When it comes to the holiday season, our only problem isn’t our stuffed diets, but our stuffed schedules. We’re busy. Decorating, baking, buying gifts, going to parties . . . the list goes on and on. Perhaps the worst part is how many of these responsibilities we accept on autopilot (“We’ve always done it this way”) or because of the expectations of others (“You can help me with the co-op party this year, right?”).
This year, I’d like to suggest something better: intentional planning based on expectations, priorities, and prayer.
Now, before we get started, I need to make an admission right up front. I’m not an expert on this, and my wife and I certainly haven’t mastered the art and science of holiday planning. Planning carefully is just as much of a struggle for us as for anyone. But even though we fail, we crave intentionality. We want to make our plans on purpose, not just go through our holiday season and see what happens.
How can we do that?
Having a conversation as a couple about your expectations for the seasons is important. That’s especially true if you and your spouse have different personalities, family backgrounds, etc. If one prefers ample margin for peaceful evenings at home playing games or reading holiday stories by the light of the Christmas tree, and the other loves to say yes to every activity and party invitation, you’ve got a potential clash coming.
Even if you’ve been on the same page in the past—or have come up with compromises that work for you—this year might be different. It doesn’t hurt to check in with each other to see what hopes or expectations you might have for this year specifically.
Kids can also be consulted on this, though you shouldn’t feel compelled to take every suggestion they might offer. Let them know you’re taking suggestions and input, but that you, as the parents, will make the final decisions.
What matters most to you and your family this holiday season? How will your values and convictions impact your decisions and choices?
Last year, my wife and I were already feeling a bit stressed about the holiday season before it even began. We knew it would be busy and that there wasn’t likely to be as much margin as we could hope for. Then, on top of everything else, some close relatives asked if we could make plans to go to a local nursing home in December to share some Christmas cheer with the residents by playing Christmas carols and sharing a brief devotional.
It would have been easiest to say no. After all, we were already feeling too busy, and this would add even more work. Not only would there be the evening of the event itself, but there would be work ahead of time: picking the songs, getting together with my brother and sister-in-law to practice, and preparing the devotional.
As my wife and I were discussing it, however, a thought struck me. Yes, we were feeling busy, but we weren’t considering eliminating the shopping, decorating, or cookie baking. Those things were firmly entrenched in our holiday plans. If we could find the time to do those things, couldn’t we find time to bless others? After all, how could we allow the more superficial activities to crowd out an opportunity to share the love of Christ with others?
We decided to say yes. And guess what? It did cause some extra work. But in the end, it was a worthwhile experience and was definitely a blessing to the folks we visited.
Would that have been the right decision every year? Not necessarily. A couple of years earlier we had a brand-new baby for the holiday season, which obviously sets different priorities. But that’s the key point. Understanding your priorities for any given year is fundamental to making the best decisions.
That leads to one more item to consider.
What’s Unique This Year?
Is there a new baby in the house? Did you recently move? Is anyone in your family dealing with a health condition? These types of changes in circumstances are worth talking about in light of how they can or should impact your holiday plans. Do you need to conserve energy and scale back on outside activities? Or is this a year you can go all out and say yes to everything? Take your family’s unique needs and circumstances into account during your holiday planning.
We should also ask God for wisdom and direction as we plan our holiday season. How does He want us to spend our time? How might He want us to bless others? How can we celebrate in ways that reflect the true meaning of the season? Trust Him to guide you as you make your plans.
The holidays bring plenty of activity to our lives, and no matter how carefully we plan, our schedules will probably get a little busier than we expect. But if we take some time at the start to talk about expectations and priorities, while seeking God’s guidance, we can have a more intentional—and hopefully more peaceful—holiday season.