I have always loved the Christmas season…the lights, the decorations, the music, the smell of Christmas cookies baking in the oven. I love watching the kids decorate our tree with ornaments from their baby-hood. With Bing Crosby singing in the background, it’s a picture-perfect image from a Norman Rockwell painting.
However, the last couple Christmas seasons have brought an unsettled feeling to my heart. Sometimes the obligatory gift-giving is overwhelming. I don’t mean to sound Scrooge-y, but the sheer volume we are expected to give takes the fun out of giving. Then there are the crazy schedules. My husband’s job requires many weeks of long hours at the holidays. While holding down the “fort” on my own, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the daily necessities, not to mention all the fun stuff that I am “supposed” to do with our kids.
Earlier this week, I wrote on my personal blog about the importance of Christmas traditions. Or rather, how relatively unimportant they should be when compared to the good of others. I explored how Paul presents the concept of balancing knowledge and freedom with sacrificial love for others.
In a nutshell, we must follow the example of Christ and lay aside our “rights” in order to lovingly serve others.
"Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross." --Philippians 2:3-8 NLT
Now, let’s apply this to Christmas traditions. This will not be a legalistic bunch of rules to make you feel inadequate. Rather, it will be freeing and empowering. In re-evaluating our own family traditions, I have been able to drop the burden of guilt for not creating a Pinterest-worthy Christmas experience.
Who benefits from this Christmas tradition?
The kids are the biggest beneficiaries of Christmas trees. The neighbors are the main ones who enjoy outdoor decorations. The down-and-out benefit from our holiday donations.
What is the benefit of this Christmas tradition?
Prayerful, heartfelt readings of Advent stories may have a long-lasting spiritual effect on our children. Singing Christmas carols solidifies the message of Jesus’s birth in our hearts. Baking cookies for the neighbors creates goodwill and fosters friendships. Buying another toy for the school gift exchange just depletes our wallets by $5 and puts more “stuff” in my child’s overcrowded toy box. Decorating the house gives a feel-good, nostalgic atmosphere for the making memories.
What Christmas traditions are most important to me? Why?
This one requires a priority evaluation. No two Christians will have the same list. That’s OK. God made us all different. If, for example, your top priority is discipleship, then Scripture reading will have greater importance than toys. If nostalgia is high on your priority list, then the lights and greenery may play a big role in your celebration.
What Christmas traditions have the fewest long-term results?
Again, this is a personal. There are no right answers for every person. For me, Christmas cookies create a lot of work, they are gone in a few days, and they add inches to my waist. They obviously don’t carry the personal satisfaction that decorating the Christmas tree does. Same amount of work. One stays up for a month. The other is devoured within days.
Or maybe a tradition is empowering for one, but draining for another. My husband hates listening to Christmas carols. I adore them. Do I love him enough to reserve them for when he is gone? Will I force my “freedom” on him at the expense of our relationship?
What Christmas traditions can I discard to make room for the most important ones?
Here comes the freedom!! We have limited resources of time, money, and energy. Give yourself permission to discard the energy-draining traditions that have only short-term effects. Save your energy for the long-lasting memories and impressions. This will look different for each family, each person.
Some of you might trim the gift-giving. Others might increase their giving. Certain ones might leave behind the Christmas cookies. Others might add a trip to the homeless shelter.
Here’s the take-away:
- Love others more than you love your traditions.
- Prioritize peace and love over the Norman Rockwell Christmas experience.