I’m one of those weird people who starts thinking about next Christmas on December 26. Really. I sit down and make notes about what I loved and what I would like to have done differently. I put those notes in my Christmas planner for the next year, then hit the stores to stock up at the after-Christmas sales. I finish my Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving so I can relax and enjoy my own Advent season. I even do a countdown on a social site I’m part of, sharing ideas and suggestions. That countdown started in September.
The other day I mentioned on another social site (I’m very social) that I’m getting close to being done with my Christmas shopping. I also pointed out that for me it’s less about gifts and much more about creating a peaceful holiday season. A friend suggested I blog about my thoughts on Christmas and gift-giving. My initial thought was that I’d wait until the holidays were a bit closer. Then I changed my mind. Now is the perfect time to really take a look at what kind of Christmas you want.
I love to give. Frankly, I don’t have the money to give expensive gifts. Then again, I don’t think I would if I could. Gifts are a token of affection. The very act of giving a gift says that you care.
There are groups of people that we choose a particular gift for and give the same thing to everyone. Our pastors make up one group. (We have five pastors on staff.) The volunteers in our church’s children’s ministry (35 people or so) make up another. Other than that type of thing, gifts should be personal. A gift should make the recipient feel good—like love and thought have gone into it. It should not bring happiness only to the giver. My mom had a run-in with a squirrel several years ago. I still laugh when I think about it and would love to give Mom any number of squirrel-themed items. However, Mom has never been able to see the humor in the incident. I won’t be buying Mom squirrel stuff.
Okay, so here’s where I get a little strange. If someone is giving me a gift, it’s about the giver. I know that sounds contradictory, but hear me out. Remember, a gift is a token of affection. I appreciate any gift that is given to me, whether it’s something I would have chosen or not. That’s the choice I make. Yes, that even applies to gifts that could be construed as insulting. I could take the gift of a diet book as an unwelcome comment about my weight or as a sincere concern for my health. That doesn’t mean I have to use it, it just means that I will thank the recipient and appreciate the giving of the gift.
Another point to consider: once a gift is given it is the sole property of the recipient. They may choose to keep it, exchange it, give it away, or even throw it away. What they do with the gift is not a reflection of their love or affection for me.
The Furry Guy’s family made the decision a few years ago to stop exchanging gifts among the siblings. That didn’t stop me. We now do something small for everyone. No, it’s nothing they can’t get for themselves, but it’s a token of our affection.
I love visiting family. No kidding. I love to hear all of the same old stories and jokes. I love catching up with people. That’s just who I am. However, not every gathering has always been a joy for me. There was one in particular I dreaded. I knew that, no matter what happened, I’d probably leave hurt and offended. For weeks leading up to the event my stomach would be in knots. I dreaded it. Then, I happened on a good idea—change your own attitude. I made the decision to view the insensitive and downright rude remarks as fodder for my standup routine. No, I don’t actually do standup. I do, however, share funny stories with my friends. Now, instead of getting upset, I smile inwardly, thinking about how my friends are going to laugh when I tell them the story. It took a while to truly change my emotional reactions, but it’s been worth it.
There’s another thing I try to keep in mind. In some situations The Furry Guy, our son, and I are in the minority. There are few other Christians there. We are called to be salt and light even among our families. I am determined to make my words and actions a reflection of my faith. The Bible says they’ll know us by our love. I will love these people, whether they make it easy or not.
One day these people will be gone. They are a part of who I am (or, similarly, who The Furry Guy is), and I am thankful for the part they’ve played in my life.
The Rest of It
I’m really talking about rest. Have you ever noticed how refreshing it is to change your routine? That’s one of the things the holiday season does for us. Because I get a lot of the work associated with Christmas done early, I am able to set aside plenty of time to simply enjoy the season. I watch holiday movies. I bake up a storm. I set aside time to drive around neighborhoods looking at lights. I spend a lot of time in prayer, thanking the Lord for the gift of His son and the many other blessings He’s bestowed on my life.
I invite women over for a Grinch Party. Sometime during the second week of December I invite lots of friends for an obligation-free evening. They aren’t allowed to bring a thing. I provide snacks—mostly those foods we used to eat at sleepovers like cookies, chips, and such. We spend the first fifteen minutes or so just chatting and filling our plates. Then, we watch the original, animated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The invitation states that the evening lasts from 7 to 8 p.m. That allows anyone to leave as soon as they need to. They are welcome to stay as late as they want, though. It’s not unusual for some of them to be there for several hours. It’s mostly a chance for women to sit and talk about anything and everything.
This year I’m planning a Baby Shower for Mary and Baby Jesus. The guests will bring unwrapped baby gifts. We’ll play some of the usual shower games, talk, and eat cake and punch. Afterward the gifts will be given to a local crisis pregnancy center.
In my countdown I often urge my friends to start planning now for the holiday season they want. By really sitting down and making plans early you stand a much better chance of having the Christmas you want.