Though we love Christmas time, its busyness stresses us out. Calendars are full anyway, and then we add gatherings, programs, extra shopping and food preparation, wrapping, decorating, and various traditions.
Alexandra Kuykendall tried an “experiment in relishing the season,” as her subtitle says. Instead of an idealistic or nostalgic or “perfect” Christmas, she wanted to create a realistic Christmas that didn’t leave her exhausted and frustrated when it was over. She lets us in on the experiment in her book, Loving My Actual Christmas. Though she includes ideas and tips, “it’s more for your spirit to absorb the message of the holiday among the lights and gifts.”
She chose the four weeks and themes of advent to guide her. She wanted not just to “do better” organizationally, but to implement, foster, and be guided by hope, love, joy and peace.
Because hope, peace, joy, and love are certainly words I want to associate with this time of year. Rather than overspending, overeating, undersleeping, and underrejoicing, I want to notice the goodness God has offered in the here and now. In this year. This Christmas. Regardless of the circumstances. Because I don’t want to resent this actual Christmas, I want to love it.
For each week of Advent, she wrote down her approach, the Scriptures she read, a daily recording of what happened that week, a summary of what she learned, a list of what practices she’ll continue, and questions for reflection.
One of the first things she did was consult with her family about their desires. Expectation can make the holiday sweet and exciting but also set oneself up for a letdown. So they discussed the different programs, traditions, etc., to see what was most important to everyone and what, if anything, could be left out for sanity’s sake.
Here are some of the quotes I highlighted:
Circumstances may not be what we want, but we can step over the “whens” and “if onlys” to notice God’s gifts right in our midst.
“And heaven and nature sing.” Because he rules the world, all of his creation rejoices. That’s it. It doesn’t say heaven and nature sing when the Christmas card is beautiful and perfectly photoshopped, but because he rules the world. That’s it then. Joy does really come back to Jesus.
My people don’t need the perfect Christmas, but a present mother, daughter, wife, friend.
Christmas isn’t a race that ends on the 25th with recovery after, but a true season of relishing.
Jesus didn’t come to earth in order that we might overspend every December and have terrible arguments about the holiday bills. He came that we might have life. Let’s figure out what we can afford and live within those parameters.
You don’t want to end the party season depleted by executing the details, but energized by the relationships that are strengthened by a shared time together.
There are no awards shows for Christmas party throwing. No prizes for “Best Able to Pull It Off Alone.” Ask guests to bring food or help with decorations, invitations, setting up, or cleaning up.
There was one place that made me wince a bit. In discussing the circumstances of the first Christmas and Mary’s quiet pondering mentioned in Luke 2:19, the author writes, “Here Mary has just given birth to God . . .” I know what she meant. Jesus was (is) God in flesh. He didn’t originate in this birth: He existed eternally. And He is part of the Godhead, along with the Father and Spirit. The author would agree with all this, so she’s not saying God had His beginning here. She’s just pointing out the wonder of a young woman giving birth to the Messiah in such a setting. But the way it was phrased was a little uncomfortable to me.
Most of us have to do some mental adjusting about the holidays by the time we’ve had many Christmases as adults. We have to continually reminds ourselves what the season is actually supposed to be about and adjust our perspective. I found the author’s thoughts and tips very practical and helpful.