Even before setting our table for Thanksgiving, we are inundated with invitations to take advantage of early Black Friday sales, to decorate the perfect tree and to buy the perfect gifts. Moms are already busy before adding Christmas to the schedule. Before you let the wave of messages overwhelm you, stop. Take charge of this Christmas by planning to enjoy it thoroughly. Why not make it one of your best Christmas holidays ever? This Christmas checklist offers ideas for more choices encouraging you to create Christmas intentionally for your family. Consider this Christmas checklist to create new memories for your family.
1. Deep Breaths
Plan now to fully enjoy this season. Christmas memories should not be limited to the day of Christmas, but extended throughout the entire season. Start your brainstorming by determining what you will purposely do this season. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11 we read, “…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands”. This speaks to purpose and intentional living. Apply this to life in your home. For our family one of the first things we do is select an advent study and the concerts that we will attend. We say “yes” to some options and “no” to others. Choose first to be inspired by the meaning of the season. Know more about the story that was the origin of this beautiful season full of giving and music.
For our family, some of the most meaningful memories around Christmas are spent reading together as a family. A box full of Christmas books is packed with our decorations. It comes down with the tree. Advent topics we focus on during this season range from the virgin mother Mary, the wise men or prophesies that foretell the Savior’s birth. My youngest son has already requested that we study all of the angels in the Christmas story for our Bible exploration this Christmas. Each Christmas offers an opportunity to contemplate a new aspect of Jesus’ birth.
Make a list of the people you will buy gifts for this Christmas. My list includes immediate family, extended family, coaches, teachers (school classes, church teachers for children and for us), pastors, neighbors and a few close friends. Establish a budget. If you don’t decide how much you will spend for each person, it is impossible to be fair. The likelihood that you will overspend is high without a budget before you shop. While it seems strange for a female to say, I do not love to shop. In recent years on-line shopping has been my favorite way to work through my list. Granted, the stores often have sales that I cannot see on-line, but the free shipping and delivery to my door is so appealing. Shopping in my pajamas with a fireplace blazing, the Christmas tree lit, a hot cup of coffee, cozy socks and my furry friends snuggled nearby is entirely better than working to survive a crushing crowd at the mall. Whatever your favorite pattern of shopping, formulate a strategy to simplify the process.
I ask each of my children to think about items that they need and a few on their “want” list. They also suggest gifts in the $10-$20 range. When I originally wrote this blog my children ranges from ages 16-25. Now they are all in their 20’s. As children they always bought gifts for each other with their own money. On Christmas morning some of the sweetest interaction was the kids hugging and thanking a sibling for a thoughtful gift. This will always be one of my favorite moments.
Stockings allow me to gather little things that fit their interests. One of our sons used to play my guitar frequently, so I ordered some interesting thumb picks for his stocking one year. Another one is working to set up his living space, so I might tuck a clever kitchen tool in his stocking. The girls are the easiest as cozy socks, make up and other girlie items are simple. (I forgot to mention that the boys love beef jerky in their stockings.)
In my early twenties, I worked as a decorator for a store that put up Christmas trees along with decorations. We placed new furniture as we rearranged homes. People often wanted to buy these pieces after Christmas. Working with a team of helpers, the main decorator and I put up Christmas decorations from late October to mid December. These experiences taught me to simplify. Live greenery from outside or faux greenery both offer valuable options. Using greenery extensively with attractive bows and few meaningful pieces creates sophistication along with a inviting presentation. Over the years my own decorations accumulated, so I have been purposefully sharing my extras with others. If you have an abundance of decorations, consider sharing some of your excess with a newly married couple, or perhaps a single mom.
My routine of decorating includes first pulling the tree down, fluffing it and arranging all the lights. (I have a pre-lit tree that only worked as a pre-lit tree for the first two years. Now I have to string 1000 white lights on the branches.) I have been threatening to buy a new tree, but my frugality is holding me back.
