-free to take them in.

This year, I’m slowing down. I’m creating space to rest, to seek God, to find His love amidst the bustling chaos of all the holidays sometimes I ask of us. I’m learning that it’s on me when my perspective of the shopping lists and Secret Santas and office parties create an internal “Ugh!” And to combat that, I’m choosing to find purpose, a slower but surer one, in the everyday as November and December weave us, mold us, and shape us for a new year.

Join me!

Photo credit: Juliana Malta/Unsplash

Peyton Garland is an author and coffee shop hopper who loves connecting people to a grace much bigger than expected. Her debut book, Not So by Myself, was promoted by Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and Endorsed by TED Talk speaker and creator of the More Love Letters Movement, Hannah Brencher. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Josh, and their two gremlin dogs, Alfie and Daisy.

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