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It’s not too late! Ten Tips for Keeping Your “Santa-ty” over the Holidays --Confessions from a Recovering Christmas-holic.

Advent is the season of “Expectation," but all too often what I have been “expectantly awaiting” has sadly not been the celebration of the birth of our Savior or His second coming. In my younger years what I was awaiting was the gift-giving extravaganzas of the season. After becoming a mother, there was a new expectation: I was going to have to produce this “over the top” holiday for my family. I had great fear and even dread that what I had planned was not going to meet everyone's expectation for a "Happy Holiday".

No one seems to feel this heavy burden quite like mothers.

From one who has been there, and is trying her best to re-learn how to celebrate a happy and holy Christmas, I offer you these ten tips for managing and keeping your “Santa-ty” over the holidays.

Tips for keeping your “Santa-ty” this Christmas with your extended family:

We all have baggage and we bring it with us to the family gathering at Christmas. Each person’s “expectations” may vary greatly from their spouse’s and their spouse's families’.

Let me explain by personal example:

Growing up in Texas where BIGGER is always better, the holiday celebrations were quite the event. The Church pageants had live camels. The Christmas concerts were literally “Living Christmas Trees”, thirty feet tall stuffed full of choir members, and the gifts flowed like the punch out of the large crystal bowl. To top it off, my mother’s birthday was on Christmas Eve so friends and family gathered from miles away and we celebrated non-stop for what seemed like days.

Contrast that to my husband’s up-bringing. He grew up in oil-patches in west Africa. He had no Christian tradition-- no church, no concerts, no pageants. His family received a few packages from the US, but their celebration was not nearly the extravaganza we had, as “stuff” was just very hard to come by in Nigeria and Angola.

On the first Christmas after we had married, we decide to visit his family for the holidays. They had recently retired to a sleepy little town in West Virginia. I noticed that there were no gifts for me under the tree-- not even on Christmas eve. On Christmas morning, when I awoke--yep-- you guessed it-- nada. I was so offended.

When we came down to be greeted by his mother, she sat in her usual chair, proofreading the New Yorker, and glanced up briefly to say,”Merry Christmas! Pick any book you like off of the shelf!” and then went right back to her magazine. And that was that! THAT was Christmas!

Gift giving is my personal love language and she did not speak it.

Over the years I had to learn that her love language was acts of service, not gift giving, and that she actually disliked gifts, as she said no one ever got her what she really wanted. Why bother?

I wish I knew then what I know now. A good offense is always the best defense!

Tip #1—Know in advance, to the best of your ability, how the people you will spend the holidays with will celebrate and how they would like to be shown love. Seek to serve this Christmas and not to be served. If you make it your goal to love others well, things will go much more smoothly. Pray for them in advance, keeping as your only goal to show them the love of Christ.

Tip #2--QTIP! Quit Taking It Personally! I finally figured out it wasn’t about ME. My husband’s family simply celebrated differently than mine did.

Stop now and pray for the family members you will join for the holidays and ask God to show you how to love and serve each of them well. As Jesus said in John 15: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” and then He goes on to say, ”This I command you: love one another.”

Tips for keeping your “Santa-ty” this Christmas with your kids:

I have a 4 daughters. The first few years when they were very young I learned a great lesson. I would vacillate between freaking out that I had bought too little, running out and buying more and wrapping it all on Christmas Eve, only to then freak out again because I had bought too much.

I knew I had overdone it one fateful year, when after they came down the stairs, they each picked out one gift from under the tree, opened it, and then went into the other room to play with it. I tried to coax them back in, but they seemed very happy with the one toy.

I was baffled. Then I realized --they were totally overwhelmed!

What to do!?

When Christmas becomes about the gifts and not The Gift- -Jesus-- there will be problems! Paul writes that Jesus stated: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” So how do we do this?

In most families, the mother sets the tone for the holiday. You, as the parent, get to decide how Christmas will be celebrated for your family. After that crazy Christmas I vowed to try to make Christmas more about Jesus and less about the stuff.

Tip # 3- Buy a nativity set that the children can help to set up- not a breakable one-but one they can hold. Keep it front and center in your home.

Tip #4- Read Bible stories each night so that they can see the big picture of where Jesus fits into the story. Ask questions and see if you can trace Jesus’ family lineage through the stories in the Old Testament.

Tip #5- Light a candle and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas day.

Tip #6 -When they get a bit older, decided as a family to go and serve at a homeless shelter on Christmas. (My girls like this as much or more than the gifts.) And possibly give what you would spend on at least one gift for each other, to the poor.

I shared with a friend what had happened that crazy Christmas and she laughed. She gave me the answer to my problem. She simply said that in her family the kids only received three gifts-- period! That is all Baby Jesus got, so that is all her kids got.

My problem was solved!

Tip #7- The “three gift rule” was instated. It is a great way to help keep a lid on going over-board, and has a great precedent! (In our home, Santa also happily fills their stockings, but just with little things.)

Keeping it simple has saved my Santa-ty with regards to my kids.

Stop now and pray for each one of your children (or any children you may encounter over the holidays.) Ask God to reveal Himself to them this Christmas and be born in their hearts anew. Ask that you, as their mother, are filled with grace to be like Mary, to set a sacred tone for your family. Ask that God make you bold in breaking traditions, if need be, to make your Christmas a beautiful and holy Christmas, one that honors Him and is also loving and generous in all the right ways with your family. Ask that you are able to leave room in your heart, home, and schedule so that He comes, in all His beautiful fullness this Christmas.

Lastly, tips for keeping your “Santa-ty” during the mad-rush of the holidays for yourself:

As stated, you as the mother set the tone for the holiday, and really for everyday in your household.

Proverbs 14:1 states: “A Wise woman builds her house, But a foolish woman tears hers down with her own hands.” We can become so preoccupied with doing and making and buying--that we forget to just “be”.

If you get so stressed out that you begin barking at everyone while whirling from one thing to the next, so much so that your head is spinning, your kids are exhausted, and the peace and love of Christ are nowhere in the picture, you will not be displaying the joyful heart of Christ that you, as the mom, want to exhibit.

The very best way I have found to combat the Christmas crazies and to keep my Santa-ty is by having a couple of non-negotiables in my life--and not just for Christmas-- for every day.

I have learned, that if I want to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control in my life-- I must connect daily to the One Who invented all of these beautiful gifts--the One Who is all of these beautiful things Himself-- God.

Tip # 8 Take time to prayerfully read His word each morning and simply ask Him what He would like to say to you through it. Personally, I have come to love going to daily Mass or to the Adoration chapel to be with Him. I feel more peaceful and have a deep seated sense of soul-satisfaction from being with Him there.

Tip # 9- Get outside and exercise. You don’t have to go far, or make it hard. A twenty-minute walk will clear your head and re-set your metabolism. Can’t get out because of bad weather? Put on jazzy music and dance around your house and thank God for your ability to move!

These two easy-to-do things are what keep me balanced and establish the structure and rhythm I need in my life. If the rest of my life falls in around these two non-negotiables, daily prayerful reading of His word and exercise, then, by His grace--it all seems to work.

I suggest you try it.

Do not let the stress of the holidays throw you off kilter. Remember-- “The wise woman builds up her home, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands...” or mouth, or temper, or business, or lack of patience or lack of love or _______.

Stop now and pray asking God to come and help you to be the woman, wife and mother, He would have you to be this Christmas season. And that He would help you to serve and love well your extended family members, kids and even yourself. Ask that He would help you to set the pace and tone for a holy and happy Christmas celebration and to strengthen you daily through connecting to Him-- the One this season is all about.

Ask Him to make you more like His own Mother who so lovingly said yes to what God was asking of be patient, kind, understanding, ok with being misunderstood, selfless, and all together--Christ-centered. Pray to be like her so that you can be used by Him.

God is not demanding. He come so gently, as NOEL- in a baby whisper, wanting to tell us how much He loves us. He comes in great strength, as the GREAT I AM, to bring us all we need to get through each day. He comes as THE WISE COUNSELOR, to give us loving words and fresh ideas in how to deal with family, in-laws, and kids.. He come as the PRINCE OF PEACE to smooth our ruffled and harried feathers. He come as the KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS Who is more than able to handle any and all of our questions, circumstances, lack or even doubt-- because He is God.

“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” Luke 2:10-14

Dear Lord,

Come and keep us ever loving, praising and celebrating You. And please give us the grace to implement...Tip #10--To smile, relax and enjoy celebrating the true reason for the season-You!

I ask this in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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