We live on the other side of the country to our family so there have been a few Christmas times where we have travelled back ‘home’ to be with family. This brings a unique set of family situation in how we celebrate Christmas. Thankfully, both our parents are Christians and also celebrate Jesus at Christmas time so that brings a degree of ease into the situation. I know there are others though who are celebrating with extended family, whether they live close or have travelled to be there at this time, where things aren’t so easy. Here are some of the things that have worked for us, and have worked for others as I’ve encouraged them to be intentional about their Christmas celebration.
1-Be prepared to Compromise – on some things. We need to know what is important to us – what do we absolutely not want to miss this Christmas – identify these significant things. Christmas isn’t about our traditions – it is about Jesus.
2-Have a heart to be a blessing to others this Christmas. It is easy to say we want to be a blessing to others, to show Jesus’ love to others at Christmas time, when we are talking about the stranger on the street – we can do random acts of kindness or a stint in a volunteer situation – but when it comes to our own extended family we start standing on our rights, our traditions, our values. That is not being a blessing to others.
3-Don’t presume. Just because your family has always done something one way, don’t assume it is going to happen that way this year. Talk about it and find out what other people are expecting: maybe there are others in your family that want to tweak things too – maybe.
4-Be creative in finding ways to blend the things that are very important to you, and the things that are important to the rest of the family. Hint: You don’t have to spend every minute of the whole day with everyone from your extended family.
5-Communicate your plans. If you find a way to do the things that are important to you then communicate your plans to your family. If you find yourself having to compromise significantly, explain your plans – and your why – to your children.
Get your Heart Priorities Right
Having our personal traditions and preferences messed up with is really a good test to see what is in our heart. Do we really believe that Christmas is about Jesus? Do we really believe that Christmas is a time to reflect God’s love to the word? To remind the world of the good news that the angels proclaimed that night?
If we do then, as important as our traditions are – we must put people first.
Our Children: If we have been intentional about how we celebrate Christmas in our normal homes then our traditions, at least some of them, will be about teaching our children’s hearts – teaching them God’s story.
Other people – which includes our family. Regardless of whether our extended family are Christians or not we have an opportunity to show God’s love to them this Christmas.
When we get this priority – putting people before our traditions – then we are in a good place to show grace, flexibility, and creativity as we plan our Christmas with family.
Be creative with how you do Christmas
- If you like to read the Bible before you start with presents – you could plan to have a family huddle in your bed before the kids come out to Grandma. This could be your family worship time.
- If you are not staying with family then you could plan to arrive a little bit later, giving you time to do what your own family likes to do.
- If you usually bake with your kids, or make a gingerbread house, invite all the cousins to join you – move from the kitchen to the dining room to fit you all around a table.
- If you usually have a birthday cake for Jesus you could ask the family if you can bring it along so your kids can celebrate – or you could have an early birthday party the day before.
- If you like to open presents slowly, and have everyone enjoy the joy on the receivers face – and your extended family don’t like this idea, then have your kids sit close together so you can have your family enjoy the gift exchange at least with your family.
- If there really is no way to compromise then have your family celebration the day before – or after – December 25. Give that one day to your extended family.
So you can do your thing before you join with your extended family, you can withdraw for a moment and catch up with your kids, you can include others in your celebrations or you can quietly do what you need to do in the middle of Christmas day chaos.
The important thing to know is that you have options. Just because you are going to celebrate with someone else at someone else’s place does not mean you need to let go of everything you hold dear – but it does mean you need to start thinking now and find ways to blend the things that are important to you with the plans of other people.
When we get upset and strident about our traditions, about the things that we do, we are actually inferring that Christmas is all about our traditions, and that is not the message we want to give to our children at all. So now is the time to think about how you are going to do Christmas with your extended family. It is also time to prepare your children so their hearts can be at the same place. Let them know of your desire to show God’s love, mercy, grace to your family this year – and let them know how you plan to do that!
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