I was so looking forward to our first Christmas as a married couple. Decorating our apartment, shopping for gifts, baking my favorite Christmas goodies and learning to bake his and celebrating Jesus’ birthday for the first time in a Christian home. The day surpassed my expectations as we were welcomed into my husband’s family home for the holiday. Granny, his parents, his little sister and we all gathered by the tree in anticipation. Anticipation of gifts, yes, but more than that, anticipation of what my father-in-law wanted to share with us from the Bible.
That first Christmas lesson was on the presence of God being the place of joy. I have never forgotten those new ideas that were presented to me that morning 34 years ago. I have found that joy in serving my own growing family through the years. Now we settle down to Christmas at our house with the joy of laughter, shared friendships and lots of food and fun.
Growing up, joy was not part of Christmases. Christmas usually started with my dad yelling at my sister. We were ushered down to the tree where gifts awaited us. It was all about the production and whether we appreciated the love that went into the giving. More recently, after a hectic Christmas with new babies, a new house, new jobs and exhaustion, my parents told my daughter-in-law that she would not be receiving any more presents from them because she had not sent a timely thank you note. Always a string attached.
What defines your home for the holidays? Even if you are fortunate to have Christian parents and in-laws, there can still be personality battles, control issues, disrespect, expectations and disappointments that leave you wondering where the joy of Jesus is.
And yet, it seems, our hearts do draw us home for the holidays. Our unfulfilled hearts seek family blessings that we will never get. We go back year after year hoping that it will be different this time. Maybe Dad won’t drink his Christmas cheer quite so much. Maybe Mom won’t groan and gripe over the work of preparing the big feast. Maybe sister or brother will be grateful for your present rather than resentful.
Commercials, movies and songs romanticize being home for the holidays. Idealistic dreams become our expectations, whether real or imagined. The unfulfilled need for a blessing from our parents makes us ripe for disappointment and frustration. There is a solution. Get your needs filled up by your heavenly Father before the holidays. Go to him for the blessing, your joy, your contentment, your peace. Then when the holy night is not so peaceful, you can smile inwardly remembering the Father’s great love for you.
Here are some helpful ideas for keeping your expectations in check and enjoying your home or another’s for the holidays.
Make Jesus the center of your celebration. Ideas include a birthday cake for Jesus, reading the nativity story, hiding baby Jesus for the kids to find or a short devotional around the tree. If that is not accepted in your birth family’s home, then have your own celebration at a different time including what is important to you and your marriage family or friends.
Remember that memories are never 100 percent accurate. We all tend to exaggerate the good, the bad and the ugly of our memories based upon our immaturity and feelings at the time the memory was made. If it’s healthy to talk with your birth family about your memories, do so with an open mind, realizing that you all may remember the same event very differently.
Decide what is important, what is necessary and what you can let go. Last December, I had a spinal fusion one week before Christmas after moving from Texas to Kansas December 1. I had the presents bought and wrapped, but I left the tree for the kids and their families to assemble and decorate. I made two kinds of cookies, and everyone added their own favorites from home. I planned the main meal for Christmas Day, but the grown kids and their families supplied and cooked the rest. We all relaxed and had a grand time.
If you are expected to go to a parent’s house there are a few things to remember. You can always leave. Even though they are your parents, you are no longer a child. You are an adult. Respect, trust and truth should reign. You are still in charge of your own children. You might be able to relax a little but keep vigilant to the entertainment and relationships among the children.
Remember “My house; my rules. Their house; their rules.” If Dad wants to smoke at your house, you have the right to ask him to do it outside. If Dad wants to smoke in his house, you have the right to leave the room. There are some nonnegotiables such as television programming, movies, games and conversation from which you have the right to excuse yourself and your children. You can always suggest an alternative or take the kids to another room and get them involved in a wholesome project.
If things didn’t work out last year, try something different this year. Instead of someone ruling because the celebration is at their home, try a destination Christmas. This tends to put everyone on equal footing. If a week together is too long, try popping in just for the day or a couple of days. If you would rather have Christmas morning at home with just your marriage family, then arrange to meet with parents, siblings and in-laws at another time. We have had Christmas the day after because that was when everyone could get together.
Do what you enjoy. If you love to decorate, then decorate. If you love to bake, bake. If you love to sing, go caroling. It’s your holiday, too. It’s important to include traditions and activities that have meaning to each person that is attending if at all possible. I always ask my daughters-in-law and sons what they want us to include each holiday season. This makes them want to keep coming back for more.
If going home or having family in is not an option, then find others to share your holiday cheer with. Don’t sit home alone and mope. The holiday season is the time of the year when more people commit suicide than any other. Don’t give into depression and loneliness. Do something about it. Ask your pastor if there are any others in your church who are alone during the holidays and invite them over or to meet out for a meal or activity. Decorate your space. Make your prayer time and Bible reading a priority.
Serve during the holidays. This keeps your mind off of yourself and encourages others. You can serve within your own family by making your gifts, making a meal or dessert or leading out in a play or singing. You might make cards for those who are in nursing homes, visit a shut-in or shop for someone who has run upon financially difficult times. Serving is the best way to lift your mood.
No matter where you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s, find family, church family or others to serve, and make your heart home for others during the holidays.