I was raised by the ultimate “Pinterest mom.” She made icing-bedecked one of a kind homemade gingerbread men when it was my turn to bring cookies to school and still makes our three kids individually themed Christmas trees each year. She’s Martha Stewart meets Bob Vila, and the care she puts into what she makes has always made us feel special.
But I’m not that mom. While I enjoy putting creativity into meals or the occasional craft, if I put too many projects on my plate at the holidays, I become the person I loathed growing up: someone who dreads Christmas. These days, between multiple holiday shows, sports obligations, school-sponsored Thanksgiving feasts, holiday cards, gift-buying and documenting every minute on social media, it’s easy for moms to feel overwhelmed and lesser-than, all of which has nothing to do with the real meaning of Christmas.
So instead of losing the joy to the pressures of modern momming, I’ve decided to strip down to the essentials with a focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Here are three things we’re being sure to check off our list this Christmas season. The rest is just icing on the gingerbread man.
1. Gather to read the Bible’s account of the first Christmas.
My dad always did this with us on Christmas Eve, often gathered by the fire and after an evening church service. It’s a lovely way to cut through the noise, spend time together, and remember why we’re celebrating in the first place.
Here are our family favorite verses, as selected by my dad:
Luke 2:1-21 (The Shepherds’ Story)
Luke 1: 26-31 (Mary Hears the News)
Matthew 1: 18-25 (Joseph Hears the News)
Matthew 2: 12 (Wise Men Story)
It’s great to highlight the wise men and their offerings so that kids realize there is a history behind the gift-giving at Christmas. Some other cultures, such as those in Latin America, do a better job at tying traditions back to the story of the first Christmas. See, for example, Las Posadas, a nine-day long nativity celebration meant to represent the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy.
2. Sponsor another family’s Christmas
We did this when I was little, and I remember it so clearly. My parents got wish lists from our local Salvation Army and chose a family with kids roughly the ages of my sister and me. I can still see the racks of clothes and the wishlist in my hands. I was so concerned that there were kids who didn’t have enough food and clothing, let alone gifts on Christmas morning. A deep sense of gratitude, concern and awareness of privilege and disparity moved me, and I was energized by the idea that I could do something to help. That sense has remained with me into adulthood.
Every region has local charities who can help with the logistics of giving to families in need. It’s well worth it to connect with one in your area and “adopt” a family or a child for Christmas. The process of taking time away from ourselves and standing in another family’s shoes steers us away from the temptation toward greed and consumption this season and fosters meaningful conversations with our little ones. More to the point: it’s just the right thing to do to give to someone who is in need, especially during a time that’s all about giving and receiving.
3. Sibling gift exchange
Our 6-year-old little boy and 4-year-old girl argue too much. Christmas seems like the perfect time to remind them that our family is in our lives so that we can support, acknowledge and learn from each other.
This year we’re encouraging them to think about what their sister/brother would enjoy and dip into their piggy banks to buy a gift for their sibling. Sure, there are wonderful lessons about math and commerce, but most important to me is that they learn that the purpose of a gift is to show someone you have thought about them, notice what they like, and give up something of yours to communicate your love. It’s also a welcome shift from the rivalry and bickering that’s so frustrating but natural in kids close together in age.
Overall, I find that when I’m able to cut through the potential to keep busy this season and focus on a few valuable opportunities to grow together, we all experience more joy.