My Christmas Do’s and Don’ts

Because I’ve used a lot of virtual ink over the past few weeks defending my deliberate choice to take on many time- and labor-intensive Christmas traditions, instead of slowing down and pruning my to-do list, I thought I’d wrap up this week by sharing a list of what I do—and don’t do—to get ready for Christmas. My point (in my guest post on Introverted Church as well as Tuesday’s post here about how tangible Christmas traditions can enhance, rather than detract from, our celebration) was not that everyone should cram as many tasks as they possibly can into the weeks before Christmas, or that running yourself ragged to create the picture-perfect holiday is somehow good for your soul. It was simply to argue that the hard work of preparing for Christmas can point us toward that elusive “true meaning” of the holiday as much as a solitary walk in the winter woods or a half-hour meditating on scripture, if it is undertaken willingly, thoughtfully, and intentionally.

What I Do for Christmas

Bake – I enjoy baking, so this is the major activity of the week before Christmas. We serve cookies (as well as homemade stollen and cinnamon rolls—the links are to the recipes I use) at meals on Christmas Eve and day. We also give cookies to people we would like to thank, such as teachers, my husband’s employees, and the mailman. However, if you are imagining me in my apron, offering an encouraging smile to my children as they help me make the 30 dozen or so cookies I crank out, you’re in the wrong kitchen. I do 95 percent of my baking when the kids are at school. Alone. I concede to their desire to help (term used loosely) by giving them each a parchment paper rectangle of about 10 cut-out cookies to decorate with colored sugar. However, my  12-year-old, who taught herself to bake this year, can really help now. She was in charge of the fudge this year, and made it with only a little guidance from me.

Shop and wrap – Each child gets a nice little pile of gifts under the tree (anywhere from three to six gifts, depending on what they are), plus a full stocking. We also exchange gifts with my parents (although we’ve begun talking about perhaps ending that practice…we’ll see). Daniel and I do different things for each other in different years. Some years we purchase gifts for each other, while in others, like this year, we get something for the family instead. This year we bought a new TV. To save my physical energy as well as avoid crazy-making crowds in the parking lots and stores, I buy almost everything online (including the new TV, which is a discontinued model I got discounted on Amazon) or on concentrated trips to a handful of favorite stores, none of which are in the mall. I keep a shopping list in my wallet, so I’m always prepared should I make an unplanned stop at one of those stores.

Decorate – Besides a live tree and various decorations indoors, I string lights on the shrubs outdoors. As I wrote in my Introverted Church post, “I get a little zing of joy upon seeing my same old street transformed into a cheerfully lit wonderland. I’m reminded that God is not only our light in the darkness, but also has a way of transforming what is ordinary (a baby, a cattle stall, a weary heart) into something unexpected, delightful, extraordinary.”

Cards and letters – Yes, I am one of those people who sends a photo card of my kids instead of a tasteful card with a nativity scene or tree, plus a letter with our news from the year. I know all the reasons people make fun of these practices, and I don’t care. I do them for one reason: Because I love receiving the same from others. A gorgeous card with a gold-edged nativity scene, and a scripture verse and signed name inside, might be more outwardly Christian than a photo card and a letter detailing the year’s ups and downs. But I enjoy getting a glimpse into the lives of friends and family—seeing new babies or newly grown-up teenagers, hearing about the year that just passed. We tape all of our photo cards onto the the door jamb between our living room and dining room, so that we’re reminded of friends and family every time we hang out by the Christmas tree.

What I Don’t Do for Christmas

Entertain – Daniel and I are both introverts. We don’t like attending cocktail parties or open houses, much less holding them. The house is usually a mess until I do a final pre-holiday clean-up on the 23rd or so. Other than hosting some friends for dinner, and my parents for Christmas day breakfast, we don’t issue holiday invitations. And we rarely attend other people’s parties. We are fundamentally lazy about finding babysitters and conversing with other people past 8 p.m.

Shop (much) – Beyond the gifts I mentioned earlier for my children, parents, and husband, I don’t buy many gifts. My sister and I decided long ago to stop exchanging gifts with each other and our spouses, and about five years ago, decided to stop giving each other’s children gifts as well. We decided to focus our giving on their birthdays, when it is less burdensome to us and more meaningful to the kids. We give the aforementioned cookies to anyone whom we would like to thank with some kind of gift.

Wrap or decorate artfully – Every year, I look forward to leafing through the holiday issue of Better Homes and Gardens, and every year, I end up putting it down in disgust. The homeowners featured in BH&G inevitably select a color scheme for the holiday (red and green are never okay), which they carry into every room, onto their tree with its coordinated ornaments, and even use for their gift packaging. Their color-coordinated packages are further adorned with expensive ribbons, handmade rubber stamp impressions, or little natural treasures that they collected on their daily nature walks. Our tree is decorated with a mishmash of ornaments, some from my childhood. Our color scheme is strictly traditional red and green. And I rarely even put ribbons on packages, which are wrapped in whatever paper my kids’ school fundraising catalog happened to offer this year.

Despite not doing those things, the days leading up to Christmas are still packed with activity. And I’ll be honest: Even though I’ve chosen to take on work that is meaningful to me, I’m relieved when I slide the final tray of cookies from the oven, stamp the last card, and wrap the last gift. The payback for all the work is that I can sit back and enjoy the holiday itself, and the week that follows, in a nicely decorated home, nibbling on the holiday leftovers, helping my kids figure out the rules to their new games.

But that comes next week. As I write this, I still have three kinds of cookies to make, and almost all of the kids’ presents to wrap. So I’m putting aside the laptop to go tend to those final tasks. I invite you to use the comments area to share your own take on what is and is not necessary for your Christmas celebrations.

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • http://www.painandspirituality.blogspot.com Carol D. Marsh

    Ellen — love the phrase, “if it’s undertaken willingly, thoughtfully and intentionally.” As for my take on what is and is not necessary, since it’s just Tim and I (plus Sierra), there’s nothing urgent. I decorate with nativity scenes from different countries – we now have 16 of them in various sizes from one inch to ten inches high – and lots of tea candles everywhere. An early morning prayer time with only the candle light and sacred music is all I really need, ever.

    Love your posts, and happy that you share your wisdom with all of us.
    Carol


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