I hate to blame Hallmark, but somewhere along the road from childhood to adulthood and on, I developed a vision in my head what Christmas was supposed to look like, and it was nothing short of perfect.

When I was first married I carried some traditions from my youth but started others too. The tree was always a live tree and I made so many cookies that I would need to pack up several canisters and give them out to family and friends. Everything was great, but my husband did learn after our first Christmas together that stockings were not just a decoration, they were meant to be filled!

We soon started a family and purchased a larger house, so of course my vision of
Christmas got bigger too. We always got a real tree, which, if I wanted to get one before
December 22nd, would go out and get by myself or with my children. December 22nd, you see, was the approximate time that my husband would finally get in the Christmas spirit, so anything done before that time was on me. I would put the lights and ornaments on the tree, do all the shopping and wrapping, put the lights up outside, write all the Christmas cards, make Christmas crafts, and still baked a ton of cookies, because a tradition is hard to break. I also added a tradition of making dozens of chocolate covered pretzels with my older sister which made great gifts. I must confess, things needed to be done a certain way and in a timely matter because I didn’t want to be the last house on the street to put up their Christmas lights!

As my children were coming along we added Christmas dance recitals and planning
Christmas crafts with the children I babysat in my home. I don’t think I even realized it at the time, but I just kept adding on to my already long Christmas “to-do” list, needing to do everything myself, so it was “just right”. For several years I was on a bowling team and one year I decided to save time and just purchase a tree on the way home in the bowling alley parking lot. This was NOT the best decision I ever made and by the time Christmas Eve rolled around, this tree was as dead as a door knob, dropping its’ needles everywhere! I made the decision to undecorate the tree, taking the lights, ornaments, garland and everything off and literally shoved it out my back door! So, of course, I needed to go out and buy a new tree and put the entire thing back together, because I had nothing else to do on Christmas Eve!?!

For years while I was raising my kids, I remember being so totally exhausted by
Christmas that I couldn’t wait until it was over. I would be poised to take the decorations down and pack them away by New Year’s Day, but my husband would be so sad because he had only been in the Christmas spirit for about a week. By the time I had them all packed up and put back in the attic I distinctly remember thinking, “I missed it”. When the holidays rolled around again the next year and the next, I would want to do things differently, but, before I knew it I would get caught up in all of it and do it all again the same way. Again, ending up thinking, “I missed it”, this is not the way the Christmas is supposed to be.

By this time, I had been coming to St. John’s for several years and even working at the
church. I was also co-leading “Kid’s Clubs” on Wednesday nights that my youngest son was attending. I guess my heart was really aching before the Christmas season and I remember praying, “Please help me not to ‘miss it’ this year”. Well, I got my answer which hit me like a ton of bricks in my heart; “make sure others experience Christmas”. I was to have the Kid’s Club children do Christmas crafts and take them to elderly people of the church who are home-bound. Say what?!?!? I am to ADD to my to-do list? I was looking to take things off! Thankfully I knew I needed to listen to my heart, so I proceeded forward with this project. The kids enjoyed making the crafts and we set up 2 nights the week before Christmas to visit a total of 6 people in their homes. Well, to say that these elderly people enjoyed the visit with these children would be an understatement. We sang Carols and gave them the gift they had made, and they usually had treats for the kids. One night as we were leaving a couple’s home, we were all saying, “Have a Merry Christmas”, and the woman said smiling, “This WAS our Christmas”! When I got home with my son I asked him if he had a good time and he said, “Yes, and I feel so good about myself!”.

We continued the tradition with the Kid’s Clubs for several years, but that first year was
the beginning of putting focus on others and letting go of things that didn’t matter. I didn’t have time to make cookies, so they didn’t get done. The kids had received so many ornaments over the years and they were the only ornaments that were placed on the tree. They put them on themselves and it looked great. Christmas cards were only sent to people that lived far away and we didn’t see very often. Even my husband began to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit earlier and decided to put up the outdoor lights himself. How and when he did it was totally up to him. We also made sure that picking out a tree was made into family time. My sister and I continued our tradition of making chocolate covered pretzels because we cherish that time together and they make great, inexpensive gifts. That was the first year I didn’t feel like I ‘missed it’; and, at the risk of sounding like Charlie Brown, the beginning of understanding what Christmas was all about.
I still find it amazing that when we take our focus off ourselves, we not only make other
people’s lives happier, but it seems to come back to us tenfold. The effort involved to do this is very light, filling us up instead of extracting the life from us. So, as we start this  new Christmas season, don’t miss it; look for an opportunity to be a blessing to someone or a group of people who may be hurting or struggling, and put a bit of effort in making their holiday’s better. I can guarantee it will make your Christmas season more meaningful too.

Written and provided by a Family Strengthening Network Family Advocate, Jackie Southwick.