I used to go all out for the holiday season decorating, cooking, and making homemade gifts. I’d send out cards with yearly letters and photos, make videos for the grandparents, and shop for unique and well thought out presents. By Christmas Eve I felt exhausted and crabby but I was determined to make Christmas feel like Christmas. I wanted my children to cherish those special family memories and Christmas traditions.

Each year I insisted that we go together as a family to find the perfect 12 foot Christmas tree, chop it down and then spend the next couple of days decorating it with homemade ornaments. One year, I videoed our family tree hunting/chopping/decorating adventure for the grandparents to enjoy. After previewing the video I was too embarrassed to send it. The tree looked beautiful but the parents in the video (my husband and I) yelled a lot at the children in the video to behave while the children constantly whined and complained. They didn’t want to trek through the woods looking for the perfect tree or even decorate it. The next Christmas we gave up that tradition and bought an artificial tree.

Don’t get me wrong, family traditions are important, but I have found now that my kids are all grown up that the simplest ones were the most meaningful. For example, my husband, Howard, always cooks the same breakfast on Christmas morning. He’s been doing it for 32 years and now, even when my children have homes of their own, they look forward to Dad’s eggs benedict.

A green pickle ornament takes a minute to hide on the decorated artificial tree, but my grown children still fight to find it. Whoever spots it first receives a special monetary gift.

Our Christmas Eve tradition began by accident. We invited some of our non-churched friends to accompany us to our Christmas Eve service and then go out to dinner, never dreaming that no restaurants would be open on Christmas Eve. After making frantic phone calls, we finally found a Chinese restaurant open and 25 years later, our family still goes to this same Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve with our good friends.

Families thrive on shared memories and rituals. These traditions don’t need to be elaborate or expensive but serve an important function. They create a culture that defines your family and the best traditions generate a feeling of togetherness, warmth, fun and goodwill.

If you’re worrying about how you’re going to get it all done (before the magic day) and you’re trying to do everything to make everyone happy, then you’re missing the point of having traditions. Take my advice and make some changes. It’s not too late to:

Stop the craziness. Ladies, this means you because most of the time we are the ones who stress out trying to make everyone happy and make sure things happen. The end result is that we feel frazzled with a heap of tangled emotions. We’re overwhelmed, exhausted, angry and guilty. Trust me, I know!

Simplify. Cut the excess and you will discover that your family can have more fun and better memories when the grown-ups in charge feel calm and relaxed. Sit down with your spouse (or not) and reevaluate what’s truly important to your family. Do you really need to bake a homemade cake for Jesus’ birthday on Christmas Eve? Practice saying No to more things so that you are free to say Yes and enjoy the things that really matter.

Save some time just for you. I know, I know, you’ve heard it before but the truth is you cannot give to others when you are overdrawn yourself. It is not selfish to take care of yourself, it’s essential. Don’t neglect the basics. Sleep, take time to savor the peaceful, joy-filled moments that are unique to this season, and spend time basking in the warmth of God’s Presence. Sarah Young wisely writes in her devotional, Jesus Calling, “Let my Presence override everything you experience.”

Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change this holiday season? That’s my desire. How about you? Let’s invite the Presence of Christ to be with us, in us, and to work through us not only for this season but throughout the coming New Year.

Photo: Flickr