Written By: Ashley Elliott

Jingle bells 
- my house smells.
Since when do toys come in eggs?
The schedule's full, did someone sneeze?
Can we please not all be ill?

Jingle bells
- too many yells.
Let's all try to be nice.
I need more tape, who has the scissors?
Nevermind, you might get coal.

Lyrics sounding familiar? Today I want to remind you to stop and slow down. This holiday season is going to zip by like always, but it doesn’t have to be chaotic…like always. Take control and steer your family on the slower scenic route this Christmas. I challenge you to come up with three things that cause you to stress over the holidays, write them down, share them with your significant other or someone important to you, and let’s make a deliberate effort to diffuse them before we are in the midst of the storm. We can’t expect things to change if we aren’t taking action, so we need to be intentional with our time, careful with our commitments, and positive with our thoughts.

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” Psalm 62:5 

I know my schedule seems to get fuller and fuller as the year draws to a close. Finding time to have a date night or get together with a friend can seem impossible between kids’ activities, birthday parties, church events, school projects, work functions, holiday parties, recitals, winter showcase, and so on. How many of us plan rest time on our calendar just like all of the other programmed events? I would guess not many. How many of us when we think of rest, we jump to a sarcastic “yeah, sure!”? I would guess a lot more than the first question. Rest is not all about being lazy, so perhaps we could tweak the way we consider rest and the way we plan for rest. Our body, mind, and spirit all need re-energizing, so don’t miss an opportunity to incorporate healthy daily habits of rest EVEN amidst the holiday season. 

“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing and harvest you must rest.” Exodus 34:21 

Even during the plowing and the harvest, find time to rest.

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 

Let’s revisit my new “Jingle Bells” lyrics to see if I can help you start to diffuse some holiday stress:

“Jingle bells – my house smells.” 
By all means, do your best to stick to your regular cleaning schedule, but let’s ditch the idea that our houses are going to be “magazine photoshoot material.” Open your imperfect home to friends, neighbors, family and make “being present” a priority over cleaning every nook and cranny. 

“Since when do toys come in eggs?”  
Another thought that isn’t very feasible is the idea that you’re going to be able to keep up with every new trend, new toy, and new fad. Remember the cliché, but comforting, saying of “it’s the thought that counts.” A handwritten card with a gift card is always an option too.

“The schedule’s full, did someone sneeze? Can we please not all be ill?”
The flu and colds swing around every year, Take a deep breath now with the idea that yes, someone could indeed get sick and yes, something could indeed go off “the plan.” Let’s pray for good health and a kick-butt immune system, but let’s find peace if we have to miss or change something too. The reason for the season doesn’t dilute just because you missed a nutcracker recital, you had to change your RSVP to a Christmas party, you had to cancel the sitter you booked for the dinner you bought a new dress for, you moved the location of a celebration to somewhere unexpected, or because your kid had to sleep through Christmas dinner. 

“Jingle bells – too many yells.” 
Know your anger triggers and identify your stressors so you can stay proactive at keeping your jar of patience and level of order where you want them. Pinterest-perfect cookies, on-time holiday cards, neat timely wrapping, matching red & green outfits, the front pew at the Christmas service are not worth the trade for your sanity. If you haven’t flown in an airplane with a kiddo recently, I will remind you that an important part of the safety briefing points out that your oxygen mask gets placed on before assisting others. Let this be your holiday safety reminder that you can best take care of others when you first take care of yourself. 

“Let’s all try to be nice.” 
Spread kindness and love in abundance: forgive, reach out, hug, send letters, donate, give thanks, and remember grace. 

“I need more tape, who has the scissors? Nevermind, you might get coal.” 
I can’t be the only one who has used the lines like, “That’s it, I’m writing a letter to Santa!” or “Think that’s going to keep you on the nice list?” or “Santa’s watching!” As stated above, know your triggers and your stressors – share them, plan for them, and simplify what you’re doing to hopefully reduce the number of meltdowns, arguments, and bribery. If you forget everything else in this post, try to your best to at least remember this – we need rest. Burning the candle on both ends always catches up to you at some point, so go back to your schedule and make sure you have allotted time for the physical, mental, and spiritual rest you need. (Side note: Love and Logic by Jim and Charles Fay provides a wealth of knowledge for dealing with conflict resolution in parenting. If you are looking for an item, next to rest, for your wish list, I highly recommend their books.)

A component of Christmas that always seems to swirl and add steam to the stress pot is gift-giving. Parking lots filled with impatient drivers, stores bustling with people, employees working overtime, isles filled with the one thing your child “must have,” finances take a hit, you’re missing someone you love, and at the end of the day you’re just trying to show you care. 

I’ve compiled a Christmas gift list of 10 ideas to help those who are hunting for ways to simplify their kids’ seemingly never-ending, overwhelming, or expensive wish list. 

1. Make a scavenger hunt. – Hide a present somewhere in the house, and make a few clues leading up to where the present is hiding (i.e., inside the dryer, in the bathtub, behind the couch, etc.), which can be done with toddlers too, to help draw out the speed at which kids rip through presents. If you have multiple kids, remember to alternate clues to avoid anyone being left out. Avoiding tears and encouraging teamwork is the ultimate goal here! Along the same lines, another hunt could be each kid looking for one or two clues around the house that contain a letter that ultimately reveals the hiding place of a family present. (i.e. “c.a.r.t.r.u.n.k.”) 

