It’s the holiday season! Which means lots of fun, celebration, aaaand…
..for many of us, a good healthy dose of stress and burnout.
These are often accompanied by lovely side effects including binge eating of Christmas cookies, temper tantrums, family squabbles and a hefty credit card bill.
If this is you—and you’re in good company if it is, my friend—I have good news and bad news. Bad news first: holiday stress is unavoidable. (Unless you just choose not to participate, which in my opinion would be sad.)
Now the good news: there are some things within your control that can help you experience a much more restful Christmas season, even with the added stress.
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10 Tips for a More Restful Christmas
One of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn as a mom, wife and homemaker is that I am in charge of my daily decisions. God is ultimately in control of what happens to me, but I choose how to respond. So if my schedule is too busy and everyone is cranky and we miss the “meaning of Christmas,” I can’t just blame the season or society for making our lives difficult.
I lecture myself periodically about this because it’s all too easy to just throw my hands up and succumb to the madness…
You don’t have to succumb to the madness either. If you want a more restful, meaningful, peaceful Christmas with your family, I have a few practical ways you can prepare yourself for the season.
1. Anchor Yourself in Christ
It’s catchy to say that “Jesus is the reason for the season;” yet around December, he kinda gets kicked to the curb. And I’m not talking about the debate about whether you should say “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays;” I’m talking about personally being in his presence on a daily basis.
There are a lot of ways to practice a dynamic relationship with Christ (see more ideas on how to read the Bible, how to pray and my quiet time bucket list). One practice to consider at this time of year is observing Advent.
Advent is part of the liturgical calendar (a fancy word for worship calendar) that some churches follow. It comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” During the season of Advent, you reflect on the coming of Christ.
In nature, winter is a time of year that is slow and quiet. It begs us to stop. Listen. Reflect. Meditate. Rest. (Quite the opposite of the holiday hustle and bustle!) This is the spirit of Advent, as you anticipate God’s greatest gift and prepare to celebrate Jesus’s arrival.
Whether or not your church follows a liturgical calendar, you can still take this time to reflect on and pray about the meaning of Advent in your daily times with God. I tend to gravitate towards reading the beginning of Matthew and Luke during this time of year, as well as messianic prophecies.
Advent devotionals are also pretty easy to come by. I love Arabah Joy’s prayer journals, so I recommend Praying the Names of Jesus: An Advent Prayer Journal.
By the way, anchoring yourself in Christ should be something we practice year-round! I’ve rounded up my favorite scriptures for moms in every season; access them here.
2. Anchor Your Family in Christ
My daughter recently asked for an Advent calendar. Not because she was wanting to participate in Advent, but because she’d seen an ad for a cool calendar with a surprise you can open every day as you count down to The Biggest Toy Day.
Sigh. Turns out I’m not the only one who needs a heart check around the holidays.
I really enjoy participating in the magic feeling of Christmastime with little ones, including the gift part, but kids’ hearts are naturally going to be pulled towards all the cool things they’re going to get under the tree.
It takes some intention on our part as parents to keep our family focused on why we celebrate.
I did ultimately get an “Advent calendar” with a little gift to open each day. But instead of a toy, it’s an ornament they get to open, which has a corresponding family devotional we get to read each day.
By December 25, we’ll get to put a star on the tree and will have discovered The Wonder of the Greatest Gift.
And the kids are pretty excited about it! It turns out they just like to open things.
This is otherwise known as a “Jesse tree,” a decorative tree used during Advent to retell the stories of the Bible that lead to Jesus’s birth. Jesse was King David’s father and an ancestor of Jesus (hence why Jesus is called the “Branch of Jesse” in the Bible). I was surprised to learn that this tradition goes back to the Middle Ages! So while it has gained popularity in recent years, it’s certainly no passing fad.
I love it.
There are other ways we can keep our family focused on Christ during the Christmas season like listening to worshipful Christmas music and reading the story of the nativity. We also try to get the focus off ourselves and on others, such as volunteering and donating to gift drives to the less fortunate.
I know it can feel overwhelming to think of worshipful traditions as more things to mark of on your long Christmas “to-do” list. But it helps to remember that:
- Worshiping God is the heart of the holiday.
