Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Prepping for Advent

Last year, a variation of this piece ran on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Since that day is a huge shopping day, I've decided that it makes more sense to post it here, before we get lost in our Thanksgiving cooking and eating and football watching and clean up.

Many of us arrive at Christmas in a state of sheer exhaustion. Many of us arrive at Christmas having succumbed to colds, flu, or worse. Many of us leave the Christmas season several pounds heavier with heavier credit card debt to make matters worse. But a bit of planning before we leave the Thanksgiving season can help us avoid Christmas depletion.

Here are some things to think about as we leave Thanksgiving and launch ourselves towards Christmas. You’ll likely be more successful if you include the rest of your family in these conversations.

--Choose the spiritual traditions you’ll incorporate this year. Will you have an Advent wreath? Will you meditate? Will you help with the Christmas pageant? Will you participate in special musical events? Will you attend church each Sunday in Advent? Will you go to extra services? Be realistic. Maybe you can’t find time to light the Advent wreath every night and have family devotions. But maybe your family will find it more meaningful to light the Advent wreath once a week and have devotional time.

--Think about your family’s traditions. Which are most important? Which can you jettison? You might have a discussion and find yourself amazed to discover that no one really likes going to see The Nutcracker, but nobody has wanted to say anything because they assumed that everyone else really loved that tradition. Keep the traditions that add meaning and richness to the season, but don’t be afraid to let some of them go.

--Think of ways to simplify and streamline. Do you really need to bake every kind of cookie that you remember from past holidays? Maybe you and your friends could have a cookie swap. Or get together to bake cookies together. Have a wonderful afternoon of cookie dough and wine and leave with enough cookies to get you through the holiday. Consider ways to make the holiday meals easier on everyone. Maybe this is the year to change the holiday card tradition to an easier e-mail greeting. Ask yourself which church events mean something to you and which you're attending because you always have.

--Don’t forget that Advent is a great time to work for social justice. The words of the prophets ring in our ears, and we can find many opportunities to actually do something. Some of my favorite holiday memories involve helping others. My Girl Scout troop used to go caroling at nursing homes. The church of my adolescence assembled gift baskets for homeless women. The words of Isaiah are knitted into every fiber of my being: "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1: 17). My parents, along with social institutions like church, Scouts, and school, modeled the good behavior of working for social justice. It's stuck with me. Advent is a great time to train the next generation in the habits of social justice and charitable work. And it’s also a great time to give back to our communities.

--Before the Christmas season descends on our heads, let’s make several budgets. Let’s start with a time budget. It’s easy during the Christmas season to accept too many invitations and thus find ourselves overextended and irritable. Maybe we want to declare that we won’t go out on school nights. Maybe we want to only accept one social engagement per week-end. Maybe we only want to attend the events that are essential to our family’s traditions. There are no right or wrong decisions, but if we don’t think about these issues before the season starts, we’re likely to find ourselves spending more time than we want to give.

--The same is true of monetary budgets. Before you start shopping, make a budget and stick to it. And before you work on the budget, talk to your family members about your gift giving traditions. Maybe instead of giving gifts to each other, you’ll agree to give that money to a worthy organization. Maybe the grown ups would like to draw names and only have one gift to give. Maybe you’ll decide to order gifts that support artisans or small business owners. Maybe you want this year to be the one where all the gifts are made by hand.

You may do this work and planning and realize that you do want to stand in the dark for a chance to get a really good deal on items that are part of your budget. You may do this work and realize that there’s no need to go to a mall between now and January.

Hopefully, you’ll spend a bit of time deciding what kind of Advent season you want to have, and you’ll choose a few concrete actions that you can take to make your Advent meaningful.

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