Holidays bring big feelings for me, both really good and sometimes hard. I wrestle between warm feelings of childhood nostalgia and the struggle I have more to do than time to do it, and the impossible expectations of others to meet.
One of the ways I approach the holidays is by seeing it as a unique season to reinforce our family values. Here are a few I am keeping in mind this year:
1. Everyone is invited. This is something my husband and I decided early on in our marriage, if you want to rest, play and eat with us, you are welcome. Today that means we gather with our children and the people important to them, extended family members and a few others. I intentionally tell them, “The only requirement for joining us is to treat everyone kindly and equally.” There is an expression in Spanish when you have more people come to dinner than planned, you add more water to the beans. We have had plenty of meals where we’ve added water, and are better for it!
2. Play with a Purpose. We know from our day jobs that play promotes healing of the brain, so whether it’s card games, a holiday turkey trot, some competitive flag football, or the relaxing activity of cookie decorating, we want to make time, space, and budgeted dollars available for us to play together as a family. With age gaps and both genders, it also gives us a chance to encourage everyone to participate because of the people, not because the activity is their favorite.
3. It takes all of us. I have a large family, and if I thought it was up to me to cook, clean, wrap presents, and direct traffic for everyone, all the time, I would dread this season. Instead, I look for opportunities to share leadership with older kids, to engage everyone in the responsibility of the holiday, and consider it training for the years ahead when they manage their own households. Healthy attachment happens when we both give and receive love. I am hoping this exchange of shared responsibilities puts some of their skin in the game, while allowing me margin to join in.
4. Be Intentional. If we aren’t careful, the days rush by and then all of the sudden, I am making irrational decisions about gifts and take-out meals and resenting what the holiday costs me, instead of what it gifts me. Intentionality of time and money is a year-round exercise, but these months are ripe to reinforce cautionary tales and celebrations of good stewardship. This means: I have a family calendar with blocked out days for free time, I have Christmas lists with due dates, so I have time to shop and it still be fun. We talk about what we all hope happens over holiday breaks and then when it does happen, I remind them they were heard.
5. Presence Matters. This is perhaps, my favorite value of all. I want the members of my family to know whether we are watching football together, taking a walk in the snow, playing cards, or making breakfast, the best gift we give each other is ourselves. It doesn’t make any sense to be unkind or too hurried for the very people I am hoping feel loved. In the Bible, John records how Jesus came and was present among us, and during His ministry He sat with people, listened, served, healed, and encouraged them. This is the season we celebrate His coming, and it makes perfect sense we model Him in this way.
Inclusion, intentionality, playfulness, responsibility, and relationship are in season all year-long. I just love that in this time of year, we get the concentrated opportunity to remind those most important to us who we are.
I pray that filling up at the home base camp sustains everyone when we are later going in different directions. I pray most it gives us the tools we need to build meaningful community wherever we are throughout the year.