- It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it shouldn’t be.
3. Identify Your Priorities
For the first few Christmases I shared with my husband, I wasn’t really sure what I even wanted it to look like and worried whether we were doing it the way we “should.” It got more complicated when we added kids to the equation. How should we approach Santa, stockings, outings, crafts, food, travel…and on and on?
The truth is, for a restful Christmas, you can’t do all the things. You can’t see all the people, send all the cards, have the perfect house and make all the food. You can’t spend all the money either.
But you can choose what’s most important.
I believe in the power of writing things down. There’s something about writing on paper that makes you commit a bit more to your intentions. To be intentional about a more restful Christmas, I recommend writing down your vision for it early (I’m talking like October or early November).
I wrote the following statement in my planner this year:
This holiday season, my priorities are:
- Growing in and celebrating Christ
- Loving others (community, family and friends)
- Great food
Now, as I plan out my schedule and budget, I read that statement. If what I’m planning doesn’t contribute to that vision, then it’s not going to make it on the calendar.
I encourage you to write out a similar statement with 4–5 things that you can focus on. Put it somewhere visible so that you can remember those priorities when life starts to get a little too busy.
4. Pick Your Favorite Traditions
Danger: when you look at your priorities, it can be tempting to want to do multiple things that contribute to the best Christmas ever.
But you don’t have to visit every relative, volunteer at 50 events and make 50 types of Christmas cookies. If you can do one thing loving for your community, one thing that creates coziness, one thing that celebrates Christ, and so on, you can be content with that. In fact, you might find that simplicity is the most effective approach.
There will be some years when you won’t be able to do as much (hello, 2020!). Maybe you’re in the middle of a move or have a newborn. Perhaps you’re having health issues or it was just a busy year and you’re just exhausted.
It’s okay. Take a deep breath.
Write down some of your favorite family traditions (or the ones you want to start). Do they match your priorities, in a balanced way?
Next, write down one tradition under each priority that you can realistically accomplish this year.
The ones that didn’t make the cut? Write those down as “maybes.” Play it by ear, and if you feel like they would contribute to your priorities, then add them in.
If you don’t get to do everything you hoped you would, could you perhaps do it next year? There are some things that our family does some years but not every year. And I like it that way.
5. Plan Your Calendar
A wise person once said, “You run your schedule. It doesn’t run you.”
If you’ve already set your priorities and identified the most important traditions that you want to keep this year, then this part should be a piece of cake. (Or fudge. Or sugar cookies.)
I’m a big fan of time blocking, which is exactly what it sounds like: breaking your time into blocks and planning tasks accordingly. At the beginning of the week, I look at my Google calendar and take note of my appointments. Then I look at my priorities for the week and plan out when I can fit them in.
You can see my process in more detail: The Ultimate Time Management Guide for Moms.
When you do this, you’re in control of what goes on the calendar…and what stays off.
I also recommend spacing out must-do holiday tasks like shopping, decorating, volunteering, baking, gift wrapping, party planning and so on. If you squeeze it into one weekend, you will die. Or are least get really, really cranky.
So while it’s not terrible to wait until the last minute, you’re going to thank yourself later if you can not be frantically wrapping all the gifts well into the late hours on Christmas Eve. (Not like I’d know anything about that, cough cough.)
Lastly, leave margin in your schedule. Every. Day. Because life happens in the form of bad weather, traffic, misunderstandings, emotions, messes and illnesses. This is just good advice in general, but during the holidays it’s even more vital! Plus, it gives you the opportunity to act spontaneously from time to time, which I’d argue is vital for your soul.
6. Plan Your Budget
Okay, so honestly, money is one of the areas that can cause the most stress around Christmas. I’ve worked on budgeting for holidays in the past…but following those budgets hasn’t gone so well.
I think I just haven’t been realistic about the kind of Christmas we want to have and the amount of money that kind of Christmas costs.
If your budget isn’t working, you either have to change your expectations so that you can spend less or, if possible, put more money aside so that those expectations can be met.
