It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or so the song claims. I tend to agree, but also know that such expectation can often leave us wanting more. The wonder and magic of the season can get lost amid the running around, the shopping, the parties, the traveling. Not to mention wrestling with emotional disappointments, family drama, and personal loss. With so much riding on this season it is easy to let it drag us down when it seems like it should pick us up.
In keeping with the theme of Make it Monday, what are ways we can not just survive Christmas Week, but recapture some of the wonder? I think the first step is remembering that taking care of yourself is important. Especially for those who serve, like wives and mothers, we can lose sight of our needs while trying to make it a perfect holiday for our families.
Which begs the question: where does self-care end and selfishness begin? This is a very personal question, but I think the line is much more generous than we give ourselves credit for. Self-care is especially vital during hectic times of the year, such as Christmas. It may be as simple as carrying around hand sanitizer or distancing yourself from someone who is sneezing and coughing so as to avoid getting sick. Or finding a babysitter so you can wrap gifts without staying up late to put the final touches on gifts.
For me this year, it has meant shopping online. I love to shop local, but being eight months pregnant means I don’t have the energy to visit different stores like I usually prefer. So my version of self-care this year is to have packages come straight to me. Groceries, too. It has taken off a load that threatened to overwhelm me. I still feel sad that I couldn’t look for Christmas gifts in my usual way, but this has been a strong lesson of prioritizing self-care.
Perhaps another way to practice self-care is managing what you cook or bake in the kitchen. Are you hosting Christmas Dinner? Does that cause stress or is it something that you enjoy? If it’s something that lifts your spirits, then give more time to it. If it’s something that causes stress, then find ways to make various steps easier. I love baking Christmas cookies, but this year, I’ve had to drastically reduce the amount of baking I can do, picking a couple simple recipes instead. But that way, I can get the joy of being in the kitchen without turning the benefits into a sacrifice.
When it comes to gift giving and receiving, there can be a lot of pressure and disappointment. While also gratitude and enjoyment. I find giving gifts a lot of fun, but my husband is a master at it. He is great at picking out a unique item that shows how well he knows a person. And I think that spirit is a wonderful one, especially at Christmas.
I’ve noticed several television commercials where parents are buying many gifts, most of which are expensive, for their children. The expectation that advertising creates is that if we want to be good parents, we’ll give our kids these toys or electronics. But it makes me wonder whether giving our children a unique gift that shows how we’ve been listening might have a deeper gift value.
Another aspect of the holiday that perhaps we gloss over and yet feel the most deeply is loss. Whether it’s the loss of a relationship due to a break-up, distance, or life-stage or whether it’s a more permanent loss that comes with death, those dear to us are most missed at special times of the year, like Christmas.
So how do we enjoy the holiday when all it does is remind us of who is missing?
I don’t have an easy answer to that question and I’d worry about taking advice from anyone who has one of those easy answers. Loss isn’t easy. It isn’t tidy. Nor does it fit in a box. Instead it’s messy, unpredictable, and personal. It is also legitimate.
Sometimes I wonder how God felt when Jesus left Heaven to become a baby on earth. It was part of his plan, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. Think about the turmoil Jesus felt before his crucifixion. It makes me think that God understand the conflicting emotions we feel more than realize.
This Christmas, if that is you, remember that it is this time of year that God became a baby, when he became God with us. He didn’t leave us to the loneliness, but came to be with us in it. Looking beyond the glitter and parties, the sayings and well-wishes, in the end Christmas is about God becoming a baby whose mom had to give birth in a stable because there was no room for her at the inn.
Lastly, the fourth advent candle is Love. As we consider self-care, gift giving, and loss, I think the concept of Love ties it all together. We cannot love others well if we do not offer ourselves self-compassion. The Golden Rule is to love others as we love ourselves. If we do not love ourselves well, how will we love others well?
Loving ourselves can look very different to each person. At the core, it is knowing that we are lovable. Perhaps we don’t feel that way, but Christmas is the perfect time to remember how much God loves us. He gave up everything to be born in poverty. To give his life for us. We are valuable in his eyes.
As we see ourselves that way, we can develop an ability to practice self-care that truly fills our spirits, that truly allows us to show ourselves love. Out of that love, that fullness, we can give to others. As that cycle begins, we receive joy by our giving, which feeds our spirit in return.
I think that is why Christmas is my favorite time of year. Of all the holidays and celebrations that happen throughout the months, it is at Christmas that God seems the most relatable. Beyond the flashing lights to the silent nights, to the soft glow of a candle, to the gently falling snow, we can sense His presence. Not in a loud, obvious way, but in a quiet, personal way.
At this Christmas, may you feel the hope, peace, joy, and love that comes with the season. And may the God who is called Prince of Peace and Emmanuel meet you during this celebration of His birth. Merry Christmas!