14 December 2015

Enjoying Christmas & Finding the REAL Magic

Christmas Chalkboard: Peace on Earth

This is not your usual Christmas post. I am not going to give you another list of things to do - you don't need that. There's an avalanche of crafty ideas on Pinterest, if that's what you're after.
No. This is a from-my-heart-to-yours post about how to REALLY have a magical Christmas and actually enjoy the season.

Isn't that what we all want? At this time of the year, don't we all wish we could recapture the lost wonder and magic of Christmas?

I wanted to write this post for the many, many mums out there who are madly trying to recapture Christmas magic yet are feeling only exhausted, overwhelmed and annoyed at that little Elf they keep having to invent antics for.
This post is for you. I'm here to tell you Christmas doesn't have to be an endless stress-headache.

There are two simple things I've discovered over recent Christmases which are making all the difference to how much I'm enjoying the season.

Two things which have given me back the magic, long after I thought it was gone for good, lost in a flurry of to-do-lists, mall frenzy and the sad fact that my kids are growing older.

Christmas Mantel - white with greenery, lights and stars

The first thing I learnt was that:


I learnt this the hard way, after striving for years to fill every day with seasonal activities in the hopes of making it magical for my kids (and me).
We had traditions coming out our ears, it was manic, it was busy, it was exhausting. And at some point I fell out of love with the season. I found myself becoming a real Grinch, wishing it was over already and wondering why I even bothered.

In a fit of 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. No planned activities.
I kept the days as empty and unplanned as possible, leaving room for spontaneity. We did Christmassy things when the mood took us; we spontaneously watched a movie, made hot chocolate, visited the Christmas lights. We did things when we felt like it; picking and choosing what we wanted to do based on our energy levels, and what the traffic was like. I stopped trying to force my family to be Christmassy... and found that we were more Christmassy than ever, but without the stress.

Christmas improved for me outta sight, and nobody - NOBODY - missed my strivey Christmas ways. As far as my kids were concerned it was still magical. As far as I was concerned - I was actually enjoying it again.

I bought the Tree on a Whim and Scrag did most of the decorating

But then the kids got bigger, and things got awkward. Nobody believed in Santa anymore.
All our precious traditions - the ones we'd held on to even after I stopped striving because they were so fun - they all became irrelevant. It just felt weird having Santa visit on Christmas Eve (aka Dad dressed up) when nobody believed in him any more. Leaving out milk and cookies? Pointless. Nobody cared. We had one awkward Christmas (last year) where we tried to continue the old traditions anyway... but it was kinda dumb. And 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?

I enjoyed a spontaneous day of Christmas Crafting with a dear friend

Here's what I've discovered this year:


Those warm fuzzies we all want at Christmas? The wonder in a child's eyes?
We don't have to lose it. We can get it back anytime - through the act of giving.
Kindness is the true spirit of Christmas. Kindness, generosity and goodwill.
This is where the true source of warm fuzzies is - GIVING - and I've finally figured that out.
Giving is magic.

There's a verse in the Bible that says, "It's more blessed to give than to receive" and I have found it to be true.
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 heart which is very wonderful, and rather magical.

We made paper garlands - stars and circles

What better 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?

When I leave room in my calendar I leave room for the magic that comes from being spontaneously generous - generous with my time, generous with my skills, generous with my home and my friendship.

This December because I haven't been all-booked-up, I was able to spontaneously go help a friend decorate her home for Christmas. She was not feeling it and didn't know where to begin. For me, this is fun. I took my sewing machine and got her to help me whip up bunting and star garlands; next year she'll have a head start. Helping someone else get into Christmas? Warm fuzzies right there,

The Christmas Spirit is all about kindness - and kids can be kind too

When I saw a friend asking for help on Facebook, I was able to put my hand up to bring her toddler here for the day when the mum was sick... then I watched my daughter play with and love on this little girl in a very warm-fuzzy-inducing way.

There are plenty of other ways we've also been able to give, to contribute to others' enjoyment of Christmas and to bless people as a family this month. This has warmed my heart and honestly blessed me/us far more than the person on the receiving end (like our Christmas Ninang project for the Philippines - which has been wonderful to be part of). I've never had so many warm fuzzies in such a relaxed way as I have this December.

There is Room in my schedule. (Or should I say, what schedule?)

I have seen different versions of "Kindness Calendars" around, which take the place of traditional Advent Calendars filled with seasonal activities. I liked the sound of that, so I made my own version for my kids.

Christmas Kindness Countdown - Take #1
Yep, I wanted to get them on board with actively finding ways to be kind this year.
Although they were enthusiastic enough at first, the realisation dawned that this would end up as something I'd have to push if I wasn't careful. It was another list of things to do which would just become a burden.
That wasn't what I wanted. I wanted my kids to be looking for opportunities to be kind. I wanted them to take ownership, I wanted it to come from them.

So we had a little chat. Did they want to stick with the calendar I'd given them with something to do every day, or would they rather have a blank one and come up with their own?
COME UP WITH THEIR OWN! was the resounding answer.

Pohutukawa fronds look lovely on my windowsill - New Zealand's Christmas Tree

Back I went into Photoshop, and removed all the activities I'd put in for each day (e.g. play with your little brother, do a chore without being asked etc). I left the squares blank leaving it up to them, with the idea that we touch base each night at dinner time and share how we have been kind that day.

Have they done it every day? No. Have they done it more than they otherwise would have? Yes.
Are they being kinder to each other? YES!
Is it working YES!

I've planned in a few "kindness" activities that we will all do together as a family in the days leading up to Christmas. Some of these might form the basis of some new traditions. Either way, it'll be both challenging and fun to "take dinner to a homeless person" or "Candy-cane bomb a carpark".

Here's my calendar - print it off and use it if you like. Doesn't matter that there's only 11 days til Christmas. It's never too late to be kind.

[Click to view larger; right click to save to your computer, then print and use]
Christmas Kindness Countdown printable calendar

How do we have a Christmas we can ENJOY? 

We make room. We don't overschedule. Less is more.
And how do we keep the magic in Christmas even when our kids are no longer wide eyed tots? We find ways to give, we find ways to be kind. Spontaneously and generously and deliberately.
That's what I've found anyway.



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