There’s an image the plays in my head every holiday season… it’s from a cover of one of my mom’s Better Homes and Gardens. It has to be from the early 80’s. I haven’t seen this image in decades, not physically. But every year it flashes through my head. It’s a woman who looks like Carly Simon, in a red and black plaid dress with a large collar, bending over a table to place a cake in the center of a perfectly decorated holiday table. She is smiling, and in my mind I can hear Amy Grant singing “Tender Tennessee Christmas.” This is, of course, taking place in Connecticut while the snow falls softly and all is calm and bright.
This fictional character I have built up in my head never silences the table with a desire to talk about the recent New York Times article she read on the large amount of elderly in Japan dying alone and how the move from intergenerational housing to a more American lifestyle is what caused this and how much this says about our society. Nope. She always asks about the children and cares to listen and, in her era, served a cheeseball that was second to none. Alas, I can never feather my hair like Carly and the red plaid would possibly cause me to look like a holiday table stood on end. Unfortunate.
There were years of unrealistic expectations for me, and they kept me from enjoying December. Here are some practical things that I’ve learned over the years that have kept me a little more sane.
First, nothing has to be homemade if you don’t want it to be. Gifts, pies, mashed potatoes, wrapping paper, even cookies. I know this sounds terrible and even as I write it a part of me feels like it’s dying, but it’s true. When we had an 8 year old, a 4 year old, and an 11 month old, I think I decided to try to make homemade Christmas cards. Because I was exhausted and clearly this was the best choice. One year I spent copious amounts of time making a yarn-wrapped wreath for each girl with specifically chosen colors and decorations that could be hung in their room for years to come. Except for two months later when the middlest didn’t like cowgirl stuff anymore and the oldest thought it was too childish before Easter. We have a large extended family, which means tons of family gatherings through all of December. I used to think this meant all of the homemade love! Now we sometimes stop at the grocery store on the way and I dump the store bought thing into a dish I brought from home and NO ONE IS THE WISER. I really do enjoy spending time cooking and baking but there are some seasons where fatigue and life dictate otherwise.
Second, if you do not get the family photo card done, Christmas will still come. I know this because for the second year running, we are not doing one. I love getting the cards but there is an amount of pre-planning involved in this process that I am not able to handle right now. There’s the finding a picture you want everyone to look at for the next year (which, let’s be honest-this derails the train before it’s even left the station). There’s the selecting of a card online, then the ordering it, followed by the making a list of who to give it to (which, if the train has not yet derailed this will CERTAINLY do it) and finally the actual distribution of the cards. Hello there, I just want to give my children clean clothes and read for Book-It this month.
Third, your children do not need to look like an LL Bean ad at every holiday function. I used to really get stuck on this one (see first paragraph for context). Newsflash: making them wear coordinating cable knits to a hot, stuffy gathering where they will likely be told to be quiet and not run around and also NO YOU MAY NOT HAVE UNLIMITED COOKIES FROM THE TABLE FILLED WITH COOKIES is a terrible decision.
Lastly, the church police will not come for you if you do not do an Advent calendar and coordinating crafts for your children. Promise. It’s been 6 years and we’re not in Bad Christian prison.
Remember this… no one is going to give you a gold star for any of these things. And if someone get judgey? My favorite tactic is to offer them a hobby. (Example: Relative notices that what you brought tastes remarkably like something from the local grocery store and offers a judgey smile and condescending remark. You say, “Have you heard about basket weaving? I hear it’s all the rage.”)
Here’s the thing. If any or all of these things get done, it’s so great. There’s no shame in doing this stuff! But I feel like we all need to hear it’s ok if they don’t. There’s no guilt in that. Because you can do the Advent activities every day but worry more about that than sitting with the kid who just needs to talk. You can bake and decorate the cookies but not let the kids help because of the mess. You can be miserable for a half-day trying to get the Christmas photo. You can stress over the cost of the perfect foil photo card but order it anyway.
My prayer for myself, and for all of us this season, is that we remember our margins and more than anything, we just remember Jesus. To celebrate the wonder of Him and the glory of Him. Let yourself get stuck on the idea that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I could park on THAT for a long time. Love Jesus. Love your family. Love your neighbors. So much grace for all of us, friends. Have a Merry December.