6 out of 8.
I did the math today, as I stared at the Christmas tree in an early morning haze.
I realized that much of my recent memories of the Christmas season has been seen through a foggy lens.
6 out of the last 8 Christmases I have either been struggling though early/late pregnancy exhaustion or stumbling through frequent late night baby feedings. And the other two I was navigating toddlerhood, which comes with its own physical demands. It’s as if the weariness of those parenting seasons are as familiar to me at Christmas as the box of well loved ornaments we pull out each year. Christmas is filled with time honored traditions that as we attempt to mark off each year, they stand as a memory book of Christmases past. I stir up a batch of cookie dough and remember the years where I was too sick to enjoy my favorite cookies. We put on our favorite Christmas movie and yet again, I fall asleep 20 minutes in, as I try to recall if I have ever actually made it through this movie in full. And then most indelible in my mind are the years where I sat bleary eyed staring at the Christmas tree wondering if maybe Santa could just bring the solution for getting a baby to sleep through the night and wrap it up under the tree for me.
And so this is where I sit today.
It’s no wonder I have related so dearly to Mary, more than ever before in my faith journey. (I’m a Lutheran after all. We tend to leave Mary honoring to the Catholics.) I feel her aches and pains, the worry and anxiety, all that pondering over these little ones and how on earth we are to do right by them.
And yet, despite this exhaustion, I would still describe myself as a proud carrier of the Christmas spirit. Most of my storage is taken up by Christmas decorations, I’ve never met a Christmas song I couldn’t jam to, and my heart goes fluttery over all those twinkly lights.
So what does one do with this struggle between exhaustion and expectation? Well, I can tell you what has not worked in the past. False expectations, martyrdom, and guilt. Are these familiar to you?
There are the false expectations that I can check off all those necessary items on the bucket list. That maybe if I just tried harder I could get it all done this year.
Then the martyr mom creeps in, in which I wear the tired badge of honor like all the other parents at Christmas just getting it done for the sake of the children, all with the heavy load of bitterness and envy as I declare “oh don’t mind me, I’m fine. I’ll enjoy Christmas in 20 years.”
And then most popular is guilt. Guilt that I should be doing something I am not, or feeling something I am not, or enjoying these precious short years, darn it, while Christmas is magical to a child, when sometimes I am just not.
I have tried on these roles before, like the ugly Christmas sweater that seemed like a fun idea but just leaves you feeling itchy. They don’t work. Well, they do, but they don’t work well. And they certainly don’t add to the spirit of Christmas that even the weary mom deserves to hold.
Those frequent years of slogging through December have at the very least taught me something (and I’ll tell you it’s NOT how to get more sleep. But if you have any suggestions send them my way. Actually, don’t. I have tried them all. For now we just wait.) I am learning to manage this feeling of weariness by setting the right intentions. Intentions that work for me and this stage. Intentions that allow me to settle into the season exactly where I am and lean into the parts that work for me, letting the rest stay packed away in the basement.
Today I want to share with you the little things that for me set an intention of Christmas Spirit, in hopes you can glean a little spirit for yourself.
But Rachel, you might say, set intentions NOW?? We’re already 2 weeks into the season and only 17 days and counting away from Christmas morning. That Christmas ship has sailed. And I would say to you, no. It is never too late for intentions. Even if it is today, Christmas Eve, or that weird time between Christmas and New Years when no one knows what day it is, it is not too late to shift your perspective. Sometimes, it is even as simple as looking back on the season and noticing the space where you did find the right spirit. It was there, just maybe hidden a bit behind the unmarked bucket list and halfway finished Christmas cards. And with that awareness, you can take note and put it on repeat when you need to call on it again next season.
But let me be clear before I continue any further. Simple Intentions for Christmas Spirit should not be yet another thing on the to-do list or a barometer for winning at Christmas. I make this mistake far too often. Minimalism and simplicity are great notions until they become one more thing to feel shame about failing. Rather than see this as a carefully curated list or how-to plan that must be implemented, see this as a mindful shift in the midst of exhaustion. It is finding the space where the seasonal calendar has a place within the season of life. It is putting focus on the simple pleasures that you likely will already be doing, but noticing how they can bring light where it is needed. These are my personal simple pleasures that I found in this season are just right for Christmas.
And so I bring to you Simple Christmas Intentions for my Weary Soul.
Read Cozy Christmas Books.
