No matter your age or stage in life, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be, well, hectic.
In addition to the working and schooling that normally go on throughout the year, we tend to add in a bunch of extra ”-ings” in December.
For instance: cooking, baking, tasting, crafting, decorating, listing, spending, shopping, taping, wrapping, gifting, writing, stamping, mailing, partying, watching, eating, drinking, traveling, and just general merry-making.
Whew. It makes me tired just to read all of that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I love lights! And trees! And dinners with friends! And finding the perfect gift! And visiting family!
But one day I noticed that it stopped being fun for me.
Maybe this has happened to you, too.
Several years ago—2012 to be exact—I flipped my calendar from November to December and had a little meltdown. We had SO much going on that month, and although it was all fun and festive—church choir practice, cookie exchange, work party, visit with Santa, Christmas light tour, etc.—it was still A LOT.
And on top of all the stuff we planned to do, there was also a lot of stuff we had to get. Gifts for the kids and family and friends and teachers and coworkers. Cards and stamps and wrapping paper and bows.
I could see the money flying out of our bank account even before we started shopping.
Pulling off everything we had planned would require almost every single minute of our spare time. It felt overwhelming, especially with two little kids, work responsibilities, and trying to stick to a budget.
I wanted Christmas to be magical. Instead, it just felt stressful. That year, I sprinted through those hectic weeks, skidding to a stop on January 2 worn out, exhausted, and empty.
On January 3, I decided that I was not okay with worn out, exhausted, and empty.
So I spent the next few days of that shiny new year dreaming up something different.
I wanted my Christmas spirit back.
I wanted a holiday filled with the wonder of a star in the east, the miracle of a Spirit-conceived child, the peace of knowing that Hope had arrived on earth.
I wanted Jesus.
And I had an idea.
What I needed was a theme. A focus. A word. I needed something to keep my eyes fixed on the true meaning of the holiday instead of getting bogged down with the commercial side of things.
The following year, as the trees lost their leaves and the November sun set earlier and earlier, I began my now annual tradition of choosing a December Theme. I decided on “Be Quiet” that first year, and it became my mantra throughout the entire month. I said it over and over to myself as I shopped for gifts, spent time with my family, and did all the holiday things.
For me, it wasn’t so much about quieting my mouth (though I did that to a certain extent as well), but about quieting my heart and my mind. I come from a long line of anxiety-ridden overthinkers so this is and always has been a challenge for me. But the last thing I wanted to do during the holidays was stress about every single little thing, overthink family gatherings, and be generally wound up every minute of every day.
So in addition to thinking about being quiet, I also made time to be quiet.
I changed up my routine to include thirty minutes of silence in the early morning and in the evening. Time to light a candle, turn on all the twinkle lights, listen to Christmas music and just be. To turn off my brain and tune into the peace that Jesus offers if we will just stop and listen.
Much to my delight, it worked.
Having that special time in my day and those words to come back to again and again helped me create and keep a peaceful layer underneath the chaos of the holidays. So if the baby refused her nap (again), or if I burned the cookies (again), or if somebody brought up politics at the big family dinner (again), instead of feeling anxious or frustrated, I could remind myself to Be Quiet. I could sink down into my quiet place where the candles were always lit and the lights were always twinkling and the Christmas music was always playing and God was always waiting.
I experienced Christmas in a whole new way that year. And I’ve never gone back.
Since then, I’ve chosen a new word or phrase each year. Here are some examples:
RELAX – all caps on purpose! CHILL. OUT. It will all be fine.
Be Prepared – that year we began on November 1 and had every gift bought and wrapped, and every card written and sent before December 1 so that we could really lean into the season.
Rest – in which we were very choosy about our going out plans and instead planned a lot of Christmas movies, pizza, and hot chocolate at home.
Hush – this one was inspired by my all-time favorite Christmas line, “O hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing.”
Although different, each of these themes has guided me through the Christmas season and encouraged a true focus on what’s most important: Emmanuel, God with us. A tiny baby born more than 2000 years ago, come to save us all. What a gift!
This year, I’ve chosen a new word to walk me through December: Peace.
Will you join me?
Let’s focus our hearts and minds on the Peace offered to each of us through the hope of the star, the journey of the wise men, the bravery of Mary and Joseph, and the willingness of Jesus to come to earth.
Below are some ideas for focusing your heart and mind on Peace this Christmas…
Artist? Paint something inspired by or representing peace.
Dedicate 10 minutes, twice per day, to a moment of quiet and stillness
Your own idea…