This is my most favorite photo of my dog ever. It encompasses all of his spunk, energy, and full-hearted devotion. This picture also reminds me dearly of some of what I love most about Christmas: the wonder of fresh snow, the joy in the lungs playing outside after being cozy together inside, the way God blesses us with beauty so lavishly, and the wonderful togetherness of days with family when all other obligations are set aside in the name of Christmas.
Christmas is in eleven weeks. If the speed of September tells us anything (how was that possible really for September to happen so fast this year?), the holidays will be here oh-so-quickly.
The weeks seem even quicker than usual to me for three reasons:
:: I am planning this Thanksgiving Feast, which -while a great thing- is also such a time suck.
:: We will pretty much be in our own little world for the entire month of November. The first few days we'll be getting all the loose ends tied up to skip town for two weeks. We arrive back home from Thailand on Thanksgiving Day, and the few days after that we'll be catching up on sleep and knitting life back to normal from skipping town for two weeks. Then -wham- December!
:: Due to being overseas and going on vacation, I'm trying to get our Christmas presents for family bought, wrapped, and mailed by Halloween! I do not want to stand in line with the other 9,999 people on this base in December, and hope my parcels make it in time for their parties.
Regarding Christmas -and gifts in particular- I was starting to feel like Scrooge when I came upon some encouraging advice at my favorite SmallNotebook.org (check the "holiday" section of the table of contents - the comments are awesome also):
:: Just because Christmas is special doesn't mean it has to be serious.
:: If you don't want to emphasize Santa, but find it unnecessary to ignore him altogether, try allowing Santa to do the stockings, while the gifts are from family. This allows children to enjoy the legend of St. Nick as a gift-giver without idolizing Santa as someone who's going to make all their hopes and dreams come true.
:: Make the traditions you want, not the ones you think you need to have.
Husband and I had been discussing Christmas gifts and Santa again because we hadn't totally decided even after our talks about it last year. We wanted to figure out our approach, and put it into practice this year.
I get stuck on the topic of gifts because I see how each of us has so much and we really don't need anything, and I have to make myself remember gifts aren't necessarily to fill a need. Gifts are a way to show love and that you're thinking of someone.
I get stuck on the topic of Santa because the icon represents so much commercialism, which is far from my Christmas priorities. I have to remind myself that Santa is St. Nick, a friendly SAINT of a man who gave gifts to and helped children because of an overflowing of good will and generosity. People can enjoy the fun of Santa without putting him on a pedestal. (The jury is still out regarding the Easter Bunny though!)
Rachel at Small Notebook makes Keep/Drop lists, and once again she has inspired me to make my own list; this time for Christmas:
Keep: Advent wreath on the kitchen table (the gorgeously simple one I mentioned last year with the bunt pan, cranberries, and tea lights).
Drop: Advent calendar of good will Christmas-y activities every night at the dinner table. I don't want the pressure, the sense of failure when we miss a day, or to feel like we can't leave the dinner table until we've talked about this. These things will be in our hearts and minds anyway, and when they come up then we'll make them happen. Embrace the spontaneity!
Keep: Fake Christmas tree.
Drop: Cutting down our own real tree together each year.
Keep: Tree, wreath on the door, nativity, and maybe a string of white lights on the railing outside.
Drop: Other decorations.
Keep: For when we have kids who are old enough for this, putting a wreath or very small fake tree in their rooms, and allow them to pick out one ornament to buy for it each year. These become their ornaments to keep for always.
Drop: Making ornaments each year or buying them myself.
Keep: Donating money to the poor as our family birthday gift to Jesus.
Drop: "In your honor" type gifts for charities. These are great gifts, and a beautiful way to get people to remember and provide for the poor at Christmas. There will probably be plenty of years we go this route with the "keep" part of this, and I encourage others to do this, too.
As personal presents though, I think they kind of make the receiver feel crappy about not giving gifts like this, too. Or they make the giver look like a saint or sometimes even seem "holier-than-thou". We did this last year, but I didn't feel great about it. It was kind of awkward, and in hindsight I wish we would have given those gifts privately. Don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, right?
Then there's this, a goat is not actually a great gift for my sister. It may be a great gift for another family. That's wonderful for them, but if I want to give a gift -something that is really a gift- to my sister, I'm going to get her some fun socks, a coin purse with a quirky owl on it, or some art supplies because those things are gifts to her. (By the way, I'm talking about both of my sisters here:).)
Keep: Believing Christmas is a season of joy and wonder of Jesus' birth, the beauty of snowflakes on trees, family togetherness, love, anticipation, hope, and generosity.
Drop: Being serious about Christmas is only, only about celebrating Jesus' birth. Christmas isn't about less than Jesus' birth. It's about more than Jesus' birth! It's about the beautiful spirit of love, generosity, and family that his life symbolizes.