What emotion fills you at the mention of "Christmas"?Thanksgiving is over, the last vestiges surviving in the leftover turkey in some of your refrigerators. Now, everyone turns their sights on Christmas.

What emotion fills you at the mention of this holiday at the end of our calendar year?

  • Excitement?
  • Dread?
  • Heartbreak?

Some of you aren’t much different than your children as you wait for the traditions that bring delight. Others of you cringe at the thought of the extra work added to your plate so that those around you can enjoy the season. And some of you mourn what could, or maybe should, have been.

Whether the Christmas season brings forth happy thoughts, apprehension, or bittersweet moments, we can all make some practical changes to make this the best Christmas ever.

The Reason We Celebrate

Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection. ~Winston Churchill

I love December for many reasons.I love December for many reasons — some of which I’ve purposely added to my life over the years. One of those deliberate choices is a time of reflection.

I love to sit near our Christmas tree in the evening or early morning, house quiet and lights glowing, and appreciate all it represents to me. The tree, it’s decorations, and the presents underneath remind me of:

  • The everlasting love of a Father;
  • A Savior, born to walk the earth and die in my place;
  • Hope that no matter what today looks like, God has a good plan;
  • Angels around us, carrying God’s messages and fighting spiritual battles;
  • People who love us and think about us;
  • And, of good and precious times in our family’s lives.

A Gift of Love

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17

Most people recognize that Christmas is a celebration of love.Most people recognize that Christmas is a celebration of love. Even secular resources talk about the goodwill that seemingly flows from everyone in December.

Yet it began with God offering His Son many years ago to a young girl and her betrothed, not the couple anyone would have picked. It continued with Jesus, obediently coming to earth and fulfilling His Father’s plans to save a people who wouldn’t understand. It lingers with the Holy Spirit, living in each of God’s children to help them, change them.

Christmas is about the ultimate expression of love. And that should be our guideline as we look forward over the next four weeks.

Focusing on Christmas

How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts! ~Benjamin Franklin

To truly focus on the love of the season, we need to clear out the junk that adds unnecessary stress.To truly focus on the love of the season, we need to clear out the junk that adds unnecessary stress. Oh, perhaps I should warn you. This isn’t easy.

To be honest, I did this in baby steps, cleaning a little here one year and a little there the next. Just remember: Every positive step forward is a step forward, no matter how slow the progress!

1. Prioritize your To Do list.

Many of us have grand ideals we’d love to enact for Christmas. I once imagined glorious perfection in beautiful decorations, stunning food dishes, and incredible traditions that my family would enjoy throughout December, year after year after year.

I gave that up — in part because it filled my holiday with stress, and in part because my family didn’t really care about most of it.

What does my family want? It’s pretty simple, really. Christmas tree, up and decorated. A few special decorations we love scattered around the house. Time for a few holiday movies throughout the month. Chocolate chip cookies on Christmas Eve, plus the occasional bag of holiday chocolate throughout December. A big breakfast Christmas morning. Presents under the tree, preferably wrapped or in gift My family doesn't want some magazine perfect holiday.bags, but the box they were mailed in is acceptable.

That’s it. My family doesn’t want some magazine perfect holiday, particularly if it means I’m stressed and unavailable to have fun with. The bottom line is that I love them, and God entrusted them each to my care. That means I must changed my priorities to better align with them.

2. Prioritize your calendar.

Most of us agree that we are all too busy, yet it seems that too many of us only add more to our calendars in December. Rather than nixing the monthly meeting, it becomes a Christmas party. The boss wants to bless his employees with an after work get-together. Friends send invites to holiday celebrations at their home. We feel guilty about not visiting the local old folks home and homeless shelter to donate time, so we add that in as well.

Stop. Just stop.

While all of those opportunities may be good ones, not all of them are necessary. In fact, I’d guess that many of them are more detrimental to your mental and emotional and familial health than they are helpful because they overload an already full schedule. Ouch, right?

Step back and consider your family.Step back and consider your family. Look at everyone’s calendar and appointments. Think through your priorities for the holiday season. How can you love the people God entrusted to you best? What can be cut out entirely? Which events must you attend but could be reduced, say you only attend for thirty minutes or an hour? What can you attend as a family that you will all enjoy?

3. Prioritize your celebration.

Out of everything you do in December, what is the most important to you? Notice I didn’t ask what should be the most important. I want you to get to the heart of what really moves you, the passions God put into your heart. You might want to write these down.

Now think about your spouse. And your children. If your parents or other family are nearby for the holiday, you might want to consider them as well.

Once all of that is laid out before you, plan your holiday season to include those moments, those gifts, and those desires that most speak to your family. First, put in the things most important to you and those closest to you. Then, as time allows throughout the month, add other memorable or fun or good things.

FINAL THOUGHTSChristmas can be a time of great stress or a time of tremendous joy.

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly. ~Andy Rooney

Christmas can be a time of great stress or a time of tremendous joy. It can be filled with heartache or overflow with heart-catching tributes.

The choice, really, is yours. Will you take steps today to make Christmas 2018 all God wants you to make it?

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