Once the tree is up and all lights working, I take just one day (usually a Saturday) for putting up Christmas decor. The areas that are set up first are the front door, back door, middle of the kitchen table, the mantle, stairs and one to two items near each sink near the house. I save decorating the tree for last. It is my favorite part. Christmas music is playing loudly. Something yummy like wassail is on the stove. Food for the day is in the crockpot. When the “decorating day” is done, everything that is left is packed up and put back in the attic. I don’t let this process drag on. What is done is done. Anything that did not go up can be used next year. This is one of my most freeing plans to soak up the goodness of the season.
Turn on the lights and serve up some hot chocolate to your favorite humans. Simplifying is liberating!
4. Kind Gestures
Sometimes an opportunity to exercise generosity just happens, but most often it is intentional. As I enter this busy season, I gather up a few $1-$2 items similar to the teacher gifts. Once bagged and tagged, I put them aside to give to cashiers in the drive-through window or a retail location. Some years the kids made ornaments (love Oriental Trading craft kits). Other years a hot chocolate packet with a biscotti bagged in clear plastic offered cheer to tired workers. The tag reads something like, “Thank you! We appreciate you! Merry CHRISTmas! May your season be touched by the love of the baby born in a manger.” Dream up your own wording. It is key that the gifts are wrapped, tagged and handy to be shared. Ours are kept in the car or my tote bag. A kind gesture goes a long way in giving God attention. The kids practice what to say. Their communication and hugs are always well received.
II Corinthians 6:6 reminds me that I am to live in “purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love.” Demonstrating kindness communicates sincere love. Our natural tendencies are toward selfishness, so generosity speaks of something supernatural.
The most important thing about hospitality is how you communicate with those who visit your home. It really is not about being perfect or serving food that looks like it just came out of a cookbook. It is the welcoming that is felt when entering your home. When hosting guests for a meal, if it is easy, set the table the day ahead of the event. Prepare foods that taste best when assembled or even cooked ahead of time. Some of my favorite meals to serve are combined in the crockpot. Roast, pork loin or chicken with potatoes and vegetables combine easily. Another well-received dish is our lasagna recipe with tossed salad. Warm brownies or cookies combined with ice cream easily delight guests.
Many of us are anticipating overnight guests during the holidays. Others will be the overnight guests. If hosting, be sure to create the coziest place to sleep with comfortable sheets, a choice of firm or soft pillows, and lots of blankets. Towels left on the end of the bed with a basket of small toiletries is welcomed. See Preparing for Overnight Guests for other great ideas.
If you are the guest, be sure to pack a thoughtful thank you present for your host and hostess who undoubtedly worked hours to prepare for your visit. Some of my favorite hostess gifts are coffee, Williams Sonoma kitchen towels, hand soap, cozy socks, candles, fresh bread with homemade jam just to mention a few ideas.
Recently I stayed in a home with the top bathroom drawer full of friendly items for visiting guests. It included small travel size shampoo and lotions, but also toothpaste and toothbrush. My host also added a few fun items like special samples of face creams and shower gel. A water bottle each night is also appreciated in case your guest needs to take medicine or is just always thirsty before bed. (That’s me.) It is the little things that show thoughtfulness. For me, I always start to prepare for overnight guests by cleaning their bedroom and bathroom space first.
6. Music & Quiet time
One of the paramount joys of the Christmas season is listening to a plethora of music. Select all of your favorite music. Then find a new artist or music projects. Locate concerts in the area. Make plans to attend with a few of your favorite people.
Schedule times to just sit near your tree or fireplace and listen to the music of the season. Play music loudly in your vehicle. Use instrumental music as a background for longer prayer times. Remember… wherever you are, be all there. Be grateful for blessings. Ps 50:23 reminds us,“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me…” Be grateful for the gift of Christ as a baby. Contemplate the miracle of His virgin birth, the wise men and the significance of the shepherd’s song. Purpose time to be quiet to think, meditate and worship.
