Advent is the season of “Expectation,” but in the past, what I too often “expectantly awaited upon” was not a celebration of the birth of our Savior, but instead, providing gift-giving extravaganzas that accompany the season.
After becoming a mother, there was a new expectation: I would be expected to produce an “over-the-top” holiday for my family. I had great fear that whatever I planned or bought or did would not meet others’ expectations.
“My mother-in-law said, ‘Merry Christmas! Pick any book you like off the shelf!'”
I am not alone in this — no one seems to feel this heavy burden quite like mothers. Moms I’ve talked to say the weight of trying to meet everyone’s expectations is far greater than the joy of celebrating our Savior’s birth. We can be crushed by the holidays if we don’t learn to manage others’ expectations, as well as our own.
From one who has been there and is “re-learning” to celebrate a happy, holy Christmas, I offer these 10 tips for managing and keeping your “Santa-ty” over the holidays:
1.) Know in advance, as much as you can, how those you’ll spend the holidays with like to be shown love.
Seek to serve this Christmas, not to be served. If you make it your goal to love others well, things will go much more smoothly. And pray for them in advance. Your goal is to show them the love of Christ.
A personal example: Growing up in Texas, Christmases were quite the event. The church pageants had live camels. The Christmas concerts were literally “Living Christmas Trees,” 30 feet tall and stuffed full of choir members. To top it off, my mother’s birthday was on Christmas Eve, so friends and family gathered from miles away to celebrate for days.
My husband, by contrast, grew up in oil-patch communities in West Africa. He had no Christian tradition — no church, no concerts, no pageants. His family received a few packages from the U.S., but their celebrations were not nearly the extravaganzas we had.
The first Christmas after we married, we decided to visit his family in a sleepy little town in West Virginia. I noticed there were no gifts for me under the tree, and I was offended. His mother sat in her usual chair reading the New Yorker. She glanced up briefly to say, “Merry Christmas! Pick any book you like off the shelf!” and then went right back to her magazine. And that was that.
Gift-giving is my personal love language, and she did not speak it. Over the years, I had to learn that her love language was spoken through acts of service, not gift-giving, and that she disliked gifts. She said no one ever got her what she really wanted. Why bother? I wish I knew then what I know now. A good offense is always the best defense!
Buy a Nativity set the kids can help set up, preferably one they can hold. Keep it front-and-center.
2.) Quit taking things personally.
After that first shocking holiday, I prayed and did my best to find at least one thing my mother-in-law and I both liked and could do together — a time to simply enjoy each other’s company. We would garden in the summer and cook in the winter. I did my best to serve her — as that was her love language.
3.) Buy a Nativity set the kids can help set up, preferably one they can hold.
Keep it front-and-center in your home. This will serve as a tangible reminder of why we celebrate this season.
I have four daughters, ages 24, 22, 20 and 10. When they were very young, I would vacillate between freaking out that I had bought too little — only to run out and buy more — and freaking out again because I’d bought too much. I knew I had overdone it one fateful year when — after they came downstairs — they each picked out one gift from under the tree, opened it, and then went into the other room to play with it. They were totally overwhelmed!
I remember saying, “Don’t you want to come back in here and open up your gifts?” while the video camera was rolling. They all said, “No!” The littlest one did not even want the gift she opened. She had tossed it aside. She only wanted the box. Lesson learned — pare it down.
4.) Read Bible stories each night so that children can see the big picture.
Ask questions, and see if you can trace Jesus’ family lineage through the stories in the Old Testament.
5.) Light a candle …
… and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas Day.
6.) Serve the poor.
When my girls got a bit older, we went as a family to serve at a homeless shelter on Christmas. My girls like this as much, or more, than the gifts. And give what you’d spend on at least one gift for each other to the poor instead.
7.) Have a “three-gift rule.”
This is a great way to keep a lid on going overboard. (In our home, Santa also happily fills stockings, but just with little things.)
Ask that you, as a mother, are filled with grace to be like Mary to set a sacred tone for your family.
8.) Take time to prayerfully read God’s word each morning, and ask Him what He would like to say to you through it.
I love going to daily Mass or to the Adoration chapel to be with Him. I feel more peaceful and have a deep-seated sense of soul-satisfaction from being with Him there.
9.) Get outside and exercise.
You don’t have to go far or make it strenuous. A 20-minute walk will clear your head and re-set your metabolism. Can’t get out because of bad weather? Put on jazzy music and dance around your house — and thank God for your ability to move!
10.) Smile, relax and enjoy celebrating the true reason for the season: Christ.
Stop and pray for each one of your children (or any children you may encounter over the holidays). Ask God to reveal Himself to them this Christmas and be born in their hearts anew.
Ask that you, as their mother, are filled with grace to be like Mary, to set a sacred tone for your family. Ask that God make you bold in breaking traditions, if need be, in order to make your Christmas a beautiful and holy Christmas, one that honors Him and is also loving and generous.
Ask that you are able to leave room in your heart, home, and schedule so that He is with you this Christmas 2016.
Melissa Overmyer is the founder of Something Greater Ministries in Washington, D.C., and has been teaching the Bible for over 30 years.