We’ve come a long way from the birth of a simple Bethlehem baby – born in a barn – to our present Christmas extravagance. The earliest celebrations of the Christ-child’s birth bear no resemblance to our present pageantry. As early as October, we begin to feel the stress of Christmas expectations. Like Lucille Ball hopelessly trying to keep up with conveyor belt candy wrapping, we fear that we will fail to bake all the goodies, attend all the parties, address all the cards, purchase all the presents, and meet all the expectations of family and friends. We pressure each other with so much holiday hoopla that we ought to join the little boy who prayed his own version of the Lord’s Prayer because he misheard the word “trespass.” He prayed, “And forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”
With Christmas, less really can be more. I want you to ponder some steps we might take in order to have a simple Christmas. Just as we unclutter our houses to achieve simple elegance, let’s dare to unclutter our Christmas.
Manage the menu. No Christmas dinner really demands a dozen choices for dessert, or nine vegetable casseroles. Each grandchild doesn’t have to have his or her favorite flavor of pie every year. The confectionary chaos of six pies, four cakes, and three kinds of cookies (remember, Uncle Ed can’t have the nuts) only contributes to our “choice overload” and resulting seasonal stress. For a simple Christmas, prepare one entrée, three vegetables, and one or two desserts. Streamlining your menu, you’ll find that you’ll spend less time cooking and washing casserole dishes and more quality time with your family.
Pass on the presents. What do you buy for the person who already has absolutely everything, that hard-to-buy-for brother-in-law? Nothing. If your gift list was cut in half this holiday, you would reduce your stress, save time, and find new freedom. Years ago, I suggested that my family (parents and adult siblings) end the pressure to purchase presents for each other and simply focus on presents for the children in the family. My proposal, to my surprise, was welcomed by everyone. Forego another Black Friday frenzy and pen a heartfelt letter to those you love. A one-of-a-kind letter that expresses years of unspoken gratitude is a grace gift that will be treasured for a lifetime, long after another bottle of Old Spice is empty.
Pare back the parties. Running between office parties, holiday house drop-ins, and family gatherings, we exhaust all our energy. Trying “to be” with everyone, we end up really “being” with no one. We can pare back our parties with the following suggestions: (1) Take turns with your close friends alternating who will give a Christmas party for your circle of friends rather than running everyone ragged with each party-thrower trying to outdo the last. (2) On an evening when you’ve already accepted an invitation to a Christmas party, simply decline future invitations rather than trying to party hop, thus really missing any meaningful moments at any event. (3) Urge your office manager to throw a Christmas party in a month other than December. Believe it or not, the First Baptist Church Christmas party is usually held in January or February. Having the celebration after the holiday season allows staff members to actually relax and enjoy the get-together. We also schedule the gathering during lunch time, rather than taking our employees away from their families for yet another night.
Downsize the decorating. If we were to be honest, there is a little bit of Clark Griswold (“Christmas Vacation”) inside each of us. When my neighbor uses 40 strands of lights, I can only imagine how much better mine will look with 60. Of course, next year he puts up 80, and I’m forced to go back and hang a hundred. You get the picture. And, just because you’ve put up two Christmas trees for the past 20 years doesn’t mean that you can’t leave one of them in the attic this year. If decorating is something that brings you joy, help yourself. If not, don’t feel an obligation to meet anyone else’s expectations for the decorations in your home. In contemporary decorating, we’re learning that less is more. Interior design magazines are filled with beautiful homes that have cut down on the clutter, offering clean, straight lines. Reduce the Christmas knickknacks and dust-gatherers. If you’re really dreading getting down the Christmas tree this year, you might substitute a beautiful centerpiece instead.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simplify Christmas, spend more meaningful time with family and friends, and actually focus on worship? Perhaps we’ve journeyed too far from the Bethlehem stable with our front yard laser light shows. If all of the holiday hoopla brings you fulfillment, by all means, full steam ahead. If, however, you find yourself stressed out at the thought of Christmas expectations, take a step back and realize it doesn’t have to be this way. Make some deliberate choices so when the holiday season comes you can say, “It’s simply Christmas this year.”
“Forgive our Christmases, as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”
by Dr. Howie Batson
Howie is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Amarillo.