NAVIGATING FAMILY CHRISTMAS
The Christmas holiday is a time for many that brings with it much stress, unmet expectations, and challenging family interactions. I’ve lived through a lot of Christmases at my age, and I thought it would be helpful if I shared with you some wisdom and insight for navigating your Christmas holiday with family. I believe these will help you enjoy your Christmas more, greatly reduce the stress, and make it a more pleasant experience for you and your family.
We found that staying in a hotel when going to visit out of town relatives for Christmas was much more restful, peaceful, and far more enjoyable than staying in a cramped house, with people we hardly ever see, who may not share our same values. We were able to give our kids the naps they needed, and it was a much better arrangement. The cost was worth every penny in reduced stress, friction and frayed nerves. Yes, renting a hotel room to stay may mean staying for less time, as a longer stay gets expensive. But it will be well worth it and often shorter is better!
Many of you have relatives who may all be Christians, but may belong to different faith communities than you, with different traditions or doctrinal beliefs. Remember this, almost all of them worship Christ as the Savior of the world, and believe in His virgin birth. Keep Christ central. Do not devolve into petty debates on doctrinal issues. Celebrate Christ!!
Let go of your Hallmark expectations. Christmas together will not be perfect. Many of your family or relatives are going through things that are extremely difficult, or personally very painful. Clothe yourself with Christ’s tenderhearted mercy as you walk into that Christmas gathering, or Christmas dinner. Strive to simply be a blessing to others while you’re together.
Do your best to avoid the acrimonious topics of our times. All of us have been through the covid craziness, and political upheaval of these last few years. Hearts and minds will not be changed in your brief time together with relatives who are progressive or leftist. As Proverbs says: Abandon a quarrel before it breaks out! If things do start to get crazy and divisive, probably best to use that as your cue to round up the kids and head home.
Prepare your kids ahead of time regarding things they need to understand. Help set their expectations for the time. Prepare your children to go to this Christmas family gathering as a light to their grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles and little cousins. They may not be used to hanging around other children who are selfish or rebellious. Which is another very good reason to stay at a hotel so you can regroup as a family.
Many extended family members make alcohol a central part of their Christmas gatherings. Alcohol often makes for loose, foolish talk, leading to many hurt feelings. Be very careful around it, and keep your perspective with other relatives who are drinking. Keep in mind that you may also have a fool or two as relatives, it’s best not to engage with a fool at all.
As my children have grown older, been married for many years, with children of their own, I hold very loosely to any expectations regarding Christmas and holidays. I sincerely mean that. I do not put pressure on my family members or expectations. Sometimes we may gather, sometimes we may not. They have many obligations they’re trying to attend to and navigate. Things change, and we must be willing to work with those changes, to embrace and accept them, rather than resent them.
Always keep an eye out for ways to serve, to bless others. I always remember Jesus at the wedding turning water into wine. For example, my daughter sent an invitation to the family to gather for sledding and pizza at their home as part of our Christmas time. I immediately thought,”How could I contribute a blessing?” I wrote and said I would gladly give her the funds to buy all the pizzas. I’m not a great sledder but I can sure buy the pizzas!
Keep your stay as short as is best for your family. I admit I have no idea how families hang out for an entire day or days together. I cannot last more than about 2-3 hours. It just exhausts me. I have to know my own limits. I’m not living to satisfy the expectations of others. Make sure you give yourself the freedom to leave when it’s best for you to do so. Better to be short and sweet, than long and tortuous, leaving a lingering bad taste in your mouth.
Don’t overspend. Christmas can be so difficult on family finances. People often feel so much pressure to buy things they really can’t afford, but feel obligated to spend lots on other people. Set a budget for how much you want to spend, then live within that amount. This practice has helped us greatly.
You have complete freedom to do what is best for your family. Do not be intimidated by family members making demands on you, or implying you’re doing something wrong if you decide you can’t attend a family Christmas gathering. There may be many legitimate reasons for this. You may not have the money to travel. You may have a very toxic family that is destructive to be around. You may be dealing with health problems. I refuse to let others intimidate me or insist I live up to their expectations. I do not tolerate fools, or toxic people. Do not live in the fear of man, afraid of what others think about you. Do what you believe God is leading you to do.
Manage the use of your smartphone wisely. Obviously there will be many pictures and special moments to capture. But, keeping the phone beside you at the dinner table when you are interacting with guests, and constantly checking your phone or returning texts, is simply rude and unwinsome.
This one might surprise you, but when I am around family at these gatherings I tend not to talk too much, or disclose much personal information. I put a guard over my mouth. I try to focus on the others I’m with and inquire about their lives.
Pray over your upcoming family Christmas time. Ask God to help you and your children, to give you grace to endure the time and to use you as a blessing to others.
I hope these insights and suggestions are helpful to you and your family this Christmas. May God richly bless each and every one of you. Have a very Merry Christmas.
Helping you become a Strong Disciple,
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Mark Darling