If you have already decorated your entire house for Christmas, switched every radio dial and music app to Christmas music, are already planning your Elf on Shelf goals, and spend weekends hunting for the perfect presents, this story isn’t for you and nothing in here is meant to offend those who love, love, love Christmas.
On the other hand, if you’re kind of dreading this season and all the busyness and endless recommendations on how to make Christmas oh-so-special for your kids and do all the Christian things for Advent, keep reading. I’m talking to you.
It’s ok to slow down
The pastor at my Catholic parish is affectionately known as “The Grinch” because he encourages his parishioners to not go all out for Christmas until December 25th actually approaches. The Christmas season for Catholics and some other Christian denominations lasts a long time, like weeks and weeks. It technically does not start until Christmas Day. Some of us even joyfully keep Christmas decorations up until early February when the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord happens.
During Advent, which starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving and goes for four weeks until Christmas Day, we are encouraged to read spiritual books and to observe a penitential season of waiting – literally the opposite of what mainstream culture says to do.
I love this approach because it means I don’t need to go to every Santa event or Christmas tree lighting or Christmas train ride in order for my kids to “experience” Christmas. I mean, I didn’t necessarily do that anyways but now I have a pretty good reason not to.
Not doing all the things
If you’re in any Catholic or Christian mom social media groups or on any similar email lists, you’ve already been receiving messages, or reading them, about all the things you can do to observe Advent. From the Jesse Tree to books about Christmas to devotions to coloring pages and worksheets. There are so many ideas that it can seem overwhelming. Add in the secular holiday traditions like Elf on the Shelf and I want to go hide in a cave for a month.
One year not too long ago, I tried everything. I had a Jesse Tree, which you can use every day to show the progression of God’s creation and mercy throughout history, on our refrigerator. We used it once, maybe twice.
I had a map of some sort that we would read a Bible verse for every day and move along on the path towards Christmas. That didn’t last long either.
I had some kind of paper chain that we would rip off one each day until Christmas came. I think we made it a week.
We had an Advent wreath and read an Advent book and tried to go to Confession and Mass more often. We had our chocolate Advent calendar (not giving that one up).
It was too much and it was not helping us to slow down. In fact, Advent felt more frantic as I tried to keep up with all the things that were supposed to help my family to be holy and more prayerful.
Choosing only one or two things worked
In my quest to slow down and not do all the things, I chose only a couple things for Advent to do with my kids and do them well, or at least stick to doing them.
Last Advent season we lit our Advent candles most nights. Those are easy to remember and they are pretty. Plus, I love to talk about what they represent and why we have them this time of year.
Secondly, we chose to read 24 Christmas Stories to Welcome Jesus published by Ignatius Press. These are short stories that follow the birth of Christ with beautiful illustrations. You start it on December 1st. My kids and I all really loved this book and looked forward to reading it every night before bedtime.
And we always have an Advent calendar with chocolate because it’s something I had growing up and my kids absolutely love it.
We don’t put up a Christmas tree until closer to Christmas. We go to daily Mass a couple times a week, and incorporate the sacraments more into our daily lives. I try to be more patient, which takes heroic acts of mercy on everyone else’s part.
We don’t go to lots of events or put any kind of emphasis on gifts. And I will never do Elf on the Shelf. I try to teach my kids gratefulness and gratitude through volunteer work. It’s not an easy task with the materialism of our culture but for us, it’s worthwhile.
Christmas isn’t about keeping up with anyone
The true Christmas season is not about getting the most gifts or how many photos with Santa you get (although the ones with crying kids are always my favorite). It’s not about the trips taken for the holidays or finding the trendy toy your kid will play with for five minutes before forgetting about.
One of my favorite weeks in the entire year is that week between Christmas and New Years. The hype has died down to nothing. It’s a time of rest and often less stress with work. It’s a chance to maybe get caught up on things you had meant to do all year or take a couple days and have fun with your family without any pressure or deadlines. Why not be a rebel and start that slowing down way before Christmas? You don’t need to keep up with anyone.
My kids are not missing out on Christmas by not going all out during those insane weeks before the holiday. I think that by slowing down they are enjoying it more, not less. We are able to take the time to be with each other, focusing on relationships and more time with God, hopefully.
That’s the reason I’ve intentionally slowed down during Christmas. It’s way too stressful to do anything else and makes the season unbearable.