As the long days of summer give way to the cool crispness of fall, I begin to anticipate the days ahead when the rich aroma of candles and spices and twinkling lights replaces the everyday look and feel of our home. The calendar begins to change too, as more and more white space is filled in with family gatherings and parties with friends and more activities with the children. As I delight in these changes and look forward with joy to the holidays ahead, I am aware that it’s one time of the year when my time and energy are easily depleted and I might be tempted to abandon the frugal lifestyle, to pull out the credit cards, and to deal with the consequences later.
If I will keep just a few perspectives in mind and tackle some preparation projects now, I can more fully enjoy the holidays and avoid those post-holiday consequences of throwing frugal living out the window. The preparation begins in my heart, I think. If I am able to stay focused on the true meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas—on what and Whom we are celebrating—then I am content and grateful with the resources available to me. If I am content and grateful, then I’ll make wiser use of those resources instead of wasting time and money longing for and pursuing more. If I’m frugal to use what I have on hand or can wisely afford, then I’m not under the added stress of over-spending. At the end of the day, I have greater joy and contentment. That’s another perspective I’ve tried to keep—contentment at the end of the day—a satisfaction in the day’s accomplishments, despite all the not-yet-done tasks still on my to-do list. I’m learning to ask God first thing in the morning to order my steps and equip me for the day. I need Him to give me patience with the distractions that are part of life and peace and endurance through the challenges.
When I remember to begin my day with that prayer, then at the end of the day I am satisfied with what I accomplished and not stressed from having tackled that to-do list in my own wisdom and strength. I want to remember, too, that God tells me to be a cheerful giver, not a grumpy, over-tired, stressed-out giver. When I’m not cheerful, it’s usually because