In some ways, especially for those of us who "make Christmas happen," the season simply comes together.
After years of practice and preparation, we responsively know the rituals and rhythms of the Christmas season: how many hours it will take to mix, bake and decorate two batches of Grandma's sugar cookie recipe, how long it will take to put up the tree, the flow of making dinner and brunch, how to facilitate a holiday gathering, what music to put on for which event, and so forth. We know what to do to prepare our homes and our hearts for the season.
Yet, as I've considered the impact of Christmas, it is too precious of a season to go into an automatic mode.
In the past few years especially, I've seen the incredible opportunity the Christmas season allows for us to love and extend hope and comfort to others. There is opportunity for conversations that dive much deeper than surface level, for gatherings that exude joy and laughter that helps heal hearts.
There is a grace over this season to have a depth of purpose in our gathering and celebrations regardless of the size or fanciness. We don't have to have it all together or be in a personal season of plenty to have a significant influence on others. Some of my most impactful seasons have been when my resources were scant!
In the first article
on the 'Keepers of Christmas' I write about the importance of celebrating the holiday season and especially the task that the "keepers of Christmas" have in making Christmas happen for those in their lives – not just their own family, but an extended group of friends, extended family, and the community. This article is about keeping our own hearts, minds, and spirits tended to in this exhilarating (and potentially exhausting!) month.
There have been too many years when I turned into a grinch by the time Christmas week rolled around! Here is what I've learned to keep my inner grinch far, far away and keep the inner fire of my heart and spirit burning bright.
Why It's Essential to Stay Well Rooted
We all know it isn't the increase of activity that can drown us. It is the increase of heart and spirit work.
At Christmas we are tending and shepherding precious people, many who soften up and look out for love during this time of year, whether they express that or even consciously realize that. I mentioned in the last article
how our past holiday seasons formed us and shaped us.
Many wear the scars of broken holiday seasons, shattered dreams in childhood or adulthood around the holiday. They inevitably cross our path during this month. In order not to get depleted or grow weary doing good, it is important to tend to our own hearts.
Tending our own hearts well means to be well-rooted, to sink the "roots" of our minds and hearts into healthy and nutrient-rich soil.
To an extent, this article is presented late in the season. Already Christmas is upon us, a few precious weeks away (depending on when you are reading this, maybe less).
Yet, getting renewed and staying energized may not take as long as we think.
I love flowers and spend time studying and painting them. Flowers are amazing, not only in their ability to brighten up a home, a garden, a room, a face, but in the way they grow and live in and out of seasons.
Flowers have an intuitive knowledge that always blooming all the time is not possible. No, they know to bloom their best, to bloom fully and be the magnificent creation they were meant to be, they must be well rooted.
A flower without roots is a plant that has a very short time on this planet! It is the root system that allows the flower to sink deep into the soil and gather the nutrients from the soil, the water, and the earth. Roots help a flower not uproot in a gust of wind and blow away.
Roots are essential for life.
As a creative, as someone who will be giving of themselves to serve others and bring the love and light of the Christmas spirit to other people, it is imperative to stay rooted.
First off, my daily morning ritual: a cup of coffee with the Bible, praying and listening to Jesus is a must. That cannot stop during this season.
But more is needed as well during a season of intense loving, serving, giving, celebrating.
A few years ago, I talked about initiating quiet nights in December in my book as well as the blog
. I sensed God impressing on my heart that more quiet was needed, more quiet and less distractions. Not the easiest thing to accomplish during the month of December! Yet the simple practice of picking a few nights (or Saturday mornings or an early weekday morning – you know what your schedule is like) to sink into the Christmas season and allow your own soul and heart to find a place of rest and joy and creativity is deeply life giving.
One of those nights might be pure Christmas fun: curling up by the Christmas tree with a cup of hot tea and a book or a Christmas magazine, saturating in the quiet for an hour or two.
