With holiday advertisements bombarding us to get the perfect gift for our loved ones, is it any wonder the holidays can be seen with dread instead of excitement? The holiday season can place undue stress on us to provide a magical and perfect time for everyone we love. But that is not God's intention for the holiday season. Thanksgiving is a time when we reflect on the many blessings God has given us over the past year. We express our gratitude for our loved ones, our possessions, and the bountiful harvest God has given us at our dinner table. Then we celebrate with anticipation the birth of the Savior–God’s greatest gift to all of us for our salvation. But even the most mature Christian can get caught up in buying gifts, wrapping them, giving out Christmas cards, and making Christmas cookies, as well as all the other chores associated with the holidays.
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Jesus is the Ultimate Holiday Gift
Jesus is the ultimate gift. No gift under our tree will ever be better than that. But God gave us an additional gift when he created the world. Not only did he give us Jesus, but he also gave us a Sabbath day. He required us to rest one day out of our work week. Jesus roamed the earth out of a posture of rest. He started out his day praying in solitude in silence and relied on his father for everything. He often rested from his long days of walking and ministering to others. He wants us to rest too. But how can we do that with all the extra duties required during the holidays? Here are six ways to practice rest during the holidays:
1. Take a Vacation
If possible, take one of your vacation weeks the week of Thanksgiving or a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No matter how organized we are, the hustle and bustle of the holidays get the best of us, especially because both holidays are only a month apart. Take a vacation and just get away from all you must do. Take some day trips, or stay home and get caught up on your Christmas shopping and wrapping. The holidays are so much more enjoyable when you are not overwhelmed by the ton of work ahead of you.
If you can afford it, take a week-long trip and explore a new place you've never been. Seeing new sights and experiencing new adventures will breathe life into your weary soul. Coming back refreshed from some time away will help you enjoy the holiday, count your blessings, and experience the joy that only comes from Christmas.
Even if you can't take a vacation right now, set firm boundaries on your social media and other work-related obligations. It's a natural desire to make extra money to buy those extravagant gifts, but it's not worth the stress and tension that may form both in your life and in your relationships. Holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not survived. But so often, expectations we place on ourselves (or that family members place on us) cause undue stress and anxiety. To combat that stress, pledge to turn off your phone at a certain time each evening. Read or take a bath before going to sleep rather than watching TV. Spend more time with loved ones on the weekends. It may not be actual time away, but the extra time you have investing in meaningful relationships rather than looking at a screen will do wonders for your emotional, mental, and physical health.
3. Let Others Help
If you are hosting family for the holidays, the cooking required may add additional stress and skew your perspective to feel anger rather than gratitude. The additional cleaning and preparation can also feel overwhelming, especially after a week of work. Ask family members to bring side dishes and desserts and make yourself only responsible for cooking the main dish. Ask family members that live in your home to help with setting the table and cleaning. Many hands make light work. Take advantage of the help you have and delegate jobs accordingly. Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner will still take place even if a family member cannot bring their assigned dish. Make the most of what you have, ask for help, and experience a pleasurable holiday season.
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4. Start Shopping Early
Additionally, you can beat the traffic by ordering online and allowing those shipments to come straight to your door, saving gas and time. Seek to buy one gift starting in October. Or buy for one person each paycheck. Either method will help you reduce stress from all the people for whom you must purchase gifts. The earlier the better, except for those gifts that may come at a deep discount on special days such as Black Friday and other flash sales.
On the same note, buy less, save more. In some families, their Christmas lists get longer and longer each year. With family members getting married and having children, you may have to buy for even more people. But it doesn't have to be this way. Agree to buy only for the children or for one sibling. Chip in and buy one gift for the parents and other loved ones rather than getting each person an individual gift. This will help cut costs and add more savings to your wallet. Furthermore, you can cut down on the number of gifts you give children or limit your spending to a certain amount. Instead of allowing children to rattle off random gifts, ask them to brainstorm one or two main gifts that they would like. Help them choose based on practicality and amount of use.
A gift is useless if it's kept on a shelf collecting dust. True joy comes when you see your child using the gift you gave them. For babies and toddlers, books and other gifts that improve motor and spatial skills, such as blocks, are ideal toys for that age group. For older children, stay away from screens and give them toys that use their creativity. Craft sets, dolls, trucks, and cars all allow children to use their imaginations to play out imaginary situations. Although a child may be disappointed that they don't get a toy involving a screen or the Internet, the imagination skills and creativity they will gain will pay off dividends in their future.
5. Observe the Sabbath
Although it is easy to skip the Sabbath during the holiday season because there's so much to do on days off, the Sabbath is more important than ever. God worked six days and rested for one. We all have one twenty-four-hour period we can sacrifice to rest our minds, bodies, and spirits. This day is ideal for walking, observing nature, going to church, and spending time with friends and family. If your job requires a lot of computer work, your body, mind, and spirit will thank you for taking a twenty-four-hour rest. Remove yourself from those screens and invest your time, energy, and other resources into building healthy relationships that bolster your self-esteem and meet your emotional needs for intimacy and connection. God knew what he was doing when he created the earth. He understood that the human body has limitations, and those limitations can ultimately cause us harm if we don't observe God's perfect plan for our lives. If you don't take the time to rest now, your body will eventually break down and force you to rest later. Honor God and your body by observing the Sabbath each week.
People can look upon the holiday season with dread and fear, knowing extra work and stress may result. But with a few organizational skills, the humility to ask for help, and setting firm boundaries with your mind and body, not only will the holiday season be a joyful time for you, but this season may become a time you look forward to every year.
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Originally published Wednesday, 19 October 2022.