Don't let all the potential holiday chaos clutter out the joy and peace of December. Here are great tips from Josie Ortega on how to make room for Christmas and a peaceful advent.
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We’re entering December, which can be the craziest month of the year. And it gets nutty because of all the fun, wonderful, joyful, delicious things going on — all good stuff. But: when these things pile on top of each other, stress creeps in and chokes out the joy, peace, hope, and love that we’re trying so hard to celebrate!
So I want to give you an invitation this season while you await the coming of Christmas. Not to an event, or a project, but to an idea: Make Room.
- Make room in our plans.
- Make room at our tables.
- Make room for quiet.
One of our family’s favorite Christmas books is Tomie de Paola’s The Night of Las Posadas, which depicts an Advent tradition that migrated from Spain to Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
De Paola’s book is set in Santa Fe, where paper lanterns line the town square and Mary and Joseph lead a procession of singers. María y José knock on doors, sometimes rejected, sometimes ignored, hindered by devils. (Boo! Hiss! Says the crowd.) Finally, at the conclusion of Las Posadas—posada means hotel or inn—Mary and Joseph find a place at the stable in Bethlehem, where Jesus is born.
In the book, Sister Angie talks about “Making room in my heart so the Christ Child can be born.” This got me thinking about all the ways we can make room, literally and figuratively, during Advent.
1st Tip for a Peaceful Advent: Make Room in Our Plans.
I do so much better with MARGIN in my schedule. So, let’s take a realistic look at the calendar—then cancel half of it. Just kidding, but seriously. Each of us has a variety of expectations for the Christmas season, plus school and church programs, parties, and family visits. Our family also celebrates two birthdays in December.
Narrow Down 3 Must-Haves for Advent
Pencil it all in — virtually or on paper — with the understanding that all of it won’t be possible, or even desirable. However, I do think we should write a few items in pen (a sparkly pen, if you’d like!): Choose three things.
What are your priorities, the traditions that feel like absolute musts? Let’s take a cue from the gifts of the wise men, and choose three. Talk to your spouse and your kids and ask: What do you really want to do this holiday season? You may be surprised. They may shrug about that tradition you thought they loved.
Here are our family’s Advent essentials:
- Lighting candles at dinner.
- Advent calendar.
- Christmas movies.
What are yours?
Make Priorities This Advent
Last year, we did not: make a gingerbread house, watch the neighborhood tree lighting, see The Nutcracker, or take a picture with Santa Claus. We didn’t even make the Mexican hot chocolate like we normally do. And I sure as Santa didn’t get involved in Elf on the Shelf. (We did send Christmas cards . . . but please, if you’re reading this: I give you permission to skip it with zero remorse!)
Guess what? It’s fine that we didn’t take advantage of all those fun ideas. We’ve established priorities and absolutely live in peace with that decision. Anything more that our family enjoys becomes a nice bonus, rather than a task to be completed.
With this extra margin, you might find you have room for:
- Last-minute plans
- Friends who need a hand with something
- ABC Family’s new classic The 12 Dates of Christmas.
2nd Tip for a Peaceful Advent: Make Room at Our Tables.
While I generally love the holidays, plenty of people feel down at this time. And all the frivolity surrounding us can make any sadness feel even more isolating. When I asked a neighbor about his Thanksgiving, I’m glad he was honest enough to say, “Bad,”—it was the first without his mom.
And I was inspired to read my brother’s open invitation on Facebook:
Hey folks. Holiday season is coming around. It’s easily my least favorite time of year. But tomorrow Thanksgiving comes. And with it you ought to have lots of great food and decent company.
If any of you don't have friends or family to celebrate with tomorrow, holler at me and you can be a member of my family. No matter how little I know you. I’m thankful for you, and I’d love for you to come.
Seriously. It'd be an honor to have you at our table.
Special thanks to [friend] who posts a similar message each year.
Wow. Thanks, little brother, for jarring me out of my self- and family-focused holiday mini-dramas. So, let’s pause for a minute to think: Who might enjoy a spot at our table this Advent? This might bring the perfect gift for someone who didn't have a candle-lit dinner full of peace for a very long time. And it will be an amazing experience for you and your family as well.
3rd Tip for a Peaceful Advent: Make Room for Quiet.
When our brains are rushing and we can't find peace of mind, it’s a sure sign that we could benefit from a timeout. Continual prolonged stress weakens your body, including the brain and the immune system. The good news is that there are plenty of strategies we can use to calm our racing minds. A few I like:
- Bundle up for a walk outside.
- Go to bed earlier.
- You can limit your own screen time! These days I’m letting my phone sleep between 10 pm and 7 am.
Or, hey — once you’ve shared your Christmas tree photos with grandparents through FamilyApp — you can even leave the phone in another room. Enjoy the space you’ve created in your schedule, home, and heart. Make room to gaze at the beautiful lights on the tree or the candles on your table, without even taking a picture.