Here Come the (Not-So Happy) Holidays

The holidays are upon us. Time for turkey dinners, football games, wrapped presents under the tree, Christmas wreaths, parties, and, of course, family visits.

All this is well and good, except when it comes to the dreaded argument – ahem – discussion Steven and I have about whose house we’re going to (and not going to) this year. Since both our parents are divorced, there are four houses to go to every Thanksgiving and Christmas, plus there are extended family get-togethers with aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc.

You would think the fact that all of our family members live within a 100 mile radius would make it easier. Um, no. I won’t bore you with the details, but we typically end up doing a lot of driving and trying to fit everyone in. And inevitably at least one gathering gets skipped.

Let me say, all this stresses me out. It’s not spending time with family that bothers me. I actually have great in-laws, and of course I love my own family. I think it’s just the busy-ness of it, and the difficulty of negotiation about it, and the guilt. Plus, I get stressed about going over my budget for Christmas gifts and getting the right gifts that people will really like. And am I going to make Christmas goodies for friends/family/mailman/garbage man this year or not? And so on. And so forth.

So I am trying to breathe, to calm down, and to enjoy the season. Here are some traditions and activities I am looking forward to:

Putting up the Christmas Decor – We do this on November 15, which is the beginning of Orthodox Advent. Up go the tree, the nativity scene, the Santas, the door wreath, the lights. We also allow each child pick out a new ornament at the store each Christmas. When they leave home, they will get those ornaments to put up on their own tree.

Advent Tree/Wreath – Each night at family prayers the kids add an ornament to a small “Advent Tree” that we keep by our altar. There is a Scripture passage or seasonal meaning for each ornament. We also add a candle to our home advent wreath each night. This year, I’ve purchased this Advent star calendar also.

St. Nicholas Day – The night before St. Nicholas day (Dec 6), we read a story about St. Nicholas and the kids hang their stockings on the mantle. Some years we ask them to choose a toy to give away to a needy child that they put in their stockings. The next morning, those toys are gone and have been replaced with new toys and St. Nicholas chocolate coins.

Christmas lights – We love to drive around and see Christmas lights. Our favorite place is Chad’s Winter Wonderland off of Highway 109.

Opryland – We always have to go walk through Opryland Hotel to see the Christmas decorations. We usually also attend ICE! or the Christmas Village activities for kids.

Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin – This is something we haven’t done in a couple of years, but this local town puts on a couple of days of Christmas activities based on A Christmas Carol. There are characters dressed in period costumes, carriage rides, a petting zoo, performing choirs, and other fun stuff!

Christmas morning – Isn’t this the best part? The kids get us up way too early and run downstairs to see their Santa gifts. We then spend time unwrapping, taking pictures, reading the Christmas story from the Bible, and eating a yummy breakfast. Joy!

This year I am also going to try some spiritual reading during Advent. My two picks so far are The Winter Pascha by Thomas Hopko and Bright Evening Star by Madeleine L’Engle.

What Christmas traditions help you enjoy the season? How do you ward of holiday stress? What books do you read during Advent?

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