Families gather together and celebrate meaningful and heartwarming traditions. Everything is perfect. In fact, everyone just positively glows as they bake cookies, trim the tree and give to the needy.
In my quest for Christmas tradition perfection, I enthusiastically decided to participate in our church’s annual Shoebox Drive for Samaritan’s Purse. The idea is to fill shoeboxes with toys, toiletries and other items for distribution to needy children in Third World countries.
With my (then) small kids in tow, I eagerly picked up two shoeboxes one Sunday in October.
This is the spirit of Christmas, I thought. I’ll take the kids to the store. We’ll lovingly and carefully choose each item for the shoebox. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry. This will be wonderful.
Fast-forward to late November and just a few days before the cut-off date for returning the shoeboxes.
I suddenly realize that my Norman Rockwell moment in the aisles of Target just isn’t gonna happen. Nope. Instead, I make a mad dash to the Dollar Store, quickly throw things into my cart and frantically assemble the shoeboxes the night before. Can you feel the Christmas love?
It gets worse.
The next day, I completely FORGET about the shoeboxes.
It’s official. I am a horrible person.
The shoeboxes actually ended up on a shelf in my garage, where my husband stumbled upon them — TWO YEARS later!!
Apparently waiting on a shoebox from my family is akin to Samaritan’s Curse.
Over the years, I’ve had many #traditionfails. Here’s a few more …
I know! I’ll buy a new ornament for the children each year they live at home and then present them with a beautifully wrapped box of all 18 ornaments that they can hang on their first grownup Christmas tree!
Until I forgot to buy them for three years.
Or, how about I start a Christmas cookie decorating tradition with my daughter?
Until my controlling, perfectionist tendencies drove me to set some insane standard of culinary excellence for my four-year-old. The first — and last — attempt at that may have scarred us both for life.
My kids are now 18 and 14. I’ve learned a few things from my mistakes. Perhaps it will be helpful as you attempt to establish your own holiday traditions.
Work within your personality. I’m a writer. I make deadlines all the time. But somehow in my personal life, I can’t kill the procrastinator in me — especially around the holidays. Rigid deadlines don’t work for me. Samaritan’s Purse is wonderful. But I’ve learned I have to choose ministry opportunities that make sense for my schedule and my family. One year, we bought gifts for a needy family and delivered them to our church to be given anonymously. I could do it in my time frame and my kids liked the more personal nature of this kind of giving.
Ask the kids what they like. When I finally did, I discovered they loved opening the Advent Calendar each day. They liked decorating the tree together and reading the same books about Jesus’ birth every year. They loved opening one gift on Christmas Eve. They enjoyed giving to a family in need. As moms, we often kill ourselves trying to concoct new traditions. By talking to our children, we may find we have already created the ones that mean the most — unintentionally.
Keep it simple. Christmas is about Jesus. We don’t have to create an elaborate Christmas Angel out of cotton balls or build a sleigh in the backyard to make the holiday memorable. We put so much pressure on ourselves as moms. In the process, we suck the joy right out of Christmas — and lose focus of the Person we’re supposed to be celebrating.
P.S. You’ll be relieved to know that one of the shoeboxes finally did make it to the church. Somewhere right now a child is enjoying outdated toys and expired shampoo.