No matter what you believe or don’t believe, part of cultivating a good life is just being a good person – plain and simple. Obviously there are good people doing good things everywhere – regardless of age, race, or religion. I hope that everyone can benefit from even a teeny tiny part of this post, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas. Another part of cultivating a good life is respecting the right that we all have to believe and worship as we choose. I know we are all so grateful for this freedom and privilege and blessing.
That said, we are now in the Christmas season. I am a Christian, and many of you are Christian … so I wanted to share with you some very tangible ways that we can all stay focused on what really matters during this time. There is far too much attention on the commercial side of things, far too much focus on stuff that doesn’t matter. Far too much unnecessary stress. Today I am sharing some thoughts on how we can strive to stay focused on what Christmas is all about.
1. Quiet time to stay focused. One of the most important ways we can start each day is soaking up the stillness of the morning. Trust me, I really struggle with being consistent with this because I often go to bed way too late. But when I prioritize waking up a few minutes early to pray, study the scriptures, meditate, ponder, etc. I am not only getting started on the right foot for that day, but I am blessing my family. What I mean is – I am more spiritually prepared for the day. I am “fed” and nurtured by putting God first in my day. As a wife and mother and leader in our home, I need to put first things first in order to best serve my family.
2. Nativities as play things. My friend Aimee says “We love nativities. We have a few that are specifically for kids so they can touch, hold, arrange, play, etc. I LOVE it when my kids sit and look and play with all the characters of the nativity.” My friend Lydia does something similar. They have nativity dress-up clothes to act out the story of the birth of Christ every Christmas. Instead of reserving these items for that one occasion, she leaves the basket of clothes out and accessible throughout the holiday season and her kids love dressing up and talking about the story.
3. Christmas morning tradition. Aimee also shared that before they open presents their family gathers around the Christmas tree and they share testimonies first. This means that they share expressions of gratitude, and remind one another about what they believe, and why they celebrate Christmas.
4. Involve the kids in service. Sure, it’s easier to just do things ourselves most of the time, but what does that teach the children? My friend Sydney says that she makes sure her kid are involved in actually handing the canned food over for a canned food drive, going up to the door when delivering treats or neighbor gifts, being involved in choosing or making gifts for their teacher, etc. One of our family’s favorite memories ever was “doorbell ditching” a family, where we left boxes of wrapped presents at their front door. The anticipation of tip-toeing up to the front door (in the rain) and deciding when was the right moment to ring the doorbell, and then sprinting off into the darkness so that we wouldn’t get caught? Truly a priceless memory for our kids. It wouldn’t have been the same if it were just mom + dad “running an errand”.
5. Learn about Jesus. He is the reason for the season, after all. To be sure that they are continually learning about the Savior, my friend Lydia does this with her young family (but it’s also applicable/adaptable for those without kids): Each day in December they focus on one characteristic or aspect of the life of Jesus. This is usually very casual and very short & sweet as they sit around the table for dinner. One day might be “Jesus is the Light of the World” and they read a related scripture and sing a song and light candles. Another day might be “Jesus calmed the sea” and another day might be “Jesus wants me to be thankful”.
6. Random acts of service. Each day throughout the season, my friend Melanie and her family are sure to do at least one small act of kindness for another – usually someone who is not expecting it. I’ve been inspired to do the same and have been enjoying this so much already. For example, Melanie’s kids called their aunt on her birthday and sang to her. They paid for the car behind them in the drive-through. They put a note and candy in the mailbox for their mail man. There are so many small ways to brighten someone else’s day.
7. What gifts will we give? Brandi and her family focus on how the 3 wise men brought gifts to Jesus when he was born and this turns into a discussion of what “gift” they can give to the Savior in the coming year. For example, one child will try hard to be a peacemaker. Another wants to work on saying their prayers. And so on. My friend Andrea does this as well and they put their written-down gifts inside a little ornament box on the tree and read them the following year. My friend Tresure does a similar thing in her family. Each family member writes their “gift” on a piece of paper and they all put their thing in a box, which is then wrapped and tied with a pretty bow. That gift sits on a shelf where the whole family can see it all year long, and it serves as a reminder. My sister-in-law Melinda shared that in their family, the kids each choose carefully 3 of their good toys that they will give to another child that is not as fortunate.
8. Books. There are endless Christmas books available and sooo many good ones! My friend Carrie shared with me that in their family, they are sure to read a Christmas book every night during the holiday season. Specifically, they choose books that include touching stories about the true spirit of Christmas. They discuss how the characters in the stories have done Christlike acts, and it motivates them to do the same.
9. Charitable acts. Sometimes charity comes in the form of money. One of my brothers and his wife started a new tradition in their family last year after their dear friends lost their little daughter to cancer. Instead of buying gifts for neighbors and colleagues they decided to give a lump sum of money to St. Jude’s. They, and their children, are reminded during that process of how blessed they are to be healthy, and to be together. My brother has survived cancer twice now, and I know how much this means to their family.
10. Advent calendar. Another brother and sister-in-law have a twist on their advent calendar. There is still a little treat for the kids for each day, but there is also a scripture for the day; a reminder to follow Christ’s example and do as He would do.
11. Set the tone early. David’s sister Debbie and her husband are sure to have a dedicated “Family Night” at the very beginning of the Christmas season. Here they talk about the true meaning Christmas before all the hoopla starts and the commercialism sets in. They read the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible, act out the story, etc. My friend Tina does this but instead of keeping it to just their family, they invite lots of friends to come over as they put on a whole Christmas program. They all sing together and Tina says that they have had very touching experiences and very fond memories from doing this each year.
12. Skip the shopping. My sister-in-law Heidi said that as a child, every night in December her mom would read them a Christmas story. One of those stories was For the Man who Hated Christmas (which sounds awful, but you really need to read it to understand – it’s a quick read and very touching). Heidi said, “When my dad was battling pancreatic cancer, my younger sister came up with the BEST Christmas present for my dad. Each of our families would do our own service project. We would write it up with a picture and stick it in a white envelope. During the night of Christmas Eve, we would each sneak over to their home and place the envelope on the Christmas tree. Since that Christmas eight years ago, we have continued to do this. There is no exchange of physical gifts. Instead, my parents spend Christmas day opening up each letter to read the service project that was done in their honor. It is much harder to arrange a service project for your family than it is buy a gift. It takes time, planning, patience and a lot of work. This work falls on me as a mother. However, the blessings we have received as a family are priceless.”
As we try to stay focused on keeping the spirit of Christmas in our hearts and homes, may we develop habits that will carry with us throughtout the year. Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences on what you do in your own life and home, and with your family.