“What manner of man ought ye to be? Even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). If we could ask the Savior how we could best celebrate his birth, I suspect He might answer with words similar to these.
How ironic that we spend so many of our December hours following traditions that lead us to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace in such unpeaceful ways! How can we bring more peace into our Christmas season? How can we spend more Christmastime hours focusing on being more like Him? How can we keep Christmas preparations from pushing us to act quite the opposite?
In the Salt Lake Tribune December 10, 2005, the title of Hariette Cole’s advice column title was, “Family conflicts snowball during holidays.” She wrote:
Pastor David Hiester and the Aldersgate United Methodist Church are campaigning for people to skip [the traditional trappings of] Christmas and pay more attention to the real meaning of the holiday. He said, “Very little of what we do [for the holidays] has anything to do with Christ’s birth. We’d gotten swept up, just like the rest of the culture.” Not so many years ago they would easily spend $2000 on gifts… [send] more than 100 Christmas cards… and Tracy [David’s wife] would spend hours in the kitchen… making goodies to share with dozens of neighbors and friends.
They suggest “an intentional effort to cut back on the chaos that has torqued traditions into distractions from the central point of the season – Christ’s birth. “It’s about worship and adoration and awe and reverence,” said Heister… [Their campaign] to “Skip Christmas” is [about] skipping the chaos so you have time to focus on the true meaning, the fellowship and the richness we can share with one another.
One Change Can Make a Difference
We all know the problem. Let’s move quickly to solutions. Many factors can influence the spiritual level of our Christmas and the degree to which we succeed in the goal of honoring Christmas by attempting to be more like Christ. However, I would like to focus on only one. Strange as it may sound, I suggest we draw nearer to the Savior and be more like Him this Christmas season by repenting of the habit of hurrying.
It’s been nearly thirty years since I started that repentance process. It all began on a frantic afternoon when I was near the breaking point. With a decided tendency to over-commitment, my husband working out of town, five growing boys and a household to manage by myself, I had hurried myself into exhaustion.
The worst part of it was that I was convinced that hurry was righteous. After all, if I hurried couldn’t I accomplish more worthwhile things, serve more, read more scriptures, do more for my children? But where had all that hurrying got me? Certainly not to joy and peace!
That day, knowing I was about to lose it, I put my oldest son in charge, and jogged to a nearby cemetery. Surely no one was hurrying there and I could think this thing through. I breathed deeply and enjoyed the quiet of that tree-filled place and sought the Lord’s counsel.
The answer I received that day was clear: the Savior never hurried, and if I wanted to be more like Him, I would walk a more peaceful path. Never mind that He had the whole world to save, Jesus ministered calmly to his flock, one by one. Never did he say, “Sorry, but I’m in a hurry,” when someone needed Him. And more importantly, He never said, “Hurry and follow me.” And for good reason.
Think about it. When we allow the pace of our lives to get just plain frantic we are all too likely to end up acting anything but Christlike. My new visiting teaching companion told me that last year she and her husband became overzealous in their desire to serve too many too much; they hurried themselves into exhaustion and became just plain crabby and unkind to each other. They determined to do less this year, but in a more loving way.
The Downside of Conventional Christmas Behaviors
In a department store orientation for Christmas workers, the trainer said, “This is the season of great irritability. Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone is stressed. No one is polite.” What irony!
Yet how can we help being drawn into hurry and its attending irritability at Christmastime? There are only 24 hours in each day of December, just as in any other month; yet in addition to all the regular chores – cooking, laundry, cleaning, errands, church responsibilities and regular work, we somehow expect to fit in a multitude of Christmas activities. It is obviously impossible to fit five times as many activities into a month and not get worn out.
I need the same amount of sleep in December – or more than usual in order to stay healthy – yet I’m inclined to get much less. I know it is crazy to start projects in December and think I will miraculously find time to finish them before the 25th, yet how many Decembers have I done just that?
It takes extra time to drive anywhere because of traffic; it takes extra time to shop because of the crowds – yet I hurry and expect to get more done in less time than usual. I want to serve much more than usual when I have fewer discretionary hours than any other time. Unrealistic expectations and over-ambitious goals can wreak havoc with our dispositions.
Perhaps the first thing we need to do, then, is to prioritize and pare down our goals. Everyone I’m around will enjoy the season more if I’m not under pressure. How many of the gifts I’m planning to give this season are really meaningful? Will really make a difference? The gift my family needs most is my love and good example – and I’m not good at giving it when I am hurried, pressured, frazzled, worn out, and grouchy from lack of sleep. It is not a selfish goal to take care of myself and be realistic in my commitments.
One thing that has worked for me is to make a “not to do list!” For example, If I haven’t finished a project before Dec. 1, I put it on my December “not to do list.” The world is not going to fall down if I don’t finish it until next year.
