I like my holiday traditions. I love the after-Thanksgiving decorating, the walk down Christmas Tree Lane, the decadent desserts and dinner parties, the wrapping and unwrapping of Christmas books each night of advent, the doorbuster sales, the white elephant gift exchanges, the homemade cinnamon rolls and Christmas Day ravioli. I love Christmas cards and endless twinkling lights and Pinterest projects. For years, I have pushed through to get it all done, get it all right, get it all accomplished and then chalked up that ragged, worn-out feeling as being just part of the bustle of the season.
But this year I know I need to slow it down. Slow down our schedule, slow down our commitments, slow down our hearts. When I hear the same message resonating from a lot of different places from different people I respect, I know it’s time to start sitting up and paying attention. This is often the way God tries to show me something important. Truth be told, God’s been whispering this message to me about slowing down Christmas for the last few years, but I didn’t really want to listen.
This will be a different Christmas for my family – our first Christmas without my husband who died in September from cancer. Some might be tempted to cancel Christmas in our circumstances, but with a 3, 5, and 8-year-old I know I can’t do that. I do know I have a perfect opportunity to do something different, to slow it down and be more intentional.
Author Brene Brown wrote this in a recent blog post, “We live in a world where life can easily become pageantry, and the best performers make it look balletic and effortless. Of course, there’s no such thing as an effortless holiday show. If you sneak a peek behind most people’s red velvet curtains at holiday time, you’ll often see houses brimming with anxiety, maxed-out credit cards, crying children, and marriages that make the cold war look warm and fuzzy. I’m convinced that the only way out of this is by cancelling the show. Not canceling the holiday, but giving up the show.”
On Thanksgiving, I started thinking through our long list of Christmas traditions and asking myself why each one is really important. I found myself dwelling on a few key questions: What am I really longing for this season? What traditions are just part of the show and which ones really matter to me? I realized that every year I long for two things: quality time to enjoy the story of Christmas and a meaningful way to bless others.
Looking through my list, I knew I needed to cut back on at least a third of our holiday traditions and then cross off a few more that were really meaningful but just made the season far too busy. It was hard work but there was great freedom I felt in doing it.
It’s December 11 and none of my Christmas decorations are up. We are slated to go get our tree tomorrow night with friends. Our tradition has always been to put everything up the day after Thanksgiving. We didn’t do that this year. And that’s ok. It’s one example of a way I gave myself grace and permission to slow down.
Instead, I’ve spend these first two weeks of Advent reading through a new treasured book called UNWRAPPING THE CHRISTMAS STORY by Ann Voskamp with my kids. There is a story and beautiful illustrations lighting each night of Advent. This book has encouraged some amazing conversations with my girls. We haven’t finished every night’s reading or every question, but we have slowed down most nights to enjoy it together. I have treasured this time. It’s a new tradition that really matters to me.
My challenge to you (and myself) is to slow down for five minutes and ask yourself: What can I cut out these next few weeks? When can I say no graciously? What can I take off my to-do list so I can say yes to the heart of Christmas? If Christmas is about the birth of Emmanuel, meaning “God with us,” I know I don’t want to sprint through this season all bleary-eyed and miss out on the moments I could have with that God-baby.