Christmas is my favorite time of year. So when Christmas is over I feel a huge crash. You bake the cookies, decorate the tree, give the gifts, and before you know it, it’s time to do the dishes, take the crumpled wrapping paper out to the trash, and box up the decorations for their eleven-month hibernation.
It’s time to put everything away, but it feels like Christmas has only begun. It’s not that I feel like something is missing, just that it didn’t last long enough or I didn’t enjoy it enough.
If you take some time to truly prepare for Christmas, it can be your best ever.
I have four young kids, so I feel a real sense of urgency when it comes to Christmas. Each passing Christmas is one more of the limited few that will make up their early childhood memories of this holy season, and I want to make sure they really have an incredible experience.
My wife and I have learned that preparing for Christmas is incredibly important. We prepare for everything we consider important in life, and when we prepare for Christmas, the season seems to last longer. When we prepare for Christmas, we are happier. When we prepare for Christmas, our experience is richer.
My wife and I have designed a five-step process that we use to prepare for Christmas. I hope you can use it to maximize your Christmas experience.
It goes like this:
Step One: Imagine
It might seem obvious, but if you want to know how to prepare for Christmas you have to know what you are preparing for!
My wife and I curl up on our couch with a great cup of coffee and reminisce about Christmas past—what we liked and what we loved, what stressed us out, what we forgot about, what we missed, what didn’t work, etc.—and then we imagine what we want this year to be like.
We use the statement “The most important things are . . .” to give clarity to our thoughts.
The most important things are . . .
- To spend a lot of time with our kids
- For our kids to spend quality time with out-of-town family
- For our kids to get a sense of wonder and excitement
- For us to be able to enjoy the moment
- For us to stay centered spiritually
- For our kids to know the joy of generosity
- For us to grow closer as husband and wife
- For us to grow closer to God as a family
- For our kids to understand gratitude
- For us to spend some quality time with friends from out of town
You get the idea. Aim for at least ten specific things so you can get a really clear picture of what you want Christmas to look like.
The thing about Christmas is that just about everything you can do to prepare is a good thing. It’s not like you are choosing between bad ideas and good ideas. You are trying to figure out what are the best things to do with the limited time you have. This list helps our family keep focused on what matters most despite the busyness of the season.
The second statement we finish is “Imagine if . . .” Usually we are a little silly with this one, but sometimes it’s fun to be a little silly. We dream big—way outside of our means or even what would be possible. This exercise usually helps us turn over one or two rocks in our minds that we haven’t yet explored under. Our “Imagine if . . .” list might look something like this:
Imagine if . . .
- We took our entire family on a Caribbean cruise together
- We got each of the kids a present they would treasure forever
- We could give a family in need their best Christmas ever
- We didn’t do any decorating or bake any Christmas cookies
- We took all the kids to Midnight Mass this year
Again, write them down. You aren’t going to do everything on this list, but usually this exercise will reveal one or two ideas that we find intriguing. The pot of gold at the end of this thought rainbow is when one of us gives an idea and the other says, “Wait . . . we could do that!” That’s when the real decisions start to get made.
Congratulations! You now have a list that details your richly imagined Christmas experience. You have filtered out what matters least and singled out what matters most with laser focus. Now it’s time to make that richly imagined experience a reality.
Step Two: Organize
Organizing your busy Christmas is the surest and quickest way to a prepare for a rich and fulfilling Christmas.
Let’s face it: Christmas is a busy time of year. If you’re looking for 5 Super Simple Steps to a Care-Free Christmas! . . . this isn’t it. But if we prepare, the busyness of the season can be fulfilling instead of overwhelming, and the hustle and bustle can become excitement and anticipation.
