5 "Get Ready Gracefully" Choices before Christmas

Choices are especially important during the holidays so we can enjoy them and not "stress out" or fall apart. There are five choices I make that encourage and energize me. I hope they'll help you "Get Ready Gracefully," too.

(1) Get Busy Earlier Rather Than Later. Make a List of all that you will need to do, under topics, right after Thanksgiving (or even before!)

Send your Christmas cards out early ... even packages, if you have them ready! It will give you an idea of whether you need to buy more cards (or gifts).

You might begin a menu list, so you can watch for food sales. Make a list of events for a special Christmas calendar. If you're going to take a family photo, plan for that now... again, shop around for the best prices.

(2) Get Creative with New Takes on Old Decorations. Traditions are important, and there are some things you'll want to keep from year to year, but try a new "spin" on things. It doesn't have to be expensive, especially in these tight financial times. Maybe add a new color into your decor, or cover your front door with wrapping paper, or stack some empty wrapped boxes in a corner, or even create a special theme for one corner of the room (Elf on a shelf, snowmen, Nativity collection, etc.).

If you get your theme and your "new take" on tradition clearly in mind, it will be easier to look for things to fill out "the look" without spending lots of cash ~ especially when the stores start slashing prices.

One of the most precious ideas I read about is so simple ... and yet it helps to focus on the "reason for the season." Using a small constructed manger (or a basket or crate to represent one), create a "selfless service" manger. Place some straw for "hay" (or even colored yarn, raffia, strips of paper, etc., in a separate basket. Every time a family member performs an act of selfless service for someone, or goes beyond what is expected of them, they can place a piece of "hay" in the manger. On Christmas eve, discuss what has happened over the month, getting the manger ready, and then place a baby doll representing Jesus into the manger. One mom who did this said her six-year-old was upset that they didn't give Jesus a nice enough bed with all the "pieces of hay," and said, "We need to do better next year."

(3) Get Serious about Gift-Giving Choices. You can exhaust yourself quickly (physically, mentally, emotionally, financially) and get time-challenged, too, when it comes to gift-giving. It's wise to create a list FIRST of those you intend to give to, and list possible gifts that come to mind. Leave spaces for new ideas. If these people have "wish lists," it's easier (check Amazon, or simply ask the person!) ... you don't want people to dictate their wants to you, but you do want to get a gift they will appreciate.

Don't feel like you need to give people "ka-zillion" gifts! Some families give each person only three gifts: something needed, something wanted, and something that will encourage them spiritually, mentally, or in some other area of growth. (Keep in mind that some people don't get any gifts. You may be blessed indeed!)

Some good ideas for gifts: Something homemade from your garden produce or herbs, homemade jellies/jams/pickles/jarred cookie mixes ... a family cookbook ... a certificate to teach someone something, or a coupon for a special craft class ... A "my favorite things" basket ... a family treasure someone wanted, that you are willing to now pass down ... a CD or DVD of an older relative (interview them) ... or something to experience together (movies, an amusement park, a cooking class, etc.).

Don't forget organization gifts (clubs, ministry parties, parties at work, etc.) on your list of gift-giving. It's easier to shop for many of these things all at one time, especially if you come across a great deal! Check online for discounts and coupons, too.

And don't forget to plan in some ways to give of yourself ~ perhaps by volunteering at a shelter, or giving gifts to prisoners or orphans. Don't overlook the lonely at this time of year ~ the shut-ins, widows/widowers, people who are ill, people who struggle with relationships, etc.

(4) Get Help to Relieve Stress. You aren't alone in the struggle to get everything done. Everyone feels it. So why not ask for help? Ask someone (with an eye for style) to help you decorate your tree.... or if you won't stress out about it, ask your children to help! Ask/allow others to help you put up decorations. (Hint: Don't be a perfectionist, and you'll get more help! You can always "adjust" later.)

Another idea is to shop with a fun friend or family member (not the one you're buying for) so you can get instant input on your gift ideas. ("Do you think Grandpa Herman will like these orange socks?" will probably be met with rolling eyes ~ See? Instant input!)

If you have children at home, give them small, simple tasks that will help you accomplish bigger projects. Let them know how much you value their help.

(5) Get Real with Some Planned Diversions. Everyone experiences holiday stress, so get real. Plan time to relax. Schedule it in.

"Do nothing time" includes activities like reading a book, listening to music, spending time with a child or pet, going to a movie (one you want to see that maybe the family doesn't), cooking or baking (if you enjoy it... not because you have to), walking through the neighborhood, napping (30-45 minutes).

All of these are activities or attitudes of some sort ~ get busy, get creative, get serious, get help, get real. But the most important thing to remember is to Get Your Heart Prepared. Without a prepared heart, you will miss out on what God wants to say to you and do through you.

Here are five simple ways you can prepare your heart for Christmas, long before it comes:

  • Read the Christmas story and ask God to show you one thing you've never seen before (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20). Read it in a version you're not used to. (It's in the English Standard Version, here.) Make sure that everything is right between you and God... you know Him, you love Him, you obey Him ...
  • Sing Christmas carols in the car as you begin to shop. (Or learn an old Christmas hymn.)
  • As you see Christmas ornaments in stores, think about the meaning of your own Christmas-related ornaments.... their symbolism.
  • Relax with a book. Find a new Christmas-related (but fictional) story book (like the ones we read to children) or a novel to read during your "planned diversion" times. (I'm going to read Mary's Son: A Tale of Christmas.)
  • Write a prayer list ~ What do you want God to do in your heart this Christmas? In your family members' and friends' hearts? Compose your own "Christmas Prayers," or read these from others. And don't forget to pray for the military, far from home at Christmas.
Lots of ideas here ... lots of choices. Let's "Get Ready Gracefully" and make this the best Christmas season ever.

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