Our message series for Christmas ’09 at Maranatha Church is quite apropos. For most people, the holiday is incredibly pressure-filled and rather than singing “Silent Night” most of us want to join in the chorus singing, “Stressful Night(mare)!”
Sharon Hanby-Robie wrote a great little book called, A Simple Christmas: A Faith-filled Guide to a Meaningful And Stress-free Christmas. In it, she addresses a variety of ideas to help us stay focused on simplicity during the holidays. In the book, she gives these pointers:
-create traditions that reduce the holiday rush
-decide on simple themes for decorating the home
-come up with ideas for thoughtful gift-giving
-keep away the holiday blues
-experience love and goodwill by volunteering
“Some people spell Christmas as s-t-r-e-s-s, but these holy days are gifts from God through which we stay connected to family and friends,” writes Hanby-Robie.
My favorite quote from the book: “Celebrating Christmas is simply a time to remember that the Babe in the manger was born only because he was sent by God the Father to fulfill a mission for us, mere mortals. However we choose to celebrate, our goal should simply be toward a mindfulness of this great miracle.”
So, how can we, in practical terms, keep the holiday simple? I came across an article entitled “33 Ways to Keep Christmas Simple and Meaningful”, written by Victor Parachin which state the issue much more effectively that I ever could.
Enjoy his list:
1. Spend five minutes daily in silence. “Be still and know that I am God,” is the command of Psalms 46:10. Spending a mere five minutes a day in silence before God can bring you closer to the Spirit of Christ.
2. Plan ahead. Rather than operating on autopilot, doing the same thing year after year, be intentional. Gather your family and ask everyone what they really want to do and who will participate. A little planning can go a long way to reducing holiday stress.
3. Avoid debt. A major source of frustration is the accumulation of debt brought on by too much gift-buying. Resist the temptation to use a credit card unless you can totally pay off the debt in January. Rather than go into debt, keep gifts small and simple.
4. Claim the spirit of the Innkeeper. Be inspired by the one who opened his heart and stable to help Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary (Luke 2:7). Like the innkeeper, help someone who is in a difficult place.
5. Feed Your Mind. Check into the background of some Christmas symbols- candles, evergreens, poinsettias, mistletoe and the advent wreath. You’ll be surprised at what you didn’t know about Christmas.
6. Organize yourself. Make a list of all the things you need to do. If it looks like too much, pare down the list to something more manageable.
7. Cultivate courtesy. Be courteous to sales personnel. Often they are tired and tense because of their long hours and impatient customers. Speak kindly to them.
8. Extend compassion to a stranger. Gladly let someone get ahead of you in a store line, especially if he or she looks frazzled. On a bus or subway, readily give up your seat to a person carrying packages.
9. Memorize scripture. Memorize verses connected with the birth of Christ. Two of my favorites are the words of Mary in Luke 1:46-47, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”, and the angels’ declaration, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and goodwill toward men.” (2:14).
10. Just say “no”. You don’t have to accept every invitation. Say “no” to give yourself some down time.
11. Downsize your gift-giving. As the years go by, our gift list can grow and grow. Shrink your list to a size your budget and time can afford.
12. Start earlier in order to relax later. One man who loves to bake at holiday time said, “I begin baking right after Thanksgiving and into the first week of December. I freeze my delicacies and take them out later in the month for entertaining in my home or to give to friends and family. By doing some of the work earlier, I end up with more discretionary time at the height of the season. That has cut down on holiday stress.”
13. Exercise. A lot of frustration and potential weight gain during the holidays can be avoided by maintaining a regular exercise regimen.
14. Don’t become a slave. Rather than preparing your elaborate family meal all by yourself, ask for some help. By allowing others to pitch in, you make it more enjoyable.
15. Try new ways of sending Christmas greetings. You can save a lot of time and money by using Christmas postcards rather than the more expensive traditional cards. Consider sending this year’s Christmas newsletter and good wishes via email to those family and friends who have an Internet connection.
16. Send a card to someone who is incarcerated. Contact a prison chaplain to get a name and address. Let that person know you will be praying for him or her.
17. Light a prayer candle every day. In the privacy of your home, light a candle each evening. Whenever you see its flame, let it remind you to pray for someone in need.
18. Skip a meal. A few times in December, skip a meal. This simple fast will be a strong reminder what it feels like for many people who have to go without food.
19. Be considerate toward young children. Consider donating baby food, diapers, and clothing to a local organization which serves children and families in need.
20. Reflect on Philippians 4:4. This verse urges us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Each day, pause to thank God for the blessings of that day.
21. Go vegetarian for one meal. In many countries around the world it is customary to have a meatless Christmas Eve dinner. This is done in honor of the animals that were likely present in the stable at Jesus’ birth. All of creation was blessed by Christ’s coming.
22. Practice patience. The holidays offer many opportunities to do this. Relax and be patient when the traffic is slow, the lines long, the service poor, or the clerk rude. Remember that “love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4).
23. Make amends. Reach out to someone who’s wronged you or someone you have offended. Jesus came to earth to bring forgiveness, so forgive others and receive their forgiveness.
24. Broaden your concept of “family”. Be inclusive at Christmas. Include in your family festivities and gatherings those who can’t be with their own families or who may not have a family to visit. Be especially sensitive to those who are single or single again.
25. Sing. It doesn’t matter whether you can carry a tune or not, when you hear a carol played on the car radio, sing along. When you’re in a mall and holiday music is played, hum along. Music is a tonic for a fatigued intellect and a stressed spirit.
26. Read about the original Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas was famous for helping the poor and reaching out to children. Visit a library and read about this remarkable man.
27. Pray for peace in the world. Sadly, many conflicts continue to rage around the globe. Focus on a country where there is war and regularly pray for peace to come.
28. Give a gift of money. Every Christmas one man gives a cash gift to three people who have been laid off from their jobs. He has done this for 20 years now, and therefore has brightened the lives of 60 families during the holidays.
29. Be cheerful. Be the first one to wish everyone you meet a hearty, “Merry Christmas!”
30. Help fight world hunger. During the holiday season when most of us tend to overeat, consider giving away 10 percent of your holiday budget to an agency which fights world hunger.
31. Pray for each person who sends you a Christmas card. Cards often contain news about the senders. That information is a good basis for prayer. Offer prayers of praise for those who report accomplishments and prayers of help for those dealing with illness and loss.
32. Read a Christmas poem. There are many wonderful poems written about this season. Find some in the library or on the Internet. Read and reflect on their message.
33. Remember that Christmas is not only a date but also a state of mind. Add meaning to your holiday celebration by keeping the spirit of Christmas alive all year long. Live by this wisdom from Mother Teresa: “It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.”
An early Merry Christmas everybody! Let’s enjoy a very simple Christmas this year!