If it weren't for my children, I think I would curl up in bed and sleep through the next month or two. With each passing year, the commercialism and stresses of the holidays following Halloween seem to increase like the price tag of my kids' Christmas lists.
In past years, I pulled out all the stops. The house was decorated to the nines, and involved bins and bins of holiday trinkets, precarious moments on the extension ladder, and more wafting evergreen candles than my nose could take. We (OK, mostly me) baked more than ten different kinds of cookies, played every Christmas CD ad nauseum, and attended every holiday event in town.
By New Years, I was exhausted, crabby and broke.
Lately, I've managed to get a grip on what's important, and have made some changes. Gone are the intricate strands of icicle lights, replaced by a few strategically placed glowing snowflakes. Less is more as far as the decorations are concerned, with many of my "must have" Christmas knick-knacks sitting on Goodwill's shelves. The kids each get to choose one kind of Christmas cookie they can't live without, and we make them together, or not at all. (I send them to Grandma's for those cut-out ones that you decorate with frosting and sprinkles... my kids think she makes them "best" anyway.) Oh, and fighting the mall crowds? Forget about it. If it's not on Amazon.com, you're not getting it.
However, there are some traditions that I just won't part with.
Our Advent wreath has a special place on our kitchen table, and each week we read what that candle signifies. The boys alternate who gets to light it, and who gets to "snuff" if out. They love eating by candlelight, and it forces us to sit around the table for dinner and have real conversations without SpongeBob in the background.
We still make gifts for the family. I have always told my kids that the best gifts are made, not purchased. And we do try to make functional items, like ornaments, pot holders, or picture frames. My favorites were the coasters we made out of ceramic tiles that bore their painted handprints. They have fun doing it, and it helps instill in them a not only a sense of giving, but a sense of accomplishment as well.
We pick a child. Usually it's from a nametag placed on the Angel Tree at our church. I let the kids select a name, and we shop for a few items on that child's list. We talk about those who are less fortunate, and even though they never meet that child or see them open the gifts, I hope they know that they are making a little boy or girl's Christmas brighter with their generosity.
We go to church. Our church, Redeemer Lutheran, has a wonderful 4:00 service on Christmas Eve that they call "Birthday Party for Jesus". It's awesomely kid-friendly, complete with the singing of Happy Birthday followed by cake and ice cream. In addition, we bring a baby gifts to be placed in the manger, which are then donated to a local women's shelter.
We have Christmas as a "family". Granted, I'm divorced. But so far, there has not been a year where their dad has not come over bright and early on Christmas morning to partake in the opening of the gifts. (And for the record, since they've been born I have adhered to a "three gift" rule - since Jesus received three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.) We have breakfast, then they spend a good part of the day playing with their treasures until it's time to go to Grandma and Grandpa's for the family celebration. I am truly blessed that all this is still possible, and enjoyable.
So maybe we don't have all the Christmas goodies we used to, or attend every Santa sighting, parade or other holiday event. But I think I've managed to purge the stuff that makes the holidays overwhelmingly stressful, and kept the important things that my kids will remember - and hopefully make their own traditions - for years to come.