It's usually quiet and on my own. Most creatives need time by themselves to replenish and rest, no matter how extroverted they are. It is in the quiet pauses where we sink deeper, where our roots go deep.
Another activity that grows my roots deeper is time of extended prayer during the Christmas season. Adding to the quiet nights of December is time to pray specifically over the holiday season and listen to see what the Lord might share of what I'm to do and what I'm to let go of as well as prayer over the people I will be interacting with.
Not Just "Me" Time
This is not just about self-care time (I have an aversion to that phrase and concept, but that's for another article).
Also, beware of numbing or distracting activities that are nice, but not restorative. When I'm tired, I fall into these things, but they don't do anything for my heart, mind, and spirit.
Activities that lead to deeper and stronger roots are filling, not numbing.
There are also restorative activities that are others focused.
A personal restorative activity is writing Christmas cards. I connect with others and extend care to them through snail mail, especially those who may be alone or have few connections over the holidays. I love to encourage others and remind them they are loved. I know I'm living in the way God has gifted me when I write and send letters. If I don't schedule a few hours to do this, it simply doesn't get done. I've missed out on this when I don't do it and feel that deeply.
Is there a meaningful activity that you love to do but is not urgent and tends to get overlooked (much to your dismay)?
Is it a quiet act of service, visiting the elderly who is in a nursing home? Or, perhaps it is having a one on one lunch with your mom, aunt, or grandmother? Perhaps it is scheduling a baking day with children in the family or neighborhood.
Staying Connected with Like Minded Friends
I imagine you have other friends who love Christmas as much as you and I do! I've often said an hour of conversation with a friend, sharing ideas and joys and concerns of the season will keep me going for a few weeks!
Jenelle is a dear friend who I met in a writing group years ago. She and I go on "power hour" walks together through her neighborhood, maybe every three or four months. We catch up on highlights (and lowlights) from life and share dreams and hopes, disappointments and recipes! We both love to bake and we love to gather people. Our conversations often connected over gatherings and what we'd baked and learned in the kitchen. A conversation with Jenelle would be like a vitamin-enriched power pack to my creative heart and mind!
Even though we may spend the month pouring out (and loving it) it is important to stay connected. It helps to prevent burnout, feeling isolated and keeps us connected to our mission and vision for the holiday season.
If I stay on go-go-go mode through November and December I feel frazzled and miss the deeper moments of the season that lead to true connection and serving. I don't want to miss these things.
Create a (Simple) Plan
Where are your roots going?
If they are not in "the ground," but lying exposed to the elements of daily life, what practices can you quickly implement to re-root and get grounded in the things that will keep you stable, full of grace and generosity, resourcefulness, and energy?
Can you grab your calendar and mark a few times of restoration and replenishing?
It might be something as simple as guarding every Sunday afternoon/evening from outside activities, responsibilities and dedicating that time to a true day of rest: taking a walk each Sunday, spending time away from electronics (even the phone!), working on a creative project that occupies your hands but allows your mind and heart to quiet down.
Here are some other ideas to spark your own:
• Take time to journal about memories from the past.
• Incorporating the practice of Advent each Sunday in December
• Baking a holiday family recipe that brings joy and meaning.
• Walking a route around a park – no electronics – just the quiet. Allowing the mind to rest and listen.
• Quiet afternoon to write Christmas cards and put stickers all over them.
• Getting up early one morning specifically to talk pray over the holiday plans and ask for guidance and wisdom.
• Scheduling time to visit with a heart friend or mentor, even for an hour to talk together and encourage one another.
• A Coffee meetup with a friend who loves to bake and sharing ideas for the holiday season.
Taking Action...without burning out
In the next and final article of the Keepers of Christmas series, I'll share ideas and practices I've implemented for creating intentional gatherings and having interactions that go beyond surface level.
I'll share why I think a certain level of exhaustion is normal (and why that isn't a bad thing) and how I've learned to navigate fatigue and actually use it to end the season with sweetness and not resentment or frustration.