I love Christmas. I love the decorations and the lights. I love being with family and eating good food and singing Christmas carols. But every year around this time, my chest gets tight and I start to panic about all the things that need to be done before Christmas. December is such a busy month that the busy-ness often overshadows the joy of the season. I always wish it could be different, but I seldom figure out a way to make it that way.
The Amish celebrate Christmas simply and without a lot of fanfare. The lowly stable of Bethlehem is a far cry from the fancy parties we throw and the elaborate gifts we give to celebrate the season. But there is a big part of me that wants to make every Christmas “the best Christmas ever”–the Christmas that the whole family will remember as the most joyful, the most meaningful, and the most wonderful. But maybe a truly wonderful Christmas isn’t encumbered by the trappings of commercialism or perfection or an immaculately decorated house.
Here are five ways I hope to make my Christmas more “Amish” this year.
1. Fill your home with friends: Several times a month, the Amish young people get together to play games and sing. These aren’t big affairs with fancy decorations and elaborate food but times to fellowship and be together. Some of my favorite Christmas memories are when one of the kids would sit down to the piano and the rest of us would migrate into the living room and sing Christmas song after Christmas song–no complicated planning needed. Pick an afternoon and have a friend or two over for hot chocolate and a visit. Or call some friends at the last minute and do a sing-along. The most important things in our lives are our relationships. This Christmas, I want to spend more time on my relationships than on my shopping list.
2. Simplify: Amish Christmas decorations are simple–usually pine boughs, candles, and ribbons. They don’t put up Christmas trees, and with no electricity, they don’t have Christmas lights to speak of. Now, I cannot imagine Christmas without a Christmas tree or the beautiful decorations I’ve collected over the years, but if decorating the house stresses you out, if you and your spouse are yelling at each other by the time it’s over, maybe it’s time to rethink your decorating. I love putting up a tree and making it beautiful, but if the stairs don’t get garlanded this year, my home will still look and feel like Christmas
3. Give simple gifts: The Amish usually give a single gift to each person on their list, and the gifts are rarely expensive or extravagant. A gift for a child might be a coloring book or a doll, a small hammer or a hat. Gift giving is a hard one for me, because I love to give and give and give–especially to my children. But during one Christmas I’ll always cherish, we took the kids to Disneyland the first week in December and told them that the trip was their present. We put up a tree and they each got a gift or two from Santa, but there was no frantic race for last-minute stocking stuffers, no stress over deciding on the perfect gift, no overdrawn bank account. I felt more peace that Christmas than I usually do, and the gifts were minimal. Deciding how to simplify gift-giving usually calls for a family meeting where expectations can be managed and solutions can be reached that everyone is happy with. I love giving gifts, but I hate running through the mail on Christmas Eve searching in vain for that perfect gift. I can’t imagine that such stress is in the spirit of the season.
4. Serve someone: The Christmases that my children and I remember best are the ones where we serve someone else. One year we went to an elderly care center and sang Christmas carols. For many years we played Christmas elf to a few families in the neighborhood. I feel a lot more grateful for what I have when I serve others less fortunate. A dry turkey at Christmas dinner seems a lot less important when I see those who can’t even put food on the table.
5. Remember that Christmas is about Jesus: I like to think I keep Christ in Christmas, but when I’m annoyed with my husband or short with a store clerk or I neglect a friend or loved one because I’ve just got to get my gingerbread house decorated, I’ve lost the true spirit of Christmas. If we keep our minds focused on the Savior this Christmas, all the decorations and food and presents won’t seem as important as remembering Jesus and why he came to earth. He truly is the reason for the season.
May you have a very frehlicher Grischtdaag!