I think it’s pretty safe to say that this time of the year is stressful for most women. By nature, we’re givers, nurturers, organizers, homemakers; the ones who pay attention to little details, and the ones for whom hospitality is a gift we give to friends and strangers alike. Because of this, the tasks on our very long to-do lists make us all a little crazy.
When my older children were much younger, I would work myself into a frenzy over Christmas preparations. Dozens upon dozens of perfectly formed, labour intensive varieties of cookies would be baked a month in advance and stored in the freezer, ready for gift-giving and socializing. My kids and I would handcraft tree ornaments and other homey decorations and the house would be decked out elaborately. I made lists, compared prices and hunted down the perfect gifts for weeks. There was nothing simple in my approach.
For some women, getting ready for Christmas comes naturally. The tasks they set for themselves seem flawless, relaxed and picture perfect; not so for me. Although I went through the motions and looked the part, my attitude was all wrong. I worked towards a Home and Garden Christmas for no other reason than it looked good. The only activity I actually enjoyed was making Christmas crafts with my kids.
Often I hear women complaining about all the things that still need to be completed before Christmas Day. They admit how stressed they are and how much they hate this time of year. I was one of those women. In hindsight, I was being like biblical Martha. “Lord, look how hard I’m working getting ready for Your birthday. I have no time to rest because I’m so busy, busy, busy. Everything has to be just so. I deserve a pat on the back.” I was definitely “worried and distracted by many things.” (Luke 10:41)
Now, I’m not knocking poor Martha. Things still need to get done. Presents, decorated trees and Christmas dinner don’t just happen. What I’m saying is that our attitude towards preparations ought to be in the right spirit, the Advent spirit: the spirit of joyful anticipation and the peace of preparing to welcome the Christ child into our hearts and homes. In other words, “the better part.” (Luke 10:42) When I finally stopped rushing around, I realized that I had completely neglected the Advent season.
In our home for the past few years, the Christmas rush is no longer welcome. When the first Sunday of Advent arrives, we’re ready. The Advent wreath, complete with new candles as needed, is given pride of place on the living room coffee table and the Advent prayers are pulled out of storage. The manger is set up with the Kings, shepherds, animals, St. Joseph and Our Lady waiting for baby Jesus. The Advent wreath and nativity display remind us that no matter how frenzied the outside world becomes as Christmas Day approaches, in our home and in our hearts, we are silently, calmly awaiting the Saviour’s arrival. I like to think that our home is a contemplative domestic church where Advent isn’t competing with the local mall or the latest decorating trend. The only jostling that occurs is over who gets to light the Advent candles before evening prayers and who gets to blow the candles out afterwards. The most important date on the Advent calendar is the one for the Sacrament of Confession so that our souls are as ready as our home.
The tree will be decorated with my children’s treasury of handcrafted masterpieces just a few days before Christmas, on my husband’s birthday. The gifting will be reasonable; the company will be grand; the laughter contagious; the feast will be sumptuous but easily prepared. Baby Jesus will be placed in the manger and we will sincerely wish each other a blessed and merry Christmas. That’s as it should be if we prepare well, keeping the focus on our Saviour rather than on the world.