Stop Neglecting Your Family and Friends

I still get a warm feeling when I think about what Christmas Eve was like when I was a child. I remember the fun of being together as a family, sharing the anticipation of our traditional dinner, retelling the Christmas story, and exchanging presents.

My mother cooked our Christmas foods. A fruit soup consisting of grape juice, prunes, raisins, and orange slices was served in crystal goblets. Mom would let me prepare the lefse, a tortilla made from mashed potatoes. For dessert we ate a sugar type cookie formed in the shape of a wreath, then dipped in beaten egg whites and baked. These traditions made Christmas an extra-special memory.

Traditions give a sense of importance to our holidays. They create a feeling of continuity, comfort, and security for everyone – especially children. The customs pull a family together by providing a sense of belonging. Family beliefs and values are taught as children see the importance of sharing, friendship, and family unity.

But it's easy for the focus to be on doing (shopping, baking, writing Christmas cards, decorating, mailing, etc.), getting, spending (too much), and trying to “do it all.” Many people do so much for their family and friends that they neglect being with them. In other words, a house that looks like a Christmas card with perfect gifts perfectly wrapped is meaning - less if the people in it are irritable and frustrated from exhaustion.

If your family has a problem like that, it is time to take stock. Remind yourself that the purpose of this holiday season is, first, to celebrate thankfulness and God's awesome Gift of His Son. Second, it is to enjoy a special togetherness with loved ones in a relaxed way.

Before the Christmas rush begins, take a moment to evaluate your traditions. Then you can separate the things worth saving, that bring real satisfaction, from the customs that are unrealistic and have lost their meaning. But cutting out dead traditions, you save yourself time and energy. You also sweep away the holiday clutter and help your family focus on the important aspects of the season. Keeping it simple does not mean you're cheating your family. It could mean the opposite.

Consider some of your traditions and then discover ways to simplify them. Rather than baking seven different kinds of cookies – or expensive, complicated food - make one or two simple favorites. Try replacing high-fat ingredients in some dishes with savory low-fat foods. Instead of a seven-course meal that leaves everyone stuffed, plan four courses. Store up memories, not calories.

So how do you decide which traditions to cut and which to save? Make one grand, extravagant list of everything you want to and need to do. Then eliminate half the items as you ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it really important?
  • Why am I doing this? (is it just because society says I should?)
  • Is this custom endorsed by each family member or friend?
  • Does it cause resentment for someone?
  • Does it accomplish something necessary or worthwhile?
  • Is it excessively time-, money-, and/or energy-consuming?

Here are some ideas for family- and friend focused traditions:

1. Plan a Christmas tea with Grandma or a good friend. Grandma can share stories of her childhood around the kitchen table that the children have helped set with the best china.

2. Start a collection of Christmas books, adding a new book each year. These books can be from the classics, children's books, and, of course, religious favorites. When the children are grown, the books can be divided among them and shared with their children.

3. Plan a cookie party. Each guest brings six of the same kind of cookies for each participant. After having a good time together, each guest leaves with a large variety of cookies without having to do a lot of work.

4. At the supper table, read the Christmas cards received that day. Relate memories you've shared with the people who sent the cards, then pray for them.

5. Buy some simple gifts for the family to take to needy children. Your children will learn that Christmas means giving, not just getting.

6. Give your gifts in an unusual manner. For example, hide them somewhere near a friend's home. Then draw a treasure map on paper, get six consecutively larger boxes that can nest inside each other, and put the map in the smallest box. Before nesting the boxes, put a few letters of your name on each box so that when they're lined up in the right order your friend can read the name of the giver.

7. Enjoy a candle lighting ceremony each evening for the 25 (or less) nights before Christmas. Each evening, burn a small section of a measured and marked candle. The children can see how close Christmas is by how small the candle is getting. For 15 minutes, while the candle bums, do something together as a family. Play a game, sing songs, or drink cider and visit.

8. Have a special time for Jesus. Everyone can bring a gift for Him - a goal to write a note of encouragement to someone each week, to have family worship each evening, to surprise someone each month through the year with an anonymous kindness, etc. Each person can tell about something special Jesus did for him or her during the year.

Four goals for the holidays:

  • Time with family and friends
  • Realistic expectations about gifts and food
  • An extended, evenly paced holiday season
  • Strong family traditions

When thinking back over past celebrations, people rarely remember what they gave to each other, or some of the other things that took so much work to accomplish. But they remember what they did together. The greatest gift you can give your family and friends is happy memories.

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