Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How to Plan for a Peaceful Advent

There seem to be two types of people out there when it comes to this holiday season: those who just love it and go into EVERYTHING with a gusto and those folks who just get overwhelmed and stressed by so many expectations and just so much to do. I'd say I fall into that second group.  A few years ago we had to learn by necessity how to slow down and create a more calm, restful holiday season after our sweet Isabel passed away. I'd been planning a bunch of activities to do with the kids once the baby arrived and I felt more normal again. Then our world came crashing down and my plans took an abrupt about face. Many changes were implemented and we haven't gone back to the old way. So here are some of our best suggestions for keeping the peace in your holiday plans.

First, give yourself permission to let go of any tradition, trip, gift, meal or trapping that does not add joy to your life. And I do mean anything. That fancy meal? That huge pile of cards? That trip to the relatives? Cookies for all the neighbors? You don't have to do any of it. I promise you that things will be ok if you just say no this year. Maybe you'll pick it back up again next year. Maybe you won't. The year Isabel died, we sent out a few Christmas cards. Each year I sent out fewer and fewer cards and the world kept turning. Yes, it means we get less cards ourselves but that really doesn't bug me. I love seeing pictures of friends and family members but I don't love feeling an obligation to DO something with those Christmas cards other than throwing them away.  We stopped visiting folks for the holiday way back when the older two were little. We realized very early on that we are just happier at home. Everyone can relax and be themselves. Plus Alan usually has to work anyway so we just embrace the holiday pay and stay home.

It's ok for that tree to go up late and for the decorations to be simple. This is where I admit that I do not do that whole nicely decorated house thing. Truthfully after years of always being told my homes looked awful for one reason or another, I gave up. I always felt too self conscious about it anyway so now we get out the advent wreath, put the tree up later in the season, get out the nativity set and pretty much call it good. If you love to decorate and it gives you joy, go for it. If it stresses you out, let it go.

Let go of the obligation to buy gifts you can't afford for folks. All I know is when my kids are grown and flown, the last thing I want them to do is go into debt buying gifts for us that they can't afford. So why do the same thing ourselves? Now I am not saying just drop out of all of your established gift giving with no notice. Give folks a heads up. They will understand. Perhaps you will free them up from buying another gift that they can't afford either. But don't turn the holiday season into the debt season. Your future and your children will thank you. I promise.

Pick a few simple traditions for your family to keep each year. And keep them low cost whenever possible. The traditions our family has stuck with our silly things, I'm sure. We usually have a cookie decorating party for their friends at some point in December. Meaning Alan makes a bunch of cookies, we throw some lunch in crock pots, invite friends over and the Moms talk while the kids eat all the sugar they can and play.  I will plan a hot chocolate party for our own kids one night. Usually we have a few different flavors of hot chocolate, a bunch of different toppings, and a movie. Super simple. Christmas Eve around here means opening the new pj's, having snack night, and watching the Muppets Christmas Carol. Christmas morning the kids get individual boxes of cereal and we head to morning Mass. Because I will admit I CANNOT stand the family Christmas Eve Masses and their chaos and I'm just not up to taking the littlest ones to midnight Mass.

We usually make our own Advent candles each year but I have a feeling that won't happen this year. One child has requested that we actually attempt to finish the Jesse Tree this year. Since the older kids have started working at a Christmas Tree farm, they insist we have a real tree now so the kids love going together to pick one out. They might have even made sure that the artificial tree was accidentally destroyed in a slightly malicious manner so that I have no choice but to consent to buying a real tree each year. But oh goodness, I don't like the mess from the real trees. Just do not like it. But I do this one for the family. I also acknowledge that it is more environmentally friendly and supports a local family and the local economy. But it does nothing for my mental health. Oiy.

But this is your permission to let go of anything that gives you stress. (Except that real tree if you have a family like mine.)  Embrace a slower pace and fewer obligations and maybe even a smaller budget. I've learned in talking to my own children that the things they remember most are almost always the small ones. The ones I thought were nothing. Turns out the small things truly are the big things. I think we adults tend to forget this simple truth in our quest for all things wonderful