At 6.30 this morning my seven-year old son asked me how many days until Christmas. I didn't know exactly but realised it was getting close. Suddenly, I found my mind whirring with all the things that needed doing and before realizing it I was feeling that all too familiar pre-Christmas stress.
If we allow it – Advent can too easily turn from a reflection on the arrival of Jesus' miraculous birth into a period of unrelenting stress as we seek to create the perfect Christmas experience for our loved ones.
So, in this season of goodwill, peace and love – how can we focus more on God and remove some of the stress and friction before and during our family Christmas?
Here are some suggestions:
1. Voice your expectations and make agreements
You probably have some thoughts and ideas about what you want this Christmas to be like. How many of these have you shared with your family? The danger sometimes is that we have unspoken expectations or we assume our loved ones should just know what we want or need. But sadly, mind reading is not a superpower that many (or any) of us have!
If you have a heart to spend Christmas volunteering in a homeless shelter or want to cut down on the amount spent on presents or long to go as a whole family to church in the morning – speak up but also be prepared to listen to what others want.
Many misunderstandings come from unvoiced expectations. So, why not take some time to express to each other your hopes, fears and dreams for Christmas and the holidays? Try to come to some agreements together. These can be renegotiated as you go along but it really helps to know what is in each other's hearts and minds. That way – you are more likely to create the Christmas that you all long for.
2. Focus on what is important
What is the most important thing about Christmas for you? It can help to sit down and reflect and pray about it. When you look back at Christmas 2016 what do you want it to have been about? If you can decide that for yourself (or together if you are married) you can then work on making sure that what you value stays at the center of all your activities and decisions. Knowing what is important to you can help you to prioritise and work out what or who to say "yes" or "not" to.
3. Keep returning to Jesus
Most of us will have family traditions that have been passed down from our families. If we are married we may have adopted ones too from our in-laws and maybe we will have made some new ones ourselves. But how many of those family traditions point back to Jesus?
This year I want to be intentional with my family about creating more traditions that help us to return our focus to Jesus. If you want to do the same – I'd recommend sitting down together, brainstorming and praying about some new ideas.
For example you could read part of the Christmas story each day in the run up to December 25. Perhaps you could visit a nativity trail or see a nativity play. Could you pray each day for someone to bless during the festive season?
I'm looking forward to seeing what ideas we come up with to help us keep the focus of Christmas centred on Jesus.
4. Let go of perfectionism or being right
No one finds a control freak fun at Christmas and sometimes "good enough" is the best result. Remember to focus on what is important to you and let some other things go.
Will anyone really notice if the bread sauce comes out of the packet or the stuffing wasn't home made and if they do does it really matter if it means you are less stressed and can focus more on the people present in front of you? What can you let go of this year? What could simplify things for you all? What can you delegate?
5. Build happy and fun memories
Christmas is a great time to build happy memories with our loved ones – memories that will help sustain us if and when difficult or tricky times come along. So, remember to have fun and to appreciate the loved ones that you are with (and those that are absent).
Pause, reflect and take it all in. Turn off those distracting devices and put your "out of office" on and switch off and tune in to your favourite people. Carve out time to be with your family and closest friends to show them how much you love and appreciate them. Take time to play, laugh and hug. Create space to pray together and celebrate all that God has done and is doing in your lives. Make this a Christmas to remember.
Sarah Abell is a speaker, coach, author and the founder of www.nakedhedgehogs.com - Her passion is helping people live, love and lead authentically. You can go to her website to take her free quiz and discover how authentic you really are!