The trick is to organize your busyness. Here is what you do:
Go back to your richly imagined Christmas experience and put all of the activities, chores, experiences, and traditions into one of three categories: Family Traditions, Faith Traditions, and Christmas Traditions. This bird’s-eye view of your Christmas will give you a clarity that is mind-blowing. You’ll see where you are doing too much, and where you are doing too little. You’ll see repetitions and overemphasis. You’ll see where you aren’t giving enough to the things that matter most to you and where you are giving too much to the things that matter least.
For example, there have been years when our party list was astronomical. Another year, we noticed that my wife had three different cookie baking days with different friends and family. Organizing all of our activities helped my wife and I realize that all the Christmas parties and cookie baking were actually bulldozing the other things we valued.
Your list could look something like this:
Christmas morning at Grandma’s
Family gathering on Christmas Eve
Work party on 12/16
Wine and cheese party on 12/19
Nightly prayer and Christmas story with kids
Nativity play at church
Christmas Eve Midnight Mass
Best Advent Ever
Nightly Gratitude List
Watch It’s a Wonderful Life
Bake Christmas cookies
One of the hardest things to do in life is make the complex simple. Organizing your busy Christmas is the surest and quickest way to a prepare for a rich and fulfilling Christmas.
Step Three: Cut
Take a look at your list from step two and then do the unthinkable:
My wife and I treat this as the highest mandate. If we don’t cut something, we just keep adding and end up more and more busy and less and less happy.
It’s not easy, but take a look at your well-organized list of activities and choose something that you just aren’t going to do this year.
Look for something that is redundant.
Look for something that you have done in the past that you don’t actually enjoy.
Look for something that takes up too much time and energy for the return of joy it brings you.
Look for the category that’s just got too much in it.
Cutting is difficult, but it preserves your freedom. And remember, just because you skip something one year doesn’t mean you can’t come back to it if you miss it. But honestly, most years we don’t even think about the activity we cut.
Step Four: Calendar
This is the most crucial step.
Pull up the family calendar and plan like a madman. Schedule the time to shop, the time to bake, the time to wrap gifts. Schedule the parties, the shows, the prayers, the Mass. Schedule it all. Write it down. Do it right now—while you’re still clear on what matters most and what matters least.
Can you get ready for Christmas too early?
This step determines whether you will succeed or fail—whether your Christmas will be your best ever or be overrun with too many parties, too many tasks, too many things.
The more we plan, the less we worry. That’s the rule we have discovered for this time of year. The calendar helps us know when everything is going to get done, so we don’t worry about things piling up and we don’t try to do too much at once.
My wife and I schedule everything using our online calendar, so that we take into account school activities, sports, and work schedules. Then we print off a fun holiday calendar with all of our activities so the kids can anticipate what is coming and cross off the days to Christmas.
The kids run to the calendar every morning to tell me what is happening next. It hangs on the fridge for everyone to see. Building anticipation helps the season last longer, and the calendar helps the family build anticipation together.
The calendar is crucial.
Step Five: Enjoy
I won’t lie. It’s easy to forget to enjoy things around Christmastime. But my wife and I have found a surefire way to make sure we don’t forget to enjoy everything this season has to offer: Joy-boosters!
What’s a joy-booster? I’m so glad you asked.
My wife and I have noticed that Christmas music, getting a delicious gingerbread latte from our favorite coffee shop, taking pictures, or eating some Christmas cookies instantly boosts the joy of any activity. So we started to incorporate them into almost every activity during advent.
So while we are running around buying presents, we grab a latte so we remember to enjoy it.
While we are wrapping gifts (a rather mundane Christmas chore), we put on Christmas music so we remember to enjoy it.
While we drive through the local Christmas light show, we take some pictures to remember to enjoy it.
When we finish doing the Focus, Act, Pray from Best Advent Ever, we sing the first verse of our favorite Christmas carol so we remember to enjoy it.
Joy-boosters are one of my favorite things. They instantly make every activity more enjoyable, and they remind me to stay in the moment. What are your joy-boosters?
Can you get ready for Christmas too early? Not in my book. If you take some time to truly prepare for Christmas, it can be your best ever.