Do You Have a Holiday Survival Plan?
Although Christmas season is well underway, can I just say… “meh.”
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about Christmas-time this year.
Although I’m excited to bid adieu to 2020, I have a complicated history with the holiday season. Some things I love (like gifts, and lights, and sugary treats). Some things I hate (like frenzy, over-spending, and too many sugary treats).
Add to that my less-than-festive history with my relatives, and it can make Christmas a mixed bag of joy and angst.
So, I discovered long ago the wisdom in having a plan in place for how to handle the holidays. A Holiday Survival Plan, if you will.
Here a few key principles I’ve learned along the way. They help me out tremendously. And I’d like to share them with you. I think they’ll help you too.
1. Prioritize Your Priorities
Have you had this experience: You want so much to make this season count. Yet, the days flit by so quickly, and at the end of December you’re left with a sense of disappointment and a longing for more.
I sure have.
It’s crazy how there’s always too much to do. And even though 2020 culled most of our social calendars, Christmas-time still brings on more events, activities, and errands than anyone can manage.
We can’t do it all. Yet sadly, in our attempt to squeeze it all in, sometimes the most important things get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
So, the first key is prioritize the things that matter most. What is it you really want from this season?
Is it to give amazing gifts to your kids? To spend time with your aging parents? To avoid spending time with your siblings? Is this a season for you to honor God? Are you longing to rekindle a sense of childhood wonder?
Let me offer a thought. Like a kid with too many gifts on their Christmas wishlist, you probably can’t get everything you want this holiday either. So, pick one or two of the most important things and focus on those priorities.
2. Schedule Time for Self-care and Soul-care
It’s really easy to burn through your budget and spend all of your money this time of year. It’s also really easy to burn through your enthusiasm and spend all of your energy before the big day arrives.
But just as your bank account probably isn’t limitless, you don’t have an unlimited amount of energy to devote to an endless list of demands. So, you probably need to budget what you spend on both.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen over the years whose souls look like a disheveled mess after Christmas. They spend all of their time and energy taking care of all the things they have to do, yet they neglect the things that matter most.
How much are you really going to enjoy the holiday if you’re burnt out and anxious by the time Christmas comes?
So, take some time—no really—to take care of yourself this season. Step away from the endless list of things to do, in order to tend to your own needs. Fill up your soul.
You need to replenish, and rest, if you really want to enjoy your holiday.
3. Pray about Presents
Finding good gifts can feel like a lot of pressure.
Or it can feel rather perfunctory. Like when you make a trip to the grocery store and you’re just looking to check things off the list.
Now, I love gifts. I love getting gifts and I love giving gifts. And I love to see my kids light up when they get their Christmas presents.
Gifts is one of my top love languages. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking people with gifts as their love language are simply being materialistic. But that isn’t necessarily so.
The thing I love about gifts is that it is a tangible sign that somebody cares, and that they were thinking about me. It shows that they care enough to think about what I would like, even when I wasn’t right in front of them.
Of course, the shear volume of gifts at Christmas time requires a certain degree of perfunctory shopping. But the essence remains: gifts are meant to be expressions of love.
So, here’s my suggestion. Not only should you put some thought into the gifts you give, you should also pray about it.
Yep, I said it. Pray.
Pray about what gifts to give. Ask God to help you choose a gift that really shows you care. God, after all, gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11, James 1:17).
Honestly, I do this, and it really helps. It takes away a lot of the pressure when I have to choose which gift to give. Sometimes I have no idea what to get my wife. So, I pray about it. Then I get some ideas I NEVER would have thought of on my own.
Try it. See what happens.
4. Lower Your Expectations
Yeah, I said it (too).
Lower your expectations. Things don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect. It’s okay if you forgot something, or if the decorating never got completely finished, or if dinner doesn’t get done on time. It’s okay.
It’s also okay if other people aren’t perfect.
The holidays—especially Christmas—present a real problem when it comes to the people we care about. We may love our families, but we often don’t like the way they behave.
Some of us have invasive parents, over-bearing in-laws, unruly kids, and obnoxious siblings. For others, we just wish we could have a deeper connection with the people we love.
The holidays often leave us with a sense of loss, a poignant grief over family and relationships that aren’t what we would hope.
We all have an innate desire to be seen, heard, and known. It’s a desire for deep connection, soul-level intimacy with the people we love.
This doesn’t just come from watching too many Hallmark movies, it’s a part of who we are. It’s part of how God made us.
Yet, if we’re honest, that desire often goes unfulfilled. Especially over the holidays.
Sadly, many of us set ourselves up for disappointment every year when we expect more from this season than it can reasonably provide.
While I hope you have many magical moments this Christmas, I think it’s also important to be honest with yourself about what you can reasonably expect from your relationships.
Don’t go looking for a heart-to-heart with friends and family who just aren’t willing or able to do that. If your expectations are too high, you’ll just set yourself up for disappointment.
Now, maybe your expectations are entirely reasonable, and others refuse to act appropriately. Then it’s time to practice good boundaries. But even then, be honest with yourself about what you can actually expect from those people. Unruly relatives probably won’t turn into angels just because it’s Christmas.
The bottom line: enjoy the people you spend time with for who they are, not who you wish they would be.
5. Embrace the Mess
We may want a perfect holiday, but that probably won’t happen. From relational challenges to shredded wrapping paper on Christmas morning, this season can get messy. Embrace it.
Christmas continually reminds us of how messy real life can be. And that’s actually the point.
Christmas is the celebration of how God came down and joined the mess of life on earth.
Divinity joined humanity. God took on flesh. And Jesus was born in a barn. A dirty place full of animal smells. That is where God had Jesus enter our world.
God is okay with messy things. God is more okay with the messy, smelly details of life than we are.
In fact, our holy days (now called holidays) were all designed to remind us of the fact that God joins us in the ups and downs of daily life. The sacred meets the ordinary in all its messy glory. While divinity is never diminished by the mess, ordinary is always uplifted in the interchange.
As Christians, we know that God wants to enter the mess of our hearts. Certainly, He is just as eager to meet us in whatever mess this season may bring.
We don’t have to make things perfect in order to enjoy magical moments. We just have to make room for Jesus to join us.
A messy environment is not only okay, it’s good. It allows for spontaneity and the wonderful memories that unscripted moments bring. Make space for spontaneity to happen. Make space for the unexpected and embrace the mess.
Allow God to meet you in whatever crazy messy state you find yourself this season. That’s what He does. That’s the whole reason we celebrate this season.
There you have it, five principles to help you create your own Holiday Survival Plan.
The holidays won’t be perfect, and they don’t have to be.
Make them special by letting them take on a life of their own. And be realistic about your own soul-care needs throughout this season.