I've been following Matthew Kelly's 'Best Advent Ever' to discover how to best lead up to experiencing genuine Christmas Joy with my family. During these weeks we have been instructed on how to discover the best version of ourselves - which aspects of our lives to improve, which to reconsider or discard. Today's lesson offers the following:
Our essential purpose is to grow, change, develop, and become the-best-version-of-ourselves. Do your Christmas traditions help you do that? Will they help you prepare for Jesus’ coming? Follow Dominick’s 3-step process to decide which Christmas traditions to keep and which ones to consider eliminating.
Take an inventory of all the habits and traditions that make up your typical Christmas.
Look at each one and determine which ones will help you become the-best-version-of-yourself this Christmas, which ones don’t make a difference, and which ones are just distractions.
Eliminate the things that are just distractions, even if they are fun or old traditions.
This left me pondering about which Christmas traditions are dead weight in my life. We all know that our Christmas preparations can sometimes become overwhelming. As our families grow and change, we may even add more in the way of traditions and activities. But is that what it really takes for the most joyous Christmas ever?
Let me share a few things that have made my Christmas more joyous throughout the years. Some of these changes have been deliberate while others happened due to necessity.
- Some years I don't bake. Yes, I know that's a shocker to most of you but as my family grew and expanded, I realized that my cookies were only a part of the crowd. I have grown children now, who have spouses. While my baking was a source of pride, the need simply wasn't there for more sweets.
- Our menu was also altered for more enjoyment and less duty. After our mother died, we felt duty bound to cook everything she had prepared – plus any dishes added as our family grew. The leftovers would last a week! Now we have honed our menu to include favorites while eliminating overkill. This is better for everyone – less expense, less calories, and less effort. Our meals would still match most Christmas feasts but we have done away with unneeded extravagance.
- We eliminated adult gifting for our extended family Christmas Eve gathering. As the family grew there were many, many children - siblings, cousins, friends. Having even just a name drawing became more chore than joy for the adults. We concluded that we would switch to a "Funny Santa" game with a reasonable price limit. The caveat being that we had to bring a gift we wouldn't mind taking back home with us - no pranks.
- The children each give and receive one gift – the drawing is held on Thanksgiving. To make the children's gift exchange more meaningful, we begin with the youngest and each child is handed their gift by the giver. One gift at a time is presented and there is a 'no rushing' rule. In this way, each child is allowed the joy of both giving and receiving - two 'gifts' in one.
- As more children came along even "Funny Santa" became a stretch, so off it went, never to be practiced again. Watching the child gift exchange is more than enough to satisfy the adults.
- Sometimes we don't go on an official Christmas light excursion. One of the traditions we used to practice was to rent a limousine each year for light viewing. We would pack snacks, cocoa, and provide the driver with our choice of Christmas CDs. These days we may combine a late afternoon grocery run with driving through the local light attraction at a public park and spotting lights on our way home.
Allowing ourselves to let go of things that we cling to out of habit or tradition frees us for keeping and developing more enriching practices. Here are some example of faith building traditions that do we intend to keep:
- Advent Wreath – whether it is a traditional, fresh pine wreath, one made with children’s hand prints, or an artistically fashioned faux wreath, this is a must. We light our candles daily and read a bit of scripture or other text providing a build up to the Nativity.
- Waiting Tree – this was a tradition I introduced when the first of our nine grandchildren were very young. It’s a small, tabletop tree that holds tiny books, hanging from golden threads. Each book contains a portion of the Christmas story - one is read and hung per day.
- Petition Activity – another tradition was started to make Advent more meaningful for little children. One child takes a turn, day by day, to choose a colored clothes pin with a prayer petition on it. This reminds us of those we love or those who are in need.
- Christmas caroling – even if we are unable to sing with a large choir (our parish is quite small), we choose a day for the cousins to get together to sing. We visit the elderly and widowed up and down our rural road to give a bit of cheer to those who might otherwise miss out.
- Advent/Christmas books and movies – each year we purchase another Advent/Christmas themed book or DVD for our collection. While anticipating Christmas, what better way to spend evenings than to share a spiritually themed story or two?
- Confession –whether it’s a local penance service or just a regularly scheduled time, we make sure that we are up to date on our confession. Even with the aim of going once per month, we sometimes fail. During Advent we make sure that we have prepared a proper home for Jesus, when He comes.
As we live amongst the hustle and bustle of the world around us, we sometimes struggle to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. It is only when we set out to prioritize our activities – and even our thoughts – that we are able to become the best version of ourselves. When we find a new way to accomplish this and practice it, our efforts contribute to peace in the family and in the world. As we await Our Lord’s coming, as a little Child, may we find the proper priorities and through them shine His Light for the world.
What are some of your family’s Advent and Christmas traditions? Are you willing to reconsider some of your priorities? Or is your tradition-driven activity already finely honed? Chime in and let us know!