Surviving Christmas

I am not a regular purchaser of magazines. But recently in a desire to make the coming holiday season truly enjoyable, I blew the budget. In one issue I read how to make beeswax candles and how to prepare Spiced Roast Turkey which only requires that I re-hydrate dried tomatoes, gather ingredients such as garlic, finely grated lemon rind, coriander and cumin and then finally, “using my fingers, spread tomato/herb mixture under the skin of the turkey breast and thighs.” Then “skewer the neck skin to the turkey back, tuck wing tips under shoulder joints and tie drumstick ends securely together with string.”

Recipes in another magazine highlighted Artichoke and Goat Cheese BundlesTequila Marinated Shrimp and Mushroom Paté. And I could add to my Christmas household decorations by preparing “A Chair with Flair”:

Romantic enough for a dinner for two and lovely enough for a party, billowy chair covers of shimmery fabric are surprisingly easy to create…Buy a sheer curtain panel and two yards of wired ribbon for each chair. Thread the ribbon through the channel at the top of the curtain.. Place the panel over the top of your chair with the ribbon edge of panel on the front side…”

Let’s see, I have eight dining room chairs…that’s eight sheer curtain panels and sixteen yards of wired ribbon….

But the magazine that really got me excited about the holiday season was Martha Stewart’s Living. According to Martha’s handy November calendar, I should have already potted my amaryllis and hyacinths for Christmas; drained all my outdoor spigots, pipes and sprinklers; ordered the turkeys; delivered my boat to the boatyard and put up the dinghy; wrapped my ferns and shrubs in burlap and mounded and wrapped the roses; raked and blown the leaves; cleaned out the gutters; cut back the perennial beds; groomed my dogs and cats; tested the snowplow; and shopped for Thanksgiving staples.

One dictionary defines holiday as: a day fixed by law or custom on which ordinary business is suspended in commemoration of some event or person; any day of exemption from labor; a religious feast day; a holy day.

In a recent issue of our local newspaper, this full page ad appeared: “SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN! ‘Tis the season…come help us welcome Jolly Old St. Nick this Friday evening at 7:00 p.m…..” All this happening in mid-November!

I can bemoan the encroachment of materialism on the holidays. I can fault the merchants. I can even say “why does the church schedule so much during the holidays?”; but what I am ultimately and personally responsible for is my calendar.

The Christmas holidays look different for different people. For some there will be family…sometimes too much family. Some must cope with parents (two or more sets!) who will be hurt if you don’t celebrate with them. For others there will be no family— perhaps children are spending this holiday with the divorced mate and you face the prospect of an empty house. Perhaps you are single—of any age—without children, and the walls of your apartment will echo with aloneness.

Too many people or too few. Enough money but few to spend it on. Not enough money for even the basics. A calendar with every square crammed with activities or a calendar glaringly empty. But we return to those simple words: A HOLY DAY. How can we begin to truly savor the coming days and not merely survive them?

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, but with four children, the holiday was frequently not simple. Many years ago, however, I chose to make it a holy day, both for myself and—as much as possible—for those around me. Experts do have a few good ideas, but let me share some thoughts that will perhaps help you turn the holidays into truly holy days.

Prepare yourself: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Be STILL?? How ridiculous when there is so much to do, yet I find this to be an absolute prerequisite for holy days. Just ten minutes of quiet before the house explodes in the morning (or perhaps, ten minutes at night when the house has stopped exploding) are absolute necessities.

During the days leading up to the holidays, I do this primarily by reading well-written books and listening to appropriate music. Our family had an unplanned contest to see who would turn on Handel’s Messiah the earliest. The record is held by our oldest son: October 25th! When the entire family joined us for Thanksgiving several years ago, no one was surprised to hear Messiah music during dinner clean up time.

Advent will find me re-reading the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ birthand life. Along with this I will choose poetry and prose from some of my favorite writers. I have no more time than any other working woman, but I find these daily few minutes of stillness are the essential foundation for all else that occurs during the holidays.

Now come the practical ideas. First, have a financial plan. It really isn’t necessary to go into debt during the holidays. Begin your shopping in January. While it’s too late to begin shopping the January sales for this Christmas, certainly keep it in mind for next year. “But I don’t know what I’ll want to buy for Joe or Susy or Mother” is the usual excuse. If we come to understand that it truly is merely an excuse, we can escape the trap of last minute shopping. Find a corner in a closet to store things—and label them!—for bargains you pick up throughout the year.

This year our family is choosing to give “nothing new” for adult gifts. Some of us will scour resale shops and stores run by charitable organizations to find that something special for each personality. Others may bake homemade cookies to give, while some may look through old photos to find that special smile of a child, brother or sister and include it with a warm note telling of special memories.

What about those hard-to-buy-for, never-quite-satisfied people on your list? I have them on my list too and a few years ago I found the perfect solution. We make a contribution in their name to a charity or mission project that seems to fit their personality or interests.

Next, make a food plan. Shop early and spread the food costs. Sometimes that means stopping on my way to work for the non-perishables. I begin buying those usually expensive holiday goodies as early as October. In the weeks prior to Christmas, several grocery stores in our area have turkeys on sale for $5.00. When I see a special sale I pick up bags of almonds for my special sugared orange nuts.

No time to bake those special rolls that mother always made? Frozen rolls served warm from the oven seem to satisfy any longings for the good old days. Christmas cookies? Kids love them but you hate the mess? Make up a batch of cookie dough, put Saturday Morning Mess on your calendar, give the kids your full attention and a pail and mop when the project is over.

Instead of filling the menu with every imaginable goody, concentrate on one thing everyone loves. In our family, cinnamon rolls made a week before December 25th, frozen, then thawed and baked while gifts are opened spell (and smell!) “Christmas.”

Have an activity plan.
Prioritize. Sit down, alone or with your family, and decide what’s truly important. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make an Advent wreath, light candles each Sunday of Advent, read the appropriate scripture, and decide on a practical application of the topic. (This can be done as a single person or as a family.) If the subject is hope, ask what you and the family can do to bring hope to someone this week. Have a practical plan. This is an excellent way to distract children from the pull of commercialism. Teens may seem uninterested—that’s because they’re teens–do it anyway!
  • Plan one special event for the family. Maybe it’s the church concert, a Nutcracker Suite performance, ice skating, leaving cookies on a doorstep, inviting someone for a special meal. Learn to say a resounding—but polite!—NO when tempted to overindulge in activity.
  • Include others in your holiday plans. A wonderful way to teach our children generosity is to include others in a family celebration.
  • A word for singles: self-pity creeps in to the single life during the holidays but be on your guard. If family is not nearby, don’t wait for others to invite you. Plan the holiday in your home. Take the initiative. If you absolutely can’t find anyone else with whom to celebrate, volunteer at an assisted living residence, hospice, etc. Be creative.

You may wish to try solitude for part of Christmas Day. One year our daughter living in New York City enjoyed a quiet morning of tea and homemade scones, then went to Central Park to make snow angels.

A humble Jewish girl sang a song of praise even though her circumstances were difficult (and about to get more difficult), her family would not understand her and she had no idea of the stark reality of her future. I’ve paraphrased part of Mary’s song for me; you can do it for yourself.

“My soul chooses to glorify the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He is always mindful of me and my situation…

The Mighty One has done great things for me…holy is His name.
His mercy extends to all those who fear him,

From all past generations, to me and to all those to come.

He has performed mighty deeds even for me…
He continues to fill my hungry soul with good things.

He has helped me, His servant; He remains merciful to me even as he promised.”
Therefore today—and all through this coming season of holy days,

I stand quiet before Him,

I stand still;

I know that He is God.”

By Marilyn Ehle

If you don’t know Jesus and his saving power and love, you can learn more from this article: God’s Love and Plan for his People

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