2. Board games. – I know the trend for Christmas is “buy experiences not things,” but game nights are experiences that pay back their ticket price over and over again. Add game night coupons to the gift and some game time snacks (read more about this on point 9). 

3. A wall calendar. – Hear me out; this is not just for the super organized, type-A kids. You’re going to open the calendar and fill out “date night” days, “dance party” days, “you pick dinner” nights, “dinner at the park” days, etc. If you aren’t sure of the exact day, place a sticky note on the month where you want to make the event like “camp out in the backyard” and stick it under the month of July. 
*Bonus for the overachievers: create a calendar on a picture website, placing a favorite personalized picture on each month. 

4. Make your kid an ornament. – The special feeling that you have when you open something made by your kids is very similar to the feeling they will have when they open something that you can tell them you stayed up late one night to make. If you aren’t necessarily gifted with craftiness, print a picture of the two of you from that year and glue it onto a backing that you can add little décor bits around. Jar lids, corks, felt, popsicle sticks, and plastic tops would all make great “starters.” 

5. Books. – To jazz this up a bit, add sticky notes on random pages – this is fun when you have already read the book you are giving them because then you can center your note around the message on that page. This is good for both chapter book readers AND picture book readers. 
*Bonus for overachievers: make your kids a special bookmark to go with it. Punch a hole on and tie a ribbon through a cut of paper (any size), then add a picture or write on a quote.

6. Make an album. – Scrapbooking is not for the masses. What I am suggesting here is buying a picture album book where you can slide the pictures in the slots. Try finding one at a thrift store first because whether you buy it new or previously owned, it will be your pictures inside. Online printing is cheaper than running to a photo center in a store. Shutterfly is a personal favorite because they are always running sales. 

7. Memory boxes. – A plain wooden box is another steal of a deal at a thrift store; otherwise, head to a craft store like Michael’s and get a plain wooden box that you can turn into a “memory box.” You will then fill it with a few items that they can decorate it with – i.e., gems, little stones, a mini bottle of paint, a pack of sequins, buttons, etc. Search your craft boxes, browse the craft store, or dig through your junk drawer to find the random seashells from that one beach trip last summer. Your kid(s) will probably have a better idea than you as to what to put in this “memory box.” These make for a fun tradition on New Year’s Eve; everyone grabs their memory box and shares what they added that year.  

8. Local classes or lessons. – Art lessons (art supplies stores hold kid & teen classes for various mediums), sports lessons (swimming, dance, gymnastics, horseback riding, rock climbing, indoor soccer clinics, etc), music lessons (check local music stores for what they offer or recommendations as many will have business cards), foreign language lessons, or local cooking classes (even some adult classes will allow a child to accompany you, so look beyond kids class).  

9. Take a single gift item and turn it into a “basket” theme. – These items will all get wrapped separately, then placed into a big box that gets wrapped again as a surprise. That soccer ball you want to get? Make a soccer challenge scorecard, add a whistle, a water bottle, a set of plastic cones, and a few soccer-date IOUs and wha-laa! You’re all set! A new family movie could easily be turned into a family fun basket with hot chocolate, new mugs, a box of popcorn, a new soft blanket, matching socks, glow sticks, etc. An apron or cookbook into a baking basket with oven mitts, recipe cards, kitchen helper coupons, or “executive dinner chef” IOUs. Browse your nearest dollar store for easy add on items or use food treats and specialty drinks to make smore kits, sundae kits, or snack bags that can add more “fluff” to your baskets. Don’t forget to make up coupons and IOUs if you’re giving out special privileges or dates. Other basket ideas: Adventure basket (binoculars, bug houses, walkie talkies, pocket knife, rope tying book, hat, new running shoes). Art basket (gel pens, pack of paper, envelopes, book of stamps, paint set, apron, brushes, folders, picture frame). Spa basket (slippers, robe, nail polish, cotton balls, fuzzy socks, bubble bath, book, massage coupons, special chair at the dinner table coupon).

10. Last but not least, remember the Four Gift Trend. – “Wear, Want, Need, and Read” these categories will help streamline your shopping list. 
Wear: shoes & clothing: a scarf, hat, socks, shoes, sweater, shirt, pjs, leggings, snowsuit, etc. 
Want: wide-open category here: art supplies, sports item, outside toy, some sort of entertainment, an accessory, something from the toy aisle, etc. 
Need: think about what they are about to outgrow or about any item that is wearing thin like bedsheets, backpack, watch/alarm clock, wallet, educational item, etc. Coats, socks, shoes, hats, gloves could be in this category too. 
Read: visit pages like Scholastic, Usborne, and Barnes & Noble to view top rated books or best sellers for the reading level that you are shopping for, then hunt on Amazon and Thriftbook.com to get the best bargain price.

If you are a gift-giving queen, I would love to hear your ideas, and if you’re more inclined to find a seat on the struggle bus when it comes to gift-giving, let me know what inspires you from my list of ideas. 

Regardless of what season of life you are entering this Christmas season with, I wish you a re-energizing rest and a peaceful refocusing. May you feel God’s presence and His love as we celebrate Jesus Christ and 2019 comes to an end. God bless you. 

A Prayer for the Ephesians: 

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with the power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-19

Written By: Ashley Elliott