Commit time to be quiet. Take a long bath. Call a friend. Cook a new recipe. Read the Christmas story out loud. Share hot chocolate with your hubby. Light a new candle while you read. Drive around to admire the Christmas lights. Sit out under the stars. Read a book. Book a massage. Take a walk. Go to bed early. Smile more.
7. Christmas meals
While preparing food for Christmas meals seems to be daunting, it can be manageable if the goal is the enjoy our people. For me, I select food that can be prepared ahead of time. True confession here. I love to read recipe books. Some of the ones that I am currently reading and cooking through are Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines and Love Welcome Serve: Recipes that Gather and Give by Amy Nelson Hannon. Both are just overflowing with wonderfulness!!
Let me just say that Christmas celebrations occur when we are all physically together. Recently, I have become a mother-in-law. Combine that with grown children, our schedules are more complicated than when they were younger. I never want to be that grouchy, demanding mom who is demanding that my grown children and their spouses come on certain days. I want to enjoy them when they want to come. I suspect they will come more with that relaxed approach.
My menu for Christmas (whenever that celebration occurs) always includes these items:
Breakfast: Quiche with meat and cheese, homemade cinnamon rolls, fresh pineapple, blueberries, slab bacon and a variety of other yummy foods.
Main meal: Brisket, smoked turkey or ham, smashed potatoes, three vegetables, yeast rolls, dessert
When having overnight guests in the winter season, I create a hot drink tray with hot tea bags, hot chocolate with fixings (marshmallows, chocolate shavings, grated cinnamon and peppermint sticks), and hot cider packets. The coffee station offers creamers, sweeteners and biscotti. The stovetop potpourri is beyond delightful!
Fast foods for breakfast guests might include quiche, an oatmeal bar or bagels along with other easy to grab options. Other easy meals for our family involve a variety of soups, chili, lasagna, cordon bleu and homemade pizza.
8. Service projects
With a desire to be Christ-like, I must daily seek opportunities to serve others. In Romans 12:10 the scripture encourages us to, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” During December a plethora of options exist to give to others. This should be our pattern throughout the year. Some of my favorite ideas to savor Christmas include identifying a need and meeting it. True joy is in giving more than receiving.
Here are some of my choice selections:
- Adopt a family in need
- A widow
- Adopt boys from the children’s home
- A POW survivor luncheon with gifts and thank you cards from school kids
- Samaritan’s Purse boxes
- A family whose primary wage earner is recently out of work
- A single mom and her children
- A caregiver
- A newly immigrated family
- A missionary family home from their mission field
- Men and women at drug and alcohol recovery centers
“Compassion means entering the suffering of another in order to lead the way out.”
― Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, author of The Gospel Comes With a House Key
9. Lonely people
This is easy, yet hard. Sometimes we forget to imagine the daily life of those arounds us. Sit quietly and think about people in your daily life that might live alone. Some of the people mentioned above would benefit from the gift of your time. Also think of families that are new to town. Include them in concerts, drives to look at lights, carol singing, service projects, or in a Christmas meal.
When I hear Psalm 147:3 about how “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” I know that I am called to be the hands and feet of Christ by looking for the lost and lonely.
10. Time with hubby, kids and extended family.
This is my last and favorite item on the checklist. Many things about the Christmas season are magical if you slow down and savor them with someone you love. So whether it is a quiet evening by the fireplace with my husband, a shopping trip with a child to help them buy presents for their siblings, making Christmas cookies with my children and their friends, a kind gesture to an exhausted retail worker, an evening at a men’s drug and alcohol recovery center, a quiet evening playing board games with some Christmas music in the background, or a few days after Christmas at a beach house with my extended family, I appreciate all the blessings surrounding me.
So, before this season officially begins, stop and consider this checklist. As busy moms we have expectations placed on us. However, many of the time consuming choices are often selective. Whenever it is up to you, be intentional. Remember that time is one of God’s gifts to you this season. Choose how you will spend TIME this Christmas.
Join the conversation on this topic @ Embrace Your Everyday podcast.
MORE ideas for Christmas: