Have Yourself An Intentional Christmas: Life Giving Holiday Traditions

Year after year there are holiday traditions, activities and even simple family Christmas movie nights I’ve wanted to orchestrate that continually go undone. They always seem to take a back seat to things like school Christmas productions, last minute shopping trips, extended family gatherings, and everybody else’s schedules.

Somehow, December 26th rolls around and we are ripping our Christmas tree down and shoving it back in the basement faster than the Grinch robbed Cindy Lou Who. I always eagerly welcome the Christmas season, even before Thanksgiving Day, but find myself wildly grateful to see it go.

It constantly leaves me emotionally, physically and often spiritually drained, as my focus has always been on fitting in every activity, manufacturing memories to photograph and accommodating everyone else’s priorities above my own. I always come up short as the season ends and I’ve disregarded the activities we would have treasured the most.

Intentional Christmas: Life Giving Holiday Traditions

I’m determined to make this year an intentional Christmas. I am not only pairing down the quantity and improving the quality of gifts I typically give, but more importantly, this year I am moving some simple family traditions up the priority totem pole. Above all, I am determined to ensure that the togetherness of the most simple family traditions take priority over those that do not give us life.

Sure, we will still do some of those exhausting things such as forcing my 2 year old to sit through her siblings school Christmas concert by pinning her between my legs and feeding her graham cracker after graham cracker. That’s just life. But I want simplicity to bring peace to our holiday season in the same way it has so many other areas of our lives.

What does an Intentional Christmas look like?

I set out on a quest to create a list of “Life Giving Holiday Traditions.” I reached out to friends and family for suggestions, asking them about the holiday traditions they treasure most. I was interested in discovering the activities that leave them energized rather than drained. Traditions that build them up, instead of leave them wanting to hide in a corner with an entire pitcher of egg nog.

I received a wide range of responses including:

Attending Silver Bells, our cities downtown tree lighting ceremony.

Stringing popcorn and cranberries to decorate their tree with.

Cutting down their own Christmas tree.

Decorating their fake Christmas tree.

Train themed holiday events such as riding The Polar Express.

Passing out children’s artwork to residents at a local nursing home.

Baking homemade sugar cookies and decorating them with homemade frosting.

Decorating store bought, frozen, precut sugar cookies with store bought frosting.

Gathering with extended family for a night of games and relationship building.

Spending all day at home alone with just their little family playing games and napping.

Driving around to look at Christmas lights.

Watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Passing out homemade baked goods to neighbors.

Intentional Christmas: Life Giving Holiday Traditions

The Thing Is…

I found myself jotting down their suggestions and thinking to myself, “that sounds awful” or “that’s not what I would call life giving at all.” In my silent criticism of what they cherish, I recognized the most obvious and important point of all.

What gives life to one person will be another person’s nightmare. What energizes is not universal.

The fact is, there is no way for me to create a list of life giving activities you can do this holiday season.

Instead, I simply want to encourage you to prioritize what gives life to you and your family. Here are a few simple strategies you can implement in order to take back Christmas.

Plan ahead and prioritize today

Every year I have wanted to take our kids on what my family refers to as a “pajama ride”. This was a simple childhood tradition of mine where my dad made popcorn, we all got into our pajamas and boots, and set out to look at Christmas lights around town. Every year, I tell Paul I want to do this and every year we don’t. Why? Because I never plan ahead for it. I always try to plan it on a whim.

This year, it’s on the calendar! And if you know me, that makes it pretty official.

Maybe it’s just a family movie night, or Christmas cookies without a specific destination. What simple family tradition is important to you? Plan ahead for it now!

Permission to Eliminate Traditions

I’m a creature of habit and I take traditions very seriously. Too seriously.

This year I gave myself permission to eliminate traditions. GASP! I’m able to justify this in my neurotic, ritualistic mind by knowing that eliminating traditions that drain allows me to bring to the surface traditions that give life.

I no longer head out on Black Friday with my sisters to spend a day of impulse shopping disguised as “deal hunting.” This year we made breakfast as a family, sat around in our pajamas, raked leaves and ate dinner out. Those are the deeply cherished moments. It was a tough bandaid to rip off, but NOT Black Friday shopping was amazing.

Intentional Christmas: Life Giving Holiday Traditions

I’m also pressing pause on my DIY advent calendar this year. Normally, I’d fill it with activities, service projects, candy and trinkets. It always left me scrambling to figure out what the heck was going in to tomorrows envelope. It evolved into something I never intended and it stopped serving it’s purpose.

Choose Your Life Giving Holiday Traditions Wisely

I love Christmas preparation. I’ve always loved researching gift ideas for my kids and scouring Etsy and Pinterest for unique gift ideas for my family and friends. I love spending hours making Shutterfly photo calendars. I’ve always loved beating the crowds and shopping at 5am on Black Friday, baking treats for all of my neighbors, making more pies than we actually need on Thanksgiving, and I absolutely adore setting up our Christmas tree.

Intentional Christmas: Life Giving Holiday Traditions

But here’s the thing. When we try to fit in all of the things we love, we run the risk of growing to resent them. We take what gives life and we sacrifice it on the altar of hussel. We’ve turned Christmas into an obstacle course rather than a season to savor.

What can we cut out in order to treasure things more deeply? In what ways can we simplify the traditions we cherish?

My kids will still receive presents, just fewer and most likely purchased online. We will still make goodies for our neighbors, but certainly not gift boxes with five different kinds of homemade candy they may or may not even consume.

Make generosity a priority

Generosity, whether simple or elaborate, is the way we turn our traditions from self to others.

For us, in this season of excess and cultivating family memories, being generous is non-negotiable. The opportunities are endless. Toys for Tots has loads of convenient drop off locations. Many businesses and churches are doing coat drives, boot drives, and canned food drives. Something as simple as donating some of your gently used toys to the Salvation Army Thrift Store is a practical and cost effective way to get the whole family involved in generosity this year. When we live intentionally, generosity flows more naturally. It helps us continually keep our ear to the ground, attuned to ways in which we can invest in others.

We have a greater capacity to give when we allow for breathing room in our lives. 

Intentional Christmas: Life Giving Holiday Traditions

We deserve to make time to cherish this season and the fleeting time we have with our littles and those we love. It doesn’t have to be a massive overhaul leaving everyone else in your life out on a limb. Start small, giving yourself permission to prioritize what you cherish most. As we dive head first into our holiday planning, let’s keep this question in the forefront of our minds, “Is this life giving?” 


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