December 26, 2013

Christmas Season 2013: Traditions & Priorities

The whole family in Salerno to see the famous Christmas lights.
Every year I try my best to plan ahead and make sure we have time to enjoy and appreciate the various activities and celebrations of the Christmas season. And every year Christmas seems to come sooner than I'm ready for it, leaving me vowing to do even better the next year. But this year I'm giving myself a special gift: permission to enjoy what we DID do rather than be regretful about what we did NOT do. Permission to remember the positive experiences with fondness and joy and shrug off the negative with good humor and grace.

Did we get to everything on my Christmas to-do list? No.

Did we remember our Savior and actively seek to honor Him this month? Yes. Did we do that perfectly? Definitely not even close, but I have to believe He smiled at our attempts!

Since I haven't blogged about our personal activities this month, I'm going to capsulize the highlights with a few pictures (more are on Facebook), probably in a separate post. But one thing I wanted to note because it's a great step for me as a wife and mom is that I found myself making conscious decisions about more of my activities this season. I attribute this mostly to the study I had the privilege of leading this fall, A Woman After God's Own Heart by Elizabeth George. We spent quite a bit of our discussion time considering priorities and choices, and I felt so blessed when I realized I was making seasonal decisions based on what God has been teaching me through the book, Scriptures, and class discussions. What a blessing to have a group of women who sharpen and encourage one another!

So even though we can't usually boil things in life down to a single either/or, it really helped me to frame choices in this manner to myself. EITHER I can do this, OR I can do that, but not both. Which one do I choose? Which activity helps me keep my priorities in order?

Some examples of how this worked out practically for me:

  • Instead of getting up early to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast (as I had been hoping to do), I got up early and spent extra time cuddling in bed with my hubby. (We had enough sweets in our stockings!)
  • Instead of stressing out about making everything from scratch (which I truly do prefer), I took some shortcuts, like canned frosting for the Christmas cookies and a box mix for Jesus's birthday cake. Not as healthy, but the kids didn't care, and it makes it easier for me to resist eating the goodies myself, ha! 
  • For Christmas dinner, I ended up not even making ANY potatoes! I had tried to decide on one of 3 different recipes, none of which were make-ahead options. By the time Christmas Eve drew to a close, I had prepped homemade mac-and-cheese and a yummy green bean casserole, plus 2 dozen yeast rolls. Rhonda made the pistachio salad, and Ted was prepared to oversee the cooking of the ham. So I decided...we don't NEED potatoes! And you know what?! Christmas dinner was quite filling and we still have leftovers! It was nice to not do any cooking Christmas Day and have the prep work on Christmas Eve not be as taxing, either. 
  • As above...I ended up not making any Christmas pies, either. Not my choice...I would much rather have homemade apple or pecan pie than a box-mix birthday cake for Jesus, but we REALLY need that many desserts on a day when the kids are already pumped with candy and cookies?!
  • We said no to excessive gift-giving. There were some items we had in mind for the kids and ended up not pursuing. A good percentage of the kids' gifts were thrift store items (hooray for Hardy Boys and Warriors books and super-hero costumes!), and the older kids made gifts for each other while the younger ones used AWANA bucks to purchase gifts for others. The verdict? Tobin summed it up beautifully: "This was the best Christmas EVER!" I don't think they minded not having big bucks spent on them!
  • We said no to perfectly wonderful activities when they fell during busy times. Sure, the Air Force Christmas party was a blast last year and we would have loved to have attended again. And the dinner for local orphans was certainly a worthy cause and would have been a blessing to be part of personally (we DID provide food to be served for it, just didn't go ourselves). But we had to save our sanity and made tough choices as a couple and as a family, and our season was the richer for it. 
Some things we did do, if imperfectly:
  • As we do every year, we pulled out our Advent book and Advent calendar, tools that allow us to remind the kids of the different parts of the Christmas story and remind all of ourselves that the reason we do any of this stuff is because of Jesus. We may not have gotten to them every single day...but we read the pages and did the activities often enough that the younger ones got the gist!
  • We did do some favorite holiday baking, but only two kinds of Christmas cookies.  Good heavens, I'm realizing we didn't even do fudge or peanut butter balls! But how freeing to realize that NO ONE HAS REVOLTED because of the lack, ha!
  • We chose a few seasonal activities and enjoyed them thoroughly (parties, outings, etc.).
  • We did even begin a new tradition--a candy kiss countdown to Christmas! It was a very simple thing that the kids absolutely loved, so I guess we need to plan on doing it again next year!
Next I'll post on our activities with pics...not sure when that will happen, since all of Italy appears to be online now and everything is running slow! But at least I have a note to myself that the world will not come to an end if we don't do everything in December that we think we need to do. We had a wonderful, blessed Christmas, and part of the blessing for me came in consciously relaxing when things weren't going as perfectly as planned!

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