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It’s December 1 and time for fun! Thanksgiving has heralded the official arrival of the holiday season and all that it holds: the music, the shopping, the stories, the foods, the expectations, the schedules. It’s hard to know which direction to look first here on the first day of the month. I think I’ll choose the stories, and to be more specific, the Christmas story and the tender conclusion, that Mary “pondered [these things] in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
What a perfect place to start December, to follow Mary’s example with our own prayerful pondering. Besides the imporance of the Savior’s birth and life, what shall we ponder? I’m choosing to ponder not December 1, but January 1 and how I want to feel about the Christmas of 2014. In other words, to “begin with the end in mind” and where I want to be physically, emotionally and socially, and where I want to be with family relationships on January 1, 2015. We’ve all had years where we overate, overspent, over-invited and over-did throughout December, leaving us exhausted and cranky on January 1. How much sweeter it is to welcome the New Year having celebrated the birth of the Savior with meaningful times and experiences with friends and family. I’m choosing to LIGHTEN UP and invite you to to join me with these 10 ideas:
1) Kitchen Cupboards, Counters and Refrigerators: It’s December 1. Thanksgiving is over. LIGHTEN UP your refrigerator and cupboards of the Thanksgiving leftovers. Quick! Clean them out, let them go! At this point they have more than served their purpose. Like holiday decorations that are tattered and tired, throw them away and cherish the memories. Kitchen Counters can be LIGHTENED UP now and all month by not allowing “empty calorie” snack foods and cookies to be in plain sight. Gift tins of cookies and treats can be saved or frozen for later, or even given away. Replace the cookie jar and treats with a fruit basket, holiday candle, seasonal plant a fun non-edible Christmas decoration.
2) Meals and Calories: Marjorie Hinckley reported that her idea of understanding D&C’s admonition “if thou art prepared thou shalt not fear” was to have some ideas in mind for dinner. Now is the time to LIGHTEN UP this daily duty and have plenty of the staples that make quick and healthy meals for busy December days. Whether it’s a hearty meatless chili made of just kidney beans, canned tomatoes, onions and seasoning, or “veggie” night with baked and/or sweet potatoes, everybody feels better with generous nourishing meals. LIGHTEN UP cooking time by doubling the recipe so there’s leftovers for another night or lunches. Have everyone list their favorites at family home evening and create a menu that works to avoid depending on fast processed foods.
LIGHTEN UP on calories: Save sugar and rich foods for only the most special of the special Christmas days and enjoy them at the event with others. My own experience that I am finding to be very common in my circle including friends of all ages, is that sugar, though it tastes wonderful, does not bring out the best in our dispositions or energy levels. Most of us don’t have one day to waste on sugar blues or finding the motivation to detach from a sugar binge.
3) Your Beautiful Home: The wise men brought three gifts, there are three in the holy family, three is an important number! Promise yourself to LIGHTEN UP your home and get rid of three things each day in preparation for the gifts and overload that holiday decorating bring. Whether it’s stacks of old magazines, underneath beds, or a front door catch-all clutter spot, how good it feels to get rid of three things each day.
4) Calendar: Spend the time needed to get organized and sharpen the axe! With a red marker circle the dates that there are “must do” obligations. Decide which additional activities define Christmas and pencil them in. If looking at it causes feelings of stress, then LIGHTEN UP! Cut back these added activities. Save them for later, and know that all is well. Years ago I served in a Stake Young Women’s presidency where our president, who loved to entertain, scheduled her holiday dinner for us at her home in mid-January. She kept her tree and a few decorations up until this party was over and we all loved it! By the same token, many routine doctor, dentist and household appointments can be delayed until January.
5) Christmas Cards: Our family decided that Valentines, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day were much better times to send holiday greetings, and the responses through the years from our friends confirmed how much they enjoyed our card when it came all by itself. It was a happy Christmas when we decided to LIGHTEN UP on that time-consuming tradition, and just as meaningful to do it later.
6) Gifts: A family my husband and I admire provide three gifts for each of their children, the same number that the Baby Jesus received. Small, thoughtful gifts from siblings and grandparents rounded things out so that it felt generous, and their children knew this was what to expect. Though each family chooses what is right for them, surely it pleases our Heavenly Father when we LIGHTEN UP on the commercial aspects of gift-giving.
7) Expectations of yourself: As a mother with five children, I often joked that creating Christmas was adding another full-time job to an already full-time job. LIGHTEN UP on what is humanly possible and go to bed at a decent time. With a prayer in your heart and input from the family, decide what decorating, activities and traditions are the most fulfilling and let the others go. Honor the need for a good nights rest for yourself. This alone will de-stress you and your loved ones.
8) Expectations of others: With a prayer in your heart, give the gift of LIGHTENING UP on what you expect of others, especially during a stress-filled month like December that often includes challenging year-end and semester-end responsibilities at school and work. Prayerfully seek to view those you struggle with through the eyes of the Savior, and feel His love for them. Most of us are doing just about the best we can, and to embrace that as a truth for improving relationships is, indeed, a gift.
9) Technology: LIGHTEN UP on the dependency of hand-held devices for an old-fashioned good time. Have some times together where the rule is that everyone’s phones are turned off and locked in another room. No texting or phone calls allowed! Then treat yourself to the fun of board games or charades where there are no interruptions or outside conversations happening simultaneously. No electronic games allowed! Sing carols with or without a piano, and the experience the fun that goes with that. Put away the electronic games for a real board game or charades. Put away the i-Phone camera for an evening where memories are made and treasured in the heart. Hide the headphones and have everyone sing together!
10) Traditions: Allowing traditions to evolve through the years is what makes Christmas magical. When they become a burden, it’s time to LIGHTEN UP. While our children were young, we celebrated Christmas Eve with everyone dressing in nativity attire, eating a vegetable soup from wooden bowls on the floor, and reading the Christmas story. Later we added a gingerbread house-making party in the early part of the day for all the neighbors.
One year, as we finished cleaning up the kitchen in the mid afternoon from the gingerbread house party and were getting ready for the Nativity evening, my husband said, “Too much! We can’t handle one more mess.” We headed out to the Juke Box Diner, singing Christmas carols along the way. The diner was practically empty when we arrived, with a few couples and individuals that were delighted to see our young family in such a good mood. It was a magical meal, where each child chose their favorite. From strawberry waffles to foot long hot dogs, it was a long ways from supper in Bethlehem, but we returned home with light hearts to a clean kitchen, ready to truly celebrate reading the Christmas story and its meaning. We had so much fun that eating at the Juke Box Diner became the new Christmas Eve tradition, and has made memories worth remembering for a very long time.
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life, available at her website.
She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups.
She and her husband Bob are the parents of five children and grandparents of eight. They live in the Washington D.C. area where she is the Primary chorister and they team-teach Missionary Preparation for the Annandale Stake CES Institute program.