When Holiday Traditions Become a Check-List

This is my first holiday season with two children. Having my own family makes me excited for the holidays in a new way. This year, as October faded into November, the reality of the holiday season set in, and my nostalgia hit me big time. I wanted so badly to squeeze as many family memories, festive experiences, and treasured moments out of this special time of year as I could. I wanted to give my boys have the absolute best holiday memories imaginable. So my brain wrote up a “Holiday Traditions List” a mile and a half long: bake sugar cookies, create Autumn crafts, go sledding, make homemake hot cocoa, decorate the tree, send out Christmas cards, make candy for family and friends, go on a Christmas light walk, see the Magic Tree, read a festive book, plan an Advent calendar, watch every possible Christmas movie, and so on.

But then reality set in.

I can’t do all of the holiday things and still be the wife, momma, and homemaker that the Lord calls me to be. I can’t properly meet the needs of my little boys while baking two dozen cookies every day. I won’t be able to tend to my home the way I’d like to and also watch a Christmas movie every night after the babies are in bed, we can’t have a quality meal altogether as a family if we’re gone each evening at light shows. I’m exaggerating a bit, but I hope that you see my point. Most importantly, I can’t be truly, fully, completely present with the people I love most if I’m constantly scrambling to check all of our holiday traditions off like a checklist. The holidays won’t be any fun for anyone if Momma is stretched as thin as can be.

Want to know what happened next after reality set in for me? Some of you can probably guess…guilt. Here’s what it sounded like in my head:

-“Every other family has fun holiday traditions that they NEVER miss.”

-“You’ll miss out on so many sweet memories if you don’t get all of these things in!”

-“You’re a bad mom if you can’t find the energy to go out in the evening to look at lights.”

-“But homemade gingerbread houses would be so much fun!”

-“The neighbor brings us homemade Christmas candy every year, so I can’t fail at giving something back.”

-“Elliot (my 2 year old) would love Christmas crafts, so you’re depriving him if you don’t plan enough of them.”

-“How terrible will you be if you don’t make it to every holiday gathering.”

As you can tell, I tend to place quite a bit of pressure on myself…and I know I’m not alone in this. I get an ideal image in my head and then push myself as hard as I can to live up to it. I demand perfection of myself.

But then I found a moment to process the guilt and frustration festering within my heart over the fact that I simply couldn’t do all the holiday things. The Lord, in His incredible goodness, reminded me of what is true. So let’s rephrase some of those nasty, guilt-ridden phrases I previously listed…

-I want to create holiday traditions for our family…because I love them.

-I want sweet memories with my family…because I love them.

-I want to maintain enough energy so I can properly care for my family…because I love them (even if that means momma needs a quiet night in to fill herself up in preparation for the next days work instead of driving to see the lights).

-Homemade gingerbread houses would be so much fun…because it means time with the ones I love.

-I’ll do my best to think of others during this Christmas season, whether it comes in the form of homemade candy, a gift-card, an afternoon visit, a note of encouragement, or a phone call…because I love them.

-Elliot would love Christmas crafts, but he’s not deprived if there isn’t one planned for each day…because I love him.

You can probably see where this is heading…Yep, right to the heart.

Traditions, in my opinion, are a very important part of family life. They create a sense of belonging to a unit and bonding with the individuals in said unit. But all of the best traditions in the world matter very little if they’re only done for the mere purpose of being checked off of a list.

The Lord prompted a question within my soul: “Where is your heart at in all of this, Annie?”

Am I seeking after holiday fun in order to post the most “Instagram-worthy” pictures? Am I trying to prove to myself that I’m a good mom by doing all the fun things? Is it all about not missing out on what everyone else is doing?

I must honestly say, yes, that is where my sinful heart tried (and still tries) to settle, but I’m striving to reorient it towards the eternal.

My husband, little boys, extended family, and friends need my presence much more than any tradition. They need me, with my heart full of joy from the Lord, simply to be with them. Perhaps that looks like baking sugar cookies, or maybe it means throwing those plans aside so we can make an ordinary meal. Maybe its going out to see lights, or just staying in so we can all rest a little extra. Perhaps it’s slowing down to listen to a hurting friend instead of watching that movie. Maybe we’ll get to all the gatherings, or perhaps we choose not to because it stretches us too far. It could be a year filled with lots of traditions, or a phase when getting the tree up is the biggest accomplishment.

All of those traditions, as enjoyable as they are, don’t matter nearly as much relationships, quality time, and Jesus (the real reason this celebration. even exists).

So I encourage you, friend, don’t allow the holiday fun become a check-list. No matter how much or how little you do this season, focus on being with your people, loving them well, and celebrating the birth of our Savior.

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