I love Christmas! I had my tree up and house decorated before Thanksgiving this year, even though my poor neighbors could have probably done without the extra days of staring at our Christmas wiener dog inflatable or our obnoxiously large, twinkling, and waving snowman. Ah, yes, Christmas is my favorite!
With all of that said, there is a lot about the Christmas season that takes the joy right out of it, pushes Jesus to the side, strains marriage and families, and puts a big, obnoxious golden statue of a holiday gangster in His place. No, I’m not referring to Santa Clause. I’m talking about all the pride, greed, and bizarre behavior that many associate with the most wonderful time of the year. It’s got to stop right NOW. So, how can we enjoy the Christmas season and foster a strong marriage in spite of all the craziness? Well, here are five ways to have a Merry Christmas in your marriage and family:
1. Take the pressure off yourself to do “all the things.”
It’s easy to get sucked into all the madness, and the pressure we feel to do all the things can take a toll on our marriage. This negative spiral starts with relatively good things that are blown way out of proportion. Just the other day, I was on Facebook and saw that several of my friends were upset because their kids came home complaining about their Elf on the Shelf being absent. These poor mothers were sweating bullets over their error in forgetting when the magical elf would make his or her appearance. The madness! The Elf on the Shelf isn’t a terrible thing at all, but our obsession with outdoing each other—I mean trying to be creative for our kiddos—is defeating the whole purpose of adding a little magic and wonder to the Christmas season for our little ones. Honestly, our kids are not going to have emotional issues later in life due to the fact that “Sprinkles the Elf” didn’t make a flour-angel or poop skittles in the toilet during one childhood Christmas. Good grief! Let’s give ourselves a break, and keep our minds and hearts focused on our family and the real meaning of Christmas.
2. Choose to embrace Christmas traditions that bring joy—not stress—to you and the whole family.
If positioning your elf is fun and enjoyable for the whole family then, by all means, continue the fun tradition; but if you and your spouse are constantly having anxiety over your little elf, I have a solution that might work for you and has certainly worked for us. Have your elf write your kiddos a note explaining that he or she needs to go spend time with family since that really is at the heart of the Christmas season. If you, your spouse, and your kids still desire the wonder and magic of the elf to continue, you can have an “invisible elf” that leaves little gifts in a small sleigh each morning for the kiddos, twelve days before Christmas. My super-creative mom did something like this for my sister and me when we were little, and we loved it. There was no elf to position, but there was the excitement of knowing that a cute pair of socks, Legos, DVD, chore coupons, or nail polish might be waiting for us in the little sleigh each morning on each of the twelve days before Christmas.
3. Be intentional about investing in your marriage this Christmas season.
Whether we have kids or not, Christmas can be a stressful time. Therefore, we must be intentional about taking time and making effort to invest in our marriage. Plan some extra-special date nights with your spouse this season. Go to that nice restaurant and enjoy a romantic meal. Go on a drive and look at the beautiful lights around town—just the two of you. Put the kids to bed early, light the fire, cuddle, and talk at home. Do your Christmas shopping for friends and family together so it doesn’t fall on just one spouse and you can spend the time talking and enjoying one another. It doesn’t have to take a lot of planning or money. The most important thing here is taking the time and making your marriage a priority.
4. Serve together.
This is probably my favorite way to celebrate Christmas! Find a way for you and your spouse (and possibly your kids, too) to serve together this holiday season. Whether it is sponsoring a child on the Angel Tree, volunteering at your local soup kitchen, donating clothing and blankets to a local mission, going to a laundry mat with a lot of quarters and gifting laundry cycles, sending handmade cards to a nursing home near you, or baking up some goodies for your neighbors, there are so many ways we can love on people this Christmas. Talk to your spouse and brainstorm about what you and your family could do to serve your community this season. Then, go do it! You will live out the spirit of Christmas and brighten up someone’s day, but you and your marriage and family will be tremendously blessed in the process as well.
5. Simplify your gift-buying and giving process.
A few years ago, Dave and I realized that we were overdoing it with gifts at Christmas. Our boys would tear through all their gifts in ten minutes, play with one or two of them, and put the rest away in their closets. Two months later, I would find two to three gifts IN THEIR PACKAGING underneath the pile of other forgotten toys from Christmas past. We decided this was not only wasteful, but it was taking away from the real meaning of Christmas—the gift of Love in the form of flesh and the joy of celebrating it together. So, we decided to take a different approach. When we read the Christmas story to our children, it is clear that the wisemen brought Jesus three very special gifts after his birth.
“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:9-11
Why not carry on this tradition with our kids? Instead of an exorbitant number of gifts under the tree, why not give your children three very special gifts that they really want. Even if your kids don’t have any “big” or expensive gifts in mind, you can still bundle several gifts into three separate special packages to open. We started doing this a few years ago, and it has made our Christmas mornings much sweeter. Last year, our oldest wanted a Swiss Army knife. So, for one of his gifts we made a special camping-themed gift which included the pocket-knife, a camp shirt, and a small tent. He loved it. Our middle-son is a crafter, so we put together a special gift full of new markers, paper, an easel, and paint. Before we started this new tradition, we explained the significance of the three gifts to the boys, and they have really appreciated the thoughtfulness behind each gift.
That is what Christmas is all about. It is an extra-special time when we can pause and be extra-thankful, extra-loving, extra-forgiving, and extra-generous with our time, resources, and expression of love. I want my kids to clearly see and experience this truth in our family traditions. The very first Christmas was and is the greatest news the Earth has ever received after all.