It is really, really hard to have a happy, healthy Advent. I can turn into a real stress ball. Here are some things I'm doing for myself this year.
1. Fill the Tank--I went on a Silent Retreat with some local monks two weeks ago. Man, If I can figure out how to get myself to church alone a few times this Advent, I'm golden. Jesus ran away from the crowds and hid up in the mountains. The monks assured me that its normal to feel T-I-R-E-D while doing my vocation. My goal is that whenever I start to feel edgy and tired, instead of pushing through "a few more tasks so then I can rest", I escape pretty quickly to recharge my batteries.
2. Christmas shopping is a bear for me, so I did it quick, dirty and all online. This year, I really simplified my intent. I'm trying to get my ego out of the way. My goal is not to give my kids "the best Christmas ever!" It's not to finally appease the difficult people in my life with the "one perfect gift that will finally prove my slavish devotion." A present is about Love. I picked one thing that I thought was a pretty good fit, bought it on sale online Black Friday, and called it a day.
3. An Irish priest once told me "Each kid should get one present!" As an American who grew up with full saturation of Middle Class Christmas in her past, I sort of gasped at that level of simplicity. This year, I used that as a guiding principal. I got every kid two gifts. I bought those presents online today. It feels good to be done. I might add to the present stash if Jon gets a bonus or I come in under budget for my groceries in December--but my base line is covered. I feel like I can finally pray instead of worry about presents all Advent.
4. I bought today presents for the "hard" people in my life. The one's I usually stress out about pleasing. (I'm a recovering Co-dependent so pleasing the hard to please can majorly sap my strength.) Last year, I said "Forget it" and didn't buy anyone apart from my kids presents. I caused some trouble. I think that was a part of my growth. This year I picked a major department store and said "One Day, One Sale." I found gifts for everyone. Moreover, I found a good "category" of gift from everyone that I think I can build on in the future.
5. Now that the hard part is done, the game is "How can I make Christmas Day even more fun without spending much more money?" I'm sort of excited about this challenge. Here are some things I already discovered.
A. Chinese Jump Rope at Walmart for $1.99. I loved these things as a kid. This was how I spent my recess at Barrington Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio in the early 1980s. If you've never seen this game played, check out some you tube videos.
B. Indoor Snowballs at Oriental Trading for $5. I think having a surprise indoor snowball fight with my kids on Christmas morning sounds awesome.
C. Paper City. This super cool artist named Joel has these awesome paper toys templates on his website. We printed "Paper City" on cardboard stock last Christmas and my kids loved it. My husband added special cartoons of each family member. I recreated it at several Boy Scout events and so many kids were equally taken with this concept.
D. I asked a friend who can cook to teach me now to roll out sugar cookies. (I learned the secret is in chilling the dough well after mixing!) We're having a cookie making party in early December. My girls are in heaven! I'm hopeful I can find some easy baking projects to do with my kids on Christmas afternoon.
6. I'm taking it chill with the "prayer and religion thing." In the past, I've felt this pressure to cram in the entire theology of the Incarnation into Advent Season for my kids. This year, I'm taking it easy. My mantra is "It's a mystery, Dude!" The Christmas Season isn't so much a pageant with different pieces--cue the Angels Harking-- it's more of a internal awareness. I feel confident that as Jon and I peacefully walk through this season that those few teachable moments will show up naturally in our life.
7. Ack! I'm not doing Christmas cards! I'm a writer. I LOVE writing Christmas cards. Alas, it's on the chopping block this year. That's good. I should give up some of this Christmas traditions I like, in order to keep the things I need--sleep, sanity, and lots of unprompted smiles!