How young families can have a meaningful Christmas season

When the holiday season rolls around, I have found that many young families feel the pressure to “do the season right.” It begins with this ideal in your head. You imagine your children happily decorating a Christmas tree. You envision cheerful Christmas card photos. There are traditions to build, parties to attend, and pictures to take. However, any holiday that has a heavy emphasis on gifts and sugar can be a recipe for disaster, especially for families with young children.

The first time my children worked on a gingerbread house project, they all ended up in tears after knowing they couldn’t eat it right afterwards. It made me regret getting the kit in the first place! Over the years, I learned a few things. Here are some recommendations on how to keep this next week as stress-free and joyful as realistically possible.
1. Less is more.
Elaborate decorations. Multiple gatherings. School Events. Family expectations. Church programs. Gifts. Baked goods….
Sometimes, the strain of doing it all can drain the quality of your holiday endeavors. What you do not want is to end the holiday season with a deficit of finances and a deficit of joy. It is okay not to say yes to every single thing. Sometimes, it’s worth simplifying your schedule so that you could do one or two things peacefully and well, rather than five things in a mindless hurry. Joy is never found while you are in a hurry.  
2. Give your children the right gifts.
Over time, you will realize that the wrong gifts to your children are the biggest wastes of money and space. After throwing out bags (literally bags) of broken and abandoned toys, I now take very serious thought into where I put my money into. Whenever I gift shop for my children, I ask myself the following questions:
  • Will it empower my child?
  • Will it educate my child?
  • Will it be useful to my child?
  • Is it durable? Will it last longer than a few days?
  • Is it easily sustainable? (As in, does this toy have a remote that you will always lose? Not functional unless it has multiple parts together? Etc.)
3. It’s giving season, not getting season.  
Nothing is worse than hearing your children whine and make demands over the course of the entire month of December.  Yet, it’s so easy as parents to tolerate it. To see the excitement of your child receiving their perfect gift, that feeds us just as much as it feeds them.
The best cure to horrible holiday attitudes is to teach young children from the beginning that the season is not about them. Participate in a toy drive. Have them participate in soup kitchens. Wrap presents for the needy.  
4. Smells & sounds.
Sometimes, something as simple as lighting a holiday candle or turning on Christmas music is enough to lift the spirits up in the home. Memories are oftentimes triggered by aromas and melodies. As parents, we have the privilege to help cultivate these beautiful memories with these little homey touches.
5. Give to others early.
Do not wait until Christmas to give to teachers, bible study leaders, pastors, friends, and extended family. What that does is create unnecessary pressure and strain on you as Christmas week draws near. Further, you minimize the need to deal with last minute Christmas shopping if something does not work out on your list. The crowded parking lots, terrible customer service, and long lines are all avoidable sources of stress for a busy parent. Give earlier, so you still have the extra time to make it up without the rush.
6. Cultivate a healthy joy in your children.
As parents, we must teach our children how to have substantial joy. Presents, candy, and special movies are appropriate for moments and events. However, if these immediate pick-me-ups are at the center of every single one of your Christmas-time activities at home, your children are not developing the necessary skills to experience the delight of the holidays in real and lasting ways. Teach them how to draw Christmas cards. Share stories. Play games. Read books as a family. All of these activities have minimal props and will allow your children to have a peaceful joy that minimizes the chances of ending with a sugar crash or chaos.  
7. Don’t forget their naps and nutrition.
Sometimes, we attend all the Christmas parties and events at the cost of our children’s physical needs and end up wondering why we have overly emotional, difficult children at the end of the evening. Save yourself the stress at the end of the evening, and make every effort to allow your children to properly eat and nap. This is especially if you are attending parties that are more adult-focused. Most likely, you will not have foods that your children will like, nor will there be a proper opportunity to rest. Plan ahead, and you will be grateful at the end of the day.
8. Pursue togetherness.
It is amazing how aware children are of whether or not the whole family is together. Understandably, not every family has the capability of being together all the time. However, whenever possible, parents can try to provide the sense of togetherness for their children because presence is the best part of the holidays. Do not feel disappointed if you cannot financially provide the best trips or have the time to conjure up the most elaborate meals. Be together.
9. Make sure your children witness gifts being given unto their parents as well.
Fathers, make sure you bless your wives in front of your children. Mothers, make sure you bless your husbands in front of your children. Sons need to watch their fathers adore their mothers. Daughters need to watch their mothers honor their fathers. It’s such a subtle thing that can easily be missed. However, when possible, try not to miss it.
10. Both parents should take many candid photos.  
Pictures have so much power to shape the way children remember their past. Do not worry so much about lighting and how you look in the photos. Just take them. Capture the moments. In the age of digital photography, this is something that can be easily accomplished. Furthermore, fathers should care to take many pictures of their children’s mother. When your children look back on these pictures, they need see where their mother was in the midst of the festivities.
“That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13)

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