I select only a few Christmas concerts, plays, or parties and remember there’s always next year. I put all the rest on my “not to do list.” I’ll enjoy what I do attend so much more if I’m not worn out from a Christmas marathon of activities.
If a traditional task or goal seems daunting, I put it on my “not to do” list – unless it is one that helps me think of the “reason for the season.” Long ago I learned to put on my “not to do list” any kind of food that takes hours of preparation. There are too many delicious and even nutritious foods that can be put together in a jiffy to wear myself out with the other kind. Any tradition that takes a lot of time should be evaluated. Is it worth the time? Does it bring us closer to Christ?
I now mail cards only to a select few that I know will value my very personal Christmas letter and need my update because I don’t see them.
I send the letter the first of the month when people might actually have time to read it. (Christmas letters I get too close to Christmas I’m inclined to set aside to read later because I don’t have time to sit and enjoy them; I suspect others feel the same way.)
Many people wisely put Christmas letters on their “not to do list” altogether. I have one friend who sends her newsy update letter for Valentine’s Day each year instead of Christmas – and it is much appreciated. Why does a yearly update have to be at Christmas anyway? Who says?
Keeping Gift-Giving in Perspective
Janeen Brady offers advice concerning gifts:
I feel that before we purchase gifts we should ask ourselves, “What is my motive for giving? Is it obligation, is it to impress or to keep up a front, or am I sincerely trying to express love and meet a need? By being really honest with ourselves and choosing not to give expensive presents we can’t afford, we can avoid the depression and other problems debt brings… there is no need to feel guilty for not being able to [give more than we can give,] do more than we can do, or serve more people than it is possible to serve. Maybe we should weight our values and make sure we are doing things for the right reasons. Then if we learn to say NO to hundreds of things that are optional, focusing only on those things that are really important, peace at Christmas might become a reality. (Latter-day Woman Magazine, Holiday Issue, 1986)
How can we remember those we love and not find ourselves over-extended? I often buy a special book or tape in quantity – one that has changed or lifted my life and that I want very much to share. I get discounts, and by giving the same thing to as many as would be appropriate to the message, I save time and the hassle of decisions and shopping. I consider well in advance who would appreciate gifts the mirror my values – for instance books about the Savior.
Deniece Schofield suggests the following gift ideas that can conserve your energy and keep you loving, not hating your preparations:
- Collect inexpensive baskets, fill them with fruit, wrap in cellophane and top with bows. (In one hour you can have a counter full of gift baskets ready. A counter full of cookies could take ten times as long.)
- Give a favorite recipe as a gift and include one or more of the ingredients. If you feel you need to give more, wrap a main dish recipe in a new casserole dish, or recipe for yummy cookies with a new cookie sheet.
- Give things that people constantly need and frequently run out of: paper towels, dishcloths and towels, candles, holiday paper plates and cups, hand lotion, memo pads, Post-It notes, stamps. A person who lives alone might enjoy frozen TV dinners prepared from your leftovers.
- For children, fill plastic boats, dump trucks, or sand pails with popcorn, caramel corn, Chex party mix, or other treats. Give jams, jellies, honey, cheese spreads, nuts, dried fruits, purchased bakery products – thoughtful, but time-saving for you!
When I still have shopping to do in December, I remember that those people I’m shopping for – if they love me at all – would not want me to push myself over the edge, go into debt, or otherwise mess up my Christmas by trying too hard to find “the perfect gift.” If I can’t decide quickly, I might give them money, a gift certificate, or a promissory note for service or fun times together
A More Christ-like Focus
When Jesus walked the earth, the gifts He gave were not material. He gave compassion to the suffering, strength to the weak, comfort to those who mourned. When we focus on those who are truly in need, rather than scurrying around trying to give to everyone who might possibly give a card or gift to you or “expect” one from you, we are being more like Him.
Janice Kapp Perry said,
Last year I decided not to send any impersonal Christmas cards. Instead I chose five people who were really suffering from serious problems or losses. I wrote them each a deeply personal letter of understanding and concern. I told them I knew how difficult this season must be for them and expressed my love… I truly believe the most Christlike thing we can do at Christmas is to reach out to people who are suffering. If we do that, we don’t need to harbor guilt for all the millions of other things we don’t get done” (Latter-day Woman Magazine, Holiday Issue, 1986).
I love her idea because it sounds so unhurried and loving.
Most of all, as we think about celebrating Christ’s birth, we should focus on our main goal of being His disciples. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). This Christmas season let’s show our love for the Savior by repenting of our hurry habits so we can be more like Him. Let’s remember that He never hurried, and gave only of himself. Let’s make it a priority to slow down enough to stay intact and healthy so that we can follow His example and be His disciples by extending love to one another. Merry unhurried Christmas!