In the past, I’ve found that I simply forget how much stuff costs. When you budget for the holidays, remember to include, when applicable:
- Gifts for family (plan out for individuals!)
- Gifts for community (school, work, etc.)
- Charitable giving
- Family outings
- Extra or more expensive groceries
- Dining out
- Holiday apparel
- Less income if you don’t get holiday pay
- Travel expenses
- Childcare during parties or winter break
- Postage and printing for Christmas cards
When you write it all out like this, it’s obvious why it is so easy to go over budget!
Ideally, you should be planning for the holidays months ahead of time; otherwise, you’ll be caught on your heels come December. But even if you’re late in the game, just being aware of all the hidden expenses can help you not go overboard.
Jessi Fearon has some great info on this: Holiday Budget Planning.
7. Communicate with Your Family
So all this planning I’m talking about for a restful Christmas…let me back up a bit. Chances are, you’re not the only one with needs and opinions in your household.
As I said above, my husband and I had different experiences growing up, and thus, we have different expectations about Christmas. If we’re not communicating about what those expectations are, we’re on track to get into a fight.
And yes, we’ve had a few Christmas-related arguments over the years.
I’m the one in the marriage who’s more inclined to detailed planning, so I just have to be sure to talk to him about what I’m thinking. We have regular conversations during the holiday season where we discuss things like:
- Priorities this year
- Shopping lists
- Family calendar
- Extended family expectations
- Parties and other commitments
We try to make time every night to connect and talk if we need to. Each week we go over the schedule. I also try to make a point around mid-November to talk about our priorities and plans before the chaos begins.
My friend Elizabeth wrote some hilarious and wise thoughts on this: Have Yourself a Merry Married Christmas.
As the kids get older, they tend to have their own expectations as well. Talk about it around the table!
Lastly, communicate with your extended family and friends, once you’re clear about your expectations within your household.
8. Keep Your Blinders On
I think I may need to limit my time on Instagram during the holiday season. I see beautiful, simplistic living room arrangements with gorgeous trees cut by hand in the mountains, with matching embossed stockings over a warm fireplace.
We have a tree. Right next to the Barbie house and the play kitchen, because the family room also happens to be the playroom. I think I bought the stockings on clearance and wrote the kids’ names in Sharpie on the inside so we could tell them apart. Maybe we have firewood somewhere in the garage? I’m pretty sure it has been over a year since we used the fireplace for you know…burning logs.
I am more than two decades out of junior high, yet I still fall into the comparison trap.
Some other family is probably going to decorate better, cook better, give better gifts, be more spiritual and have more fun than your family. So what?
If your family is anchored in Christ, focusing on your priorities and traditions, and you’re communicating well, it shouldn’t matter what other people are doing.
9. Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries
As hard as you try, sometimes the source of stress at Christmastime isn’t your lack of planning or intention. It’s the other people: family, co-workers, neighbors and friends.
The first step minimizing your agony about everyone else is to remember that you are not responsible for their thoughts, feelings and general attitudes. You can take ownership of yourself and, to some extent, your family.
Recognizing your separateness and taking ownership for what you rightly should is called setting boundaries.
You won’t make everyone happy.
You can’t do everything.
You are allowed to say no.
What’s more, you can be kind and compassionate about communicating these limits.
There’s a lot I could say about this, as boundaries have been some of the most powerful tools I’ve discovered as an adult. If you’re not familiar with boundaries, then I highly recommend putting Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend on your Christmas list!
10. Choose Rest
Hopefully it’s clear by now that you may have more control than you think over how the holiday season goes. Will there be unexpected surprises, busyness and drama? Most likely. But will you be at peace about it? That’s up to you.
Rest is a choice. When I leave more space in my heart and in my schedule and stop trying to respond to all the “shoulds” in my life, I’ve seen God work in the best ways.
Don’t forget, rest is also about caring for yourself. Just because it’s busy doesn’t give you license to sacrifice sleep and sanity.
If you want to learn more about this, be sure to check out my Take a Deep Breath Toolkit.
I hope you feel refreshed knowing that you can have a restful Christmas, my friend! Which of these tips can you put into practice this year?