Rediscovering Christmas

This is a ‘from my heart to yours’ story about how to have a magical Christmas and actually enjoy the season. At this time of year, don’t we all wish we could capture the magic of Christmas (but without the stress)?
I’m writing this for the many, many parents out there who are madly trying to capture Christmas magic, yet are feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and annoyed at that little Elf they keep having to invent antics for. I’m here to tell you Christmas doesn’t have to be an endless stress-headache. I’ve finally figured it out!

Here’s my Christmas journey

Christmas was always my favourite time of the year. As a child, my mum really did make it magical for us, so when I became a mum myself, I couldn’t wait to start setting up our own family traditions. There is something beautiful about the wide-eyed wonder of little kids at Christmas time. From the earliest years, I began collecting ideas from all over the place – magazines, websites, blogs, friends and family – and we started trying traditions on for size.

Decorating the Christmas tree with homemade decorations was the first thing. We adopted the tradition of taking the kids to pick out a new decoration each year, with the idea that they would inherit them one day.
We developed quite a ceremony on Christmas Eve – ‘Santa’ (the kids’ daddy dressed up in a Warehouse Santa suit) would knock on the door with a pillowcase full of new wrapped up PJs for each child. They would sit on his knee, he would tell them what good children they had been, they would put on their new Christmas PJs and we’d snap some pictures. After hanging stockings, we’d read our favourite Christmas stories, leave out cookies and milk and then say goodnight in excited anticipation of the morning. It was lovely and magical – the best night of the year.

By the time we had a bunch of family Christmases under our belts, we had traditions coming out of our ears and December had become manic and exhausting.

But along with these sweet simple traditions came the opportunity to really get into the season. Ideas like ‘Elf on the shelf’ and advent calendars promised a month of daily Christmas fun. At first it was fun – taking the train into the city to visit Santa’s Christmas Wonderland at Smith & Caughey’s, driving around finding Christmas lights to ooh and ah over, spending the evening at MOTAT’s Victorian Village Christmas nights. But all the activities started to add up. There was Christmas movie watching, gift buying, nativity play practising, gingerbread house decorating, Santa Parade waiting (and waiting), decoration making, teacher gift creating, carol singing, baking, present wrapping, and City Mission donating, to name a few. It was a very, very busy season.

By the time we had a bunch of family Christmases under our belts, we had traditions coming out of our ears and December had become manic and exhausting. At some point I fell out of love with the season I had loved best and found myself becoming a real Grinch, wishing we could get it over with and wondering why
I even bothered. In a fit of exhausted annoyance, I stopped striving and gave up on filling our December with Christmas activities and outings. I stopped trying to come up with clever ideas and I stopped using our advent calendar. (Yes, you heard me – no advent calendar.)

I learned that when it comes to enjoying Christmas, less is more. (I also learned that you should always wrap your presents as you go, and not do a big present-wrapping blitz on Christmas Eve. It’s so much easier on your back!). From that time on we kept the days before Christmas as empty and unplanned as possible, leaving room for spontaneity. We did Christmassy things when the mood took us, picking and choosing what we wanted to do based on energy levels. We had a list of favourite possibilities which included –

  • Getting a ‘real’ Christmas tree (for that piney scent) and decorating it together.
  • Watching favourite Christmas movies while eating Christmas treats.
  • Grabbing McD’s drive-through hot chocolate then going to see the Christmas lights in the car.
  • Inviting friends over for a day to decorate store-bought gingerbread houses (the mums sipped coffee and chatted while the kids went nuts with the lollies and royal icing).
  • Sometimes we threw an impromptu Christmas party once school was out.

And of course we continued to make Christmas Eve a super special night with our annual visit from Santa, new PJs and hanging our stockings on the fireplace. Nobody missed my strivey Christmas ways. As far as my kids were concerned it was still magical and I was actually enjoying the season again.
But then the kids got bigger, and things got awkward. Our precious Christmas Eve traditions became irrelevant – it felt weird having Santa visit when nobody believed in him anymore. We had one awkward Christmas (2014) where we tried to continue the old traditions anyway, but it didn’t work. It was pretty sad.

Sure, our Christmases were relaxed and no longer stressful, but we were in danger of losing the magic now that the kids were no longer wide-eyed and awestruck by every little thing. “So what now?” I wondered. “How on earth do we keep the magic in Christmas now that the kids are bigger?” Here’s what I discovered – the magic is in the giving. Those warm fuzzies we all want at Christmas? The wonder in a child’s eyes? We don’t have to lose them – we can cultivate them anytime through the act of giving.

Kindness is the true spirit of Christmas. Kindness, generosity and goodwill. When we give (of our time, our resources, a gift, a hug, words of encouragement), we do it to bless someone else. But as we give, something happens in our own hearts which is very wonderful, and rather magical. What better way to combat all the greed and commercialism at this time of the year, than to focus on giving? To engage our kids in giving and blessing others and being kind? I now leave room in my calendar for the magic that comes from being spontaneously generous and kind. An even better way to do this is to use a kindness calendar* – an idea I stumbled upon last year. I liked it so much that I made my own version to encourage my kids to actively find ways to be kind at Christmas.

Although they were enthusiastic at first, the very full calendar made them weary. That wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted my kids to be looking for opportunities to be kind themselves. So back I went into Photoshop, and removed all the activities I had put in for each day (play with your little brother, do a chore without being asked etc.). I left the squares blank, leaving it up to the kids to look for kindness opportunities, with the idea that we’d touch base at dinner and share how we had been kind that day. I also left a few squares filled in with ‘kindness’ activities we could do together as a family in the days leading up to Christmas.

With the focus on giving and kindness, and with older kids who had grown out of our old traditions, you may be curious to know how our Christmas turned out. Well, I am happy to report that we had the best Christmas ever. We had fun making gingerbread houses with friends. The kids did the lion’s share of the construction as well as the decorating. Later we dropped off a spare ‘house’ on a neighbour’s doorstep as part of our Christmas kindness.

We had fun ‘candy bombing’ our local Four Square carpark and had a moving experience singing carols at the local rest home. We’re not great singers, but the residents didn’t mind – they loved having the kids going around with a bowl of Cadbury Favourites and wishing them all a Merry Christmas. They didn’t care that we were nervous or unprofessional. Many of them sang along with us, others had tears in their eyes. And afterwards the nurses told us that was probably the only outside contact many of them would have that Christmas. Wow. Talk about humbling. To take the place of our old tradition of Santa’s Christmas Eve visits, my eldest son and I organised for a basket of wrapped onesies to ‘turn up’ on our doorstep, along with a list of instructions for us to follow for the rest of the night –

  • Put on the onesies and hang the stockings.
  • Go get fish ‘n chips in our onesies (and take a fish ’n chip dinner to a homeless person while we were at it).
  • Watch the Nativity movie in our onesies while sipping homemade Whittaker’s hot chocolate and eating our gingerbread house.
  • Pile into the car (in our onesies) and go to Carols by Candlelight at the local Methodist church (which finished at midnight).

As my youngest son said to us on our way home after midnight on Christmas Eve, “This has already been the best Christmas, because this year I understand what Christmas is really about.”  When I asked him to explain, he responded, “It’s about kindness, and Jesus being born, and celebrating with your family. Oh, but
I do still like getting presents though!”

Yep, we’ve finally found the formula for a magical Christmas – less is more and the magic is in the giving! Merry Christmas to you and yours – I hope you find the magic this Christmas too.

Kindness Calendar download Christmas Vouchers download