This is where the Advent Book Calendar meets Hallmark Christmas movies. I made the mistake in years past attempting to finish the heavier books on my To Be Read list before the year end. While this is a noble attempt at enriching my reading life, I was never successful. In times of exhaustion and full calendars, my reading mind craves light and cozy. It’s why those cheesy holiday movies with the bad actors and fake sets are so successful. Or why that silly song we hear over and over and over again in December does not get old. Our hearts want to be light. They want cozy and happy and marshmallow fluff lightness. Even if our Christmases don’t resemble any of the curated love stories, reading about it is a delightful escape for the mind and heart. Here are some I have read and also have cued up at the library.
Add a new Christmas Vinyl Record.
Music flowing through my home is an instant mood lifter. Christmas music is next level. There is something about hearing the same tunes year after year that put me in the space of joy that I long for in my time of exhaustion. But put that music on a record player, and my feelings of hygge hit max capacity. I collected a few classic records when I raided my grandparents stash earlier this year. But I decided I would treat myself to a new record while perusing a local record store. I even scored shopping local points. I can see this being something I look forward to just for me at the beginning of the season.
Obvioualy this is a very personal intention. Really this essence here is finding a small joy meant only for you. Perhaps it’s a new Christmas mug or festive socks. Whatever your choice, you are seeking a mood lifter all for you that doesn’t require the cooperation of others, particularly small others.
Decorate for One Week, then Be Done.
With a new home to decorate, I feel like I am still trying to figure out what I need and what fits our lifestyle. But I have found that the list is always longer than I have time for. This year I gave myself a week to move things around, gather the last few strands of lights and garland, and fluff. Then I stopped. But before I moved on to the “enjoying” part of the season I find if I write down those items I did not get to or that don’t feel quite right, then I have a plan for next year. If I worry to much about getting it “just right” I am spending more time bothered by what isn’t there instead of what is. When I write down a “next year” list, I have set a plan and can let it go.
Already on my list for next year is printing and displaying family Christmas pictures as well as add some Christmas spirit to my kitchen with garland and lights.
Let There Be Light (with the Push of a Button.)
Possibly the simplest change with the greatest impact this year has been to my twinkle light situation. I know I am far behind on the times, but this is the first year that I discovered the joys of remote controlled lighting. This means that in the wee hours of the morning, as I stumble down the stairs with all of my fingers and toes crossed that this last feeding will get the littlest one to stay asleep just a little bit longer, I don’t have to fumble to plug in cords or find buttons on the floor around the house. With the push of one button, three different light centers in our home switch on, including the two Christmas trees in different rooms and the display of little houses. In addition to that, I added three different smaller battery twinkle lights in various dark corners also controlled by one remote. Click. Click. Click. Ambience is set. I may be tired before the day has begun. I may be drawn to nothing but the coffee maker. And I may only have but a few minutes of peace before a small person joins me. But in that small moment, the lights brighten my heart. For if I must be weary, at least I can be weary in the warmth of light. I am already planning how I might keep this spirit of light throughout these darker days of winter, and darker days of parenting.
Keep the Traditions, but Let them Grow.
Finally, the most mindset focused intention I am making this year is in how I see the traditions we hold for Christmas. I believe a sprit of tradition is so important for a family. Rituals are successful because they are consistent, expected, and provide a focal point from distraction. Unfortunately too often with tradition and ritual comes expectation. When we attach too much expectation to our traditions, we anticipate them to look the same year after year. But just as the people who follow these traditions are living growing people, traditions must be allowed to live and grow as well. This year, as I set my calendar this season to include those moments that I look forward to as well as my children, I am leaving room for them to look a little bit different than they have in the past.
An example of this was something I learned from a young family I nannied for and their family’s tradition at Passover. We were invited for many years to participate in their family’s Seder dinner. Each year, as the children got a little older and a little more patient, we made it through more and more of the traditional seder booklet. The tradition was present. We sat, had dinner, read a little bit at a time. But it looked different each year. It grew as the children grew. And everyone was at peace with this.
This is my example. Keep the traditions that are important to me, whether its reading Christmas books each night, making Christmas cookies, or taking a day for Christmas shopping. But be okay with what they look like today. Let them be what they are. And watch in wonder as they change with our family.
May these intentions inspire you to find simple ways to weave the sprit of this season into your days. Tell me, what works for you? What are you reading or listening to or decorating with? What do your traditions look like this year? I love to hear from you.