On the twelfth day of Christmas, my children gave to me…
Twelve loads of laundry
Eleven long mall lines
Nine alarms snoozing
Eight yelling matches
Seven grocery runs
Six fights with siblings
Four Christmas wish lists
Three messy rooms
Two broken dishes
And a whole month without naps
For many of us, Christmas is defined by the busyness and stress expressed in the above rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” We feel pressure to give the right gifts, spend time with the right family members, run from store to store with a never-ending list of groceries and presents to buy — oh, and post photos of a happy, perfect family during what’s arguably the most chaotic time of year!
It’s easy to let the busyness of Christmas overpower the reason why we’re celebrating in the first place. It can be nearly impossible to find time to thank God for His Son when our culture demands so much from us. We already have appointments, church commitments, and sports practices to get our kids to—throw Christmas in the mix, and life just feels like one huge race that we’re always losing.
The key to finding rest this season is patience, and more specifically, the patience that Advent teaches us. The answer is not to stop buying gifts and to cut ourselves off from the world entirely. There are lots of fun Christmas activities that our culture has brought us (who doesn’t love a good Hallmark movie?!). Instead of complete rejection of culture, Advent shows us that there’s a richness in waiting in the midst of it all.
I’m interested, what is Advent?
Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” It points to and causes us to reflect on three arrivals:
- Christ’s first arrival in Bethlehem.
- His second coming that we anticipate.
- His daily arrival in each of our hearts personally.
An easy way to remember is the past, present, and future of Christ — He was born, He’s with us daily, and He’s coming again. Christians are always living in Advent, in the expectation of Christ’s future coming again. It helps us remember that salvation is coming and has come. It’s a time of waiting, reflecting, contemplation, repentance, longing, and most importantly hope. It’s light breaking into darkness. We’re invited to remember that we are a people of promise in a world of impatience.
How to rest this Christmas
The season of Advent officially started December 1st, but it’s not too late to take part in the festivities! Here are a few ways your family can refocus and rest this Advent season.
- Hold off on some of the usual traditions. We’re not saying to drop them completely, just to wait a little longer this year. The idea of the Advent season is to savor each and every day in anticipation of Christ’s coming. Usually, by the time Christmas Day arrives, we’re so exhausted from the weeks of planning, preparing, cooking, buying, and festivities that the actual day of celebration is rather anticlimactic. So maybe your family could save baking cookies, watching holiday movies, singing your favorite Christmas songs, and wrapping gifts for the twelve days of Christmas (which begin on Christmas Day, not before). Do all of your favorite activities, and just try to space them out and wait to do them until later, making the traditions just a bit sweeter.
- Get or make an Advent wreath. An Advent wreath consists of four candles symbolizing hope, faith, joy, and peace (there’s also an optional fifth candle to represent Christ). Take a few minutes each day as a family to gather around the candles and light them together. Reflect together, pray together. Here are a few sample prayers to get your family started!
- Create a unique countdown for your family. Instead of buying one of those Advent calendars with mediocre chocolates, make your own countdown! Every day, sit down together and do something as a family: drink a steaming hot cup of cocoa (or coffee or tea, whatever you prefer), do a puzzle together, play a board game, or share stories from the day (try “high-low-buffalo”: your high from the day, low from the day, and something weird or random that happened). The idea is to reorient yourselves to rest together as a family for at least a few minutes every day. Your kids might think it’s lame at first, but give it some time. They may just come around and realize you are as wise as you say you are!
- Ask your kids meaningful questions. We tend to cycle through a list of basic queries with our kids: How was school? What grade did you get on your test? Have you finished your homework? What time is your practice? Of course, it’s important to check in with our kids on school and sports teams, but it sometimes sends the message that our kids must achieve to be valued. Advent is a reminder that we’re waiting, anticipating, and longing for a gift that’s freely given to us. We’ve done nothing to earn such a gift as Christ, yet we have Him. Advent involves the recognition that what we ultimately need is not something we can achieve. It’s something we have to receive. Instill those values in your kids this Christmas season by orienting your questions and conversations on family values, morals, and passions, rather than achievements. Try asking questions like: What are you most excited about this month? Have you seen any random acts of kindness recently? What’s something you’re really proud of? Did anything challenge you this week?
- Do some soul-searching. What is truly restful for you and your family? What are the things your family feels you have to do, but actually don’t? What are the ways that you (and your family) best connect with God? Invite your kids into these questions and start the conversation; you may find they’ve got great input when it comes to family habits.
- Shorten the to-do list. This one is definitely easier said than done. Start by asking: What’s just one thing you and your family could remove from your to-do list to clear space during this holiday season? We often feel that the busier we are, the fuller our lives are. But in truth, we don’t need to do so much all the time, and God simply wants us to fall into His arms, instead of chasing our to-do lists.
We hope your family will find ways to slow down and connect this Christmas. The Advent season is a perfect time to start implementing some fresh routines, rest in God’s slow, purposeful timing, and most importantly, bring the family closer together through learning more about the incredible gift of Jesus.