I know it’s usually March that roars in like a lion, but this year, November is what roared for us, with birthdays and Thanksgiving and jury duty and general chaos. I had grand (but nebulous) plans for gratitude, but here we are in the second week of December and it’s Christmas! I’m confused about how this happened, except I know it’s the same way
I feel tender this holiday season, partly from the aforementioned chaos. Partly from the Christmas version of “busy” that tries to bully its way in all around me. And partly, we’re staring down the barrel of some struggles with one of our kiddos, and every moment of every day feels tenuous, like the other shoe could drop at any moment. It’s exhausting and I’m full of self-doubt and fear over the possible implications of even my tiniest mistake. I’m mulling over how to share more about that in the future, because I know we’re not the only ones and I know how much healing strength and wisdom can be found in openness. But I’m also ferociously cautious about protecting dignity and letting my children own–and have ownership over sharing–their stories, and I don’t know how to tell my part of the story without sharing too much of theirs.
So. There’s that, which is neither fun nor where I wanted to be this year.
I long for the holidays every year–the songs, the cheer, the gatherings, the food, the love, all wrapped up in the hope of fresh beginnings. I relish knowing that celebration is ubiquitous, that I am joining with people all across the world, from various backgrounds, religions, and perspectives, to focus on family, gratitude, generosity, and hope we find amidst all the end-of-year holidays. I just love it all so much, and I want it to be just as magical for my kids. But when you start these weeks feeling tender and overwhelmed, it makes it hard to spread the magic, let alone feel it yourself.
I’m a member of The Influence Network, and they offer monthly classes on various topics. Last week, I took one of their classes, Intentional Holidays with Gina Zeidler. I immediately knew I’d like it because it came with a pdf, and I’ve retained a deep love of packets (along with blank notebooks and fresh markers) from my school teaching days. We started by making a few lists, one with the top 5 words we’d like to describe this holiday season. Predictably, I couldn’t narrow it down to just five, so my six words were:
savor | joy | rest | jesus | traditions | celebrate
I like these. This is what I want for every December. Every month, really.
We also made a list of the actual things we wanted to do this season, things like watch Christmas movies/sing carols at bedtime/get presents wrapped early/do lots of tasty baking/make Christmas crafts/get up when it’s dark/take pictures of the tree/host a holiday party/light lots of candles/take the kids shopping for others/etc. I could keep going… <ahem>
My list was laughable, really. I just kept adding to it! Not one thing on the list was bad, but it was easy to see that if I expected myself to do all those things and allowed myself to take up FOMO guilt (aka fear of missing out) if I skipped some, there’d be no way I could embody my values of savoring and rest over the next several week, let alone juggle the regular, non-holiday issues of sibling bickering, general defiance, and constant laundry.
The question is do I want to show up to December 25, exhausted children in tow, kicking and screaming behind me, knowing I’d crammed every minute full of holiday cheer? Or do I want to wake up on Christmas morning and feel the tiniest spark of margin?
It dawned on me after this list-making exercise that my boundaries and limitations, as annoying as they can be, are also opportunities. Take my finances. Do I wish I had more money to spend on my tween now that his likes and hobbies are more expensive? For sure! But it is what it is, so I can either fret about it or lean into the opportunity to gift creatively. Don’t have time for holiday baking? Bummer! And…fewer calories to burn off come January 2.
(Given the fact that this was my stash of icing sugar before our birthday-party-holiday-baking extravaganza began, I suspect “fewer Calories to burn off come January 2” may not be one of the benefits I personally experience…)
Calendar overwhelmed with too many opportunities and not enough energy? I hate saying no, but saying no gives me the opportunity to deepen my ability to savor the simple moments I’m protecting for myself and my family.
And for the things that can’t be changed, the weeks packed full of non-negotiable meetings and events and concerts and parties, I’m trying to channel a sense of rest and joy internally, even if my external circumstances aren’t entirely in my control. We’ve been trying to drill this into our kids lately–approach your problems with a positive attitude! I might as well start taking some of that to heart myself.
Whenever I’m disappointed at having to skip something good or miss out on something I’ve been wanting to do–which happened as recently as this morning when I realized we were not, in fact, going to get to go to Chicago to look at the Christmas lights like I’ve been trying to do for 3 years now– I try to look at the opportunities being created instead. Does this give me more room to savor? Does this give me more opportunity for rest? Will it allow us to be more joyful rather than harried and cranky?
It’s only December 9. We still have plenty of time to be intentional about our holiday experiences. What are some of the words that describe the holiday experience you’re hoping to have with your family this season?