How can we savor the joy and peace of the season amidst all the busyness?
As the holidays approach, the whirlwind of preparations is upon us. After running around shopping, it is difficult to savor the joy of Christmas. Here are some tips to prepare for Christmas with serenity.
Becoming less of a perfectionist
“My husband and I try to do too much,” admits Anna, mother of five children from 3 to 16 years old.” Our 7-year-old daughter made a very astute remark to us last year by saying ‘It’s Christmas tomorrow and you don’t look happy. Look at me, I have a big smile!’ We realized we needed to relax … so we sat down on the floor with the kids to listen to Christmas carols and sing along.”
What if, this year, we made a resolution to be less perfectionistic and simplify these holidays? There is also another secret for extreme perfectionists: knowing how to ask for help and how to delegate.
How can you avoid spending too much or making the wrong choice? How can we organize gifts without having to spend too much time shopping? Every family has its traditions: surprise gifts or detailed lists, small knickknacks at a fixed price or big communal gifts.
Veronica, mother of six and grandmother of three small children, asks for lists two months before Christmas. However, throughout the year she writes down ideas and gets little gifts as she travels or ,finds things on sale. At Anna and Luke’s, the children are still at home so priority is given to a big common gift. “Last year, we gave ourselves a computer. This year, it will be a ping-pong table. Everyone will have just one small package, most often taken from a ‘gift closet’ which is also stocked throughout the year,” says Anna.
Another source of inspiration are the toy catalogs. Stephanie has two young children, aged 7 and 5. “I try to hide the advertising catalogs that arrive much too early, and then I take them out at the beginning of December, when the Advent calendar is already set up. I listen to the children’s comments and favorites. We talk about whatever game or new toy hero they are interested in. I have to admit, I have fun asking them to justify their choices and tastes. For the older children, I also have them compare prices, packaging, and guarantees.”
Handmade gifts and a clearly defined budget
When families get bigger, gift giving can be shared to avoid the multiplication of packages. Determining a maximum budget also reduces costs. It is also out of a concern to keep costs down that Marie, grandmother to six grandchildren, favors home-made gifts: “I like to sew and knit, so throughout the year, I make costumes, baby clothes, or scarves for the grandchildren who have enough toys already. For the older ones, I take them to the movies. It’s our big outing! I reserve buying gifts for my children and stepchildren.”
Whatever the formula, gift giving requires time and careful planning. It is therefore essential to do it in advance, to sit down with pencil in hand and make lists. Veronica draws up the list of people she would like to give a gift to, writes down her ideas, and then checks them off as she goes along. “I also set the price, otherwise it gets out of control,” she confides. “That way, I’m pretty sure I’m being fair to everyone. Then, a few days before holidays start, I take a whole afternoon to sort and wrap my gifts. And I make sure I have labels or markers to identify the recipients. It’s always one less thing to do on D-Day.”
At Agnes and Louis’ house, the children are entitled to family gifts and those of their godparents. “To avoid the accumulation of toys, we get together as a family for more useful gifts like sailing or horseback riding lessons, magazine subscriptions, tickets to shows.” For teenagers, a gift certificate presented in a nicely wrapped envelope is always appreciated.
Preparing food in advance to celebrate Christmas
It is difficult to prepare the Christmas meal a month in advance, but certainly possible to find recipes to make the day before or to freeze ahead of time, to make a list of groceries, ingredients or decorations to stock up on. Another solution is the buffet formula, which avoids meals that are too long for the little ones and allows everyone to gather more freely. This doesn’t mean that you can’t set up a table for the older ones.
At Francois’ home, they take turns hosting, and everyone brings something. “We sometimes choose a theme — a Danish Christmas, a Spanish Christmas … More than planning gifts, we prepare a show, a live nativity scene, and a choir with both children and adults.” For many families, this year, Christmas celebrations will be a matter of sheltering in place, which means those at home can share simpler dinner preparations, and make a Christmas toast with a larger family video call.
The joy of decorating the house with the children
Anthony and Sylvia want to take full advantage of their joy as young parents: “We are very busy during the week. As a result, every Advent Sunday is devoted to preparing for Christmas with the children. The first Sunday is for setting up the Nativity scene and the Advent wreath. And of course the calendar, which allows us to tell them every evening about the waiting for Jesus. The following Sunday, we help them make small gifts from pieces of wood such as picture frames, boxes, and so on. Then we decorate them with paint, precious stones or glued on seashells. On the other two Sundays, we make decorations, and decorate the house and the Christmas tree. The children are allowed to decorate their room any way they like. It’s pure fun!”
Nothing pleases children more than transforming the house and letting their imagination run wild. And it doesn’t matter if it’s not very well done or doesn’tturn out quite right. The most important thing is that everyone gets involved.
Making time for prayer
Nothing is worse than rising voices when it comes to choosing what Mass to go to: the children’s Mass, Midnight Mass … And this year you may not have any choices at all. But consider organizing family members to be in charge of different moments of prayer such as before the meal or before the gifts are handed out, etc. A word to the wise: they will do this all the better if they are told in advance.
Cécile Maître and Bénédicte Drouin