As the holiday season descends with an additional checklists, some of us panic. Others fall into depression. Still others hide hoping that the season will pass quickly. Even those who enter this month prepared, find the pace daunting. During this season, parents find themselves overrun with a list of additional responsibilities due to the season. On a daily basis our task list consumes most of the hours. With children, spouse, housework, errands and home maintenance, there always seems to be a shortage of time. Continued re-sorting of priorities and repetitive chores necessitate most of our energy during the normal days. The expectations of the Christmas season just adds changes and additions to our regular days.
Expecting less of myself is a great place to start when heading into December. Normally, planning to do numerous things ahead creates less stress once we are into the Christmas season. Buying gifts for teachers and neighbors ahead, preparing Christmas card address labels along with cards and mailing most of the gifts for extended family away helps eliminate much on the inventory of tasks. If I relied only on what I could accomplish during December, much would be left undone. Unexpected life events occur delaying the most well-intentioned plans. Knowing how to eliminate and simplify is paramount.
If it is too late to plan ahead, make notes on what might simplify the season and plan to do it next year. Go on from where you are today.
When planning for the above mentioned gifts, purchasing no fuss, non-perishable items completes this off the checklist with ease. Engaging the children as helpers makes work more fun and usually means it is done faster. This is the intentional. Depending on the child, his or her help could mean things take longer. Decide it is more about what they are gaining from the helping and giving than being efficient. Reach for long range benefits. Don’t be alarmed if one of your “helpers” open the outer wrapper on a gift you are delivering. Don’t laugh. This has happened to me more than once. Just add a post-it note to the recipient. They will understand the excitement of the gift when they open it. Also, don’t be surprised if an eager helper decides to wrap Christmas gifts with duct tape. This happened to me when one of my helpers responded to a lack of Scotch tape. This happy helper was delighted with his ingenuity. His enthusiasm to wrap his newly purchased presents was just what I was hoping to generate in my children as they gave gifts to their siblings. Instead of being upset that there were large strips of duct tape under the tree on pretty paper, I smiled because this unexpected moment represented the happiness of my child.
When hosting a party, preparing a dinner or considering what to bring to a recital reception…think simple. If time allows a complicated dish, do it. While fancy may be in your list of skills, sometimes the uncomplicated choice is best when pressed for time. Often what matters is that it is done and you are able to enjoy your gift or your company! Hospitality counts more than the actual food. High hopes sometimes involve a prepared moment that comes off beautifully. Preparing ahead avoids a great deal of stress, but sometimes that is not a choice. Do your best. Low expectations celebrate that moment because it is about attitude, not accomplishments. Just remember to do something simple when stress creeps into your best intentions. Do what works. We remember the joy and the celebration more than the food and gifts.
For my children
High hopes for my children to absorb the true meaning of Christmas often comes when I can keep my own priorities straight. Starting my list of activities for Christmas launches with the gifts we give others. For example, this year we will take a small thank you to all of our teachers at classes, at church and in music. A bag of fresh simmer pot potpourri made from oranges, lemons, cinnamon, cloves and cranberries proved extremely popular last year. So these fragrant gift bags will be shared with neighbors and friends. Another easy teacher gift has been hot chocolate and biscotti. Both of these are easy and meaningful. One has to be prepared fresh, while the other can be prepared ahead.
One of my favorite Christmas activities in years past has been to participate in an Ex POW Luncheon. Prior to the anticipated Friday lunch, hundreds of students and adults wrote thank you notes to the men. Each soldier submitted a bio including details about their time of service, being capturing, captivity, spending Christmas as a prisoner and the account of their rescue. All of this was just so heart-wrenching while at the same time heart-warming. Each year approximately ten Ex POWs attended this event to honor them for their service. Kind gestures and honoring actions will pack the day with appreciation. Students from my Omnibus class and my writing classes would dress in their Sunday best to escort these men through the Peabody Hotel to their special lunch. Most importantly on that day, we listened to their stories. Our attentiveness to these men promises to be recalled long after the day is gone. While this is a “service project” to these POWs, the blessing will be primarily ours.
This year we have identified several situations of people who need encouragement. Our plans are almost finalized for a date where we will go as a family to share some of our songs, give homemade treats and offer some Christmas cheer. I don’t think it is about what we do or give as much as it it the caring and thought extended in the sharing. Who do you know that needs encouragement? Is there a caregiver who is beyond fatigue? Do you know a parent with a special needs friend? Do you have a neighbor who just moved in? Do you know someone who has lost a family member this year? Do you have a friend struggling with cancer? Do you know a single mom working so hard to keep everything together?
Low expectations for the children will include alertness to the business prevalent in this beautiful season. Encourage more rest. When lack of sleep is inevitable, expect grouchiness. When we are all tired, I often instruct the children to be kind or quiet. Fatigue can make monsters of otherwise civil people. So planning less, planning sleep and planning recuperating time is wise. Sometimes I declare a sabbatical. As a family we pull inward. We stay home. We catch up on our sleep, healthy food, clean our rooms, clean our cars, clean our home, take walks, give hugs, talk, stock our refrigerator and most importantly spend time with God. During Christmas insist on more healthy food to offset the excessive sugar intake that can be anticipated. In considering what is healthy expectations related to my children here are some thoughts:
- I do expect my children to look for others who need extra kindness.
- I do expect my children to write thank you notes to those who invest in them like their grandparents, their teachers and others who love them.
- I do expect my children to think of what they will do to earn money to buy gifts for their siblings. The small gifts exchanged along with hugs from sibling to sibling is one of my favorite things we do all season.
- I do expect my children to offer kind words to those working in retail or food service. Several years we prepared homemade ornaments with a verse and our Christmas greeting to pass out to those who ring us up at registers. Since I don’t love going shopping, this would be the cashier at the grocery store, the teller at the bank or a waitress. During the Christmas season people are accosted by grouchy, impatient people than usual. Be the customer who is kind.
- I do expect my children to focus more on giving than receiving.
For my husband
Most fellows are oblivious to the anxiousness that overwhelms us as we look at this month and its myriad of additional activities. More events may dictate dressing up or going to an event after a tired day of work. However, we may have expectations that family will join in the decorating of the Christmas tree as we fix hot chocolate and play Christmas music only to realize they just want to enjoy the finished decorations. Most are content to indulge in the hot chocolate and come back when the tree is finished. For many men, Christmas is mostly about the feasting and festivities. Gifts are great to receive, but locating and wrapping a gift for their wife is just about all that can be expected of most men. Imagine if they had stockings to stuff along with gifts for teachers, neighbors, co-workers, parents and the kids. Whew!
I remember two Christmas stockings that I bought when I was first married. In my romantic mind I thought I would buy up thoughtful, compact gifts in the months prior to Christmas for my husband’s stocking. Along with some practical gifts, he would have the perfectly stuffed stocking. In my mind we would exchange stockings. Needless to say, in those early married years he would forget about my stocking. This was not something he expected with Christmas. He is an overly generous man who is thoughtful and indulges with meaningful gifts. Filling a stocking for his wife was just not on his list. Over the years, I decided to relinquish this silly “expectation”.
My reality is far more valuable than a high hope. That is enough.
Noticing what your spouse contributes during this busy time and voicing gratitude is critical. Gratitude at my house means thanking him for helping me haul the Christmas down from the attic and listening to me strategize about gifts for our extended families and our kids. Since we are both musical, we love to attend selected musical performances during this season. Our teamwork plan means that he works hard to provide what we enjoy each day, not only at Christmas. I am grateful that he is here. Many moms are doing Christmas all alone. If your man is present and engaged, tell him thank you as soon as you see him today. My husband eagerly reads the Christmas story to all of us. More importantly, he reads the Bible to all of us each morning as we enjoy our coffee. This is a gift all 365 days of the year.
As this season approaches, high hopes of peace and kindness float through my mind.
Hopes of repaired relationships.
Hopes of more family time.
Hopes of Advent celebrations.
People from all walks of life and religious convictions loudly belt out Christmas carols. Truly, God must be smiling as so many call out his name during this season. For those who do not know him, many will attend events where the story of His birth is performed in plays and magnified in some of the most majestic music man produces. Our thoughts often dwell on gratefulness during this season. All this to celebrate! So, in addition to what this season is for those of us who personally love Christ, I also hope that a new worshipper will be born this season by my celebrating, my giving and my sharing.
May I drop my expectations of perfection and organization for myself and others.
May I give others the grace I so often need.
May I demonstrate Christ’s love whenever and wherever this season finds me.
Low expectations buffer me from disappointment. That is truth. This thinking frees me to savor all that is my reality. Breathe in and enjoy. Wherever you are, be all there. Don’t miss the blessings of every day. Name out loud the simple gifts of every day.
For next year
With the idea of high hopes, we will welcome the next year. Our hope is for a year as good as the one we leave or maybe even better. Our hope is for improved relationships and new, sweet memories. Our hope is for more time spent knowing God. With expectations properly placed low, all is better than anticipated.
Disappointment does not dim our joy.
Expectations can be a thief of our joy.
Master expectations. Control this joy-thief!
The next year offers a clean slate. This is great news for areas that need repair or redoing. The new year promises a fresh start where it is warranted. High hopes offer exhilaration. So dream a little!!