Wouldn’t you love to live in a Norman Rockwell painting or on a Currier and Ives card in December? Christmas is when we roast chestnuts on an open fire, deck the halls with boughs of holly, ride in a one-horse open sleigh, hang our stockings by the chimney with care, and have ourselves a “merry little Christmas.”
Year after year we try to create a perfect Christmas-postcard experience during the holidays, but the effort seems counterproductive. Instead of the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas can be the most stressful time of the year — a whirlwind of traveling, shopping, spending, baking, partying, entertaining, and even churching.
All these activities swirl around us while the unchanging promise of the Advent season — that the Savior would come — beckons us to celebrate its fulfillment on Christmas. This is truly the foundation of everlasting joy in a believer’s life. Yet, too often, the day-to-day steals the focus from the spiritual aura of Advent, and with it our joy.
So how can you and I recover the spirit of joy to the season?
Identify Joy Killers
First, I’d suggest you identify the things that steal your joy. If it’s overscheduling, remember you control that in advance. When I’m having trouble saying “No” to an invitation, I determine whether that event can go right on without me. If it can, it makes the decision to politely decline so much easier. Sometimes we can gracefully bow out of gatherings, and they’ll do just fine on their own.
Another joy stealer comes when we handle memories the wrong way. How often have you found yourself with a strong feeling of melancholy during the holidays? We must learn to reminisce wisely. Dr. Krystine Batcho of Le Moyne College in Syracuse specializes in the study of nostalgia and its effect on us. Everything about Christmas triggers deeply felt memories, she says, and sometimes they leave us sad.
“Most often,” Batcho wrote, “holidays remind us of people who have played important roles in our lives and the activities we shared with them.” She advises us to be mindful of the way we approach these memories and to reflect with thanksgiving rather than regret.
We treasure our memories, but we shouldn’t let them cast us down. View your past from an eternal perspective as part of God’s tapestry. In every event there’s an item of praise. In every memory, there’s a foothold for thanksgiving. As we’re told in Philippians 4:8, whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report — think on these things.
Implement a Joy Plan
The second step is to implement a joy plan. If more stresses you out, decide to do less this year. Perhaps create a holiday ambiance with fewer decorations. Focus on a tree, a festive centerpiece, a mantel display, or a well-placed nativity set — but not on all four. Don’t unbox all your decorations.
You can choose a verse of joy as a theme for the season. There are hundreds of texts about joy and rejoicing in the Bible, and they don’t take December off.
Do less shopping. Decide in advance what you can afford per person, keep the names and amounts on a private list, and check them off throughout the month. Don’t try to do it all at once, and stick to your budget.
Do less entertaining. Be selective where you go and whom you invite. Don’t be afraid to ask friends to bring a dish or two if you’re having a function. Few friendships have been ruined by the words, “Can you please bring a dessert?”
If you’re traveling, cut your trip short a day to give yourself time at home before heading back to work. This isn’t always possible, of course, but a buffer-day can be a lifesaver.
Choose a Joy Verse for the Season
And how about a new holiday tradition? You can choose a verse of joy as a theme for the season. There are hundreds of texts about joy and rejoicing in the Bible, and they don’t take December off. Comb through the Bible for a verse and say something like: This Christmas the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10), this Christmas my soul shall be joyful in the Lord; it shall rejoice in His salvation (Psalm 35:9) or, this is the Christmas the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).
You can print out the verse and stick it on the fridge or somewhere else visible, and when you start feeling down or stressed, you can look up to it and be encouraged.
Be a Joy Giver
Most of all, remember that you’re managing your holidays not just for your own benefit, but so you’ll be more cheerful for others. Emotions are infectious. If you’re blue, you’ll make those around you feel the same way. If you’re stressed, your tension will spread like the tide. But a smile, a cheerful word, a laugh, a warm embrace, an uplifting conversation — those are gifts that go right to the heart and spread the true spirit of Christmas.
Dr. David Jeremiah serves as senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California and is the founder and host of Turning Point. A New York Times bestselling author and Gold Medallion winner, he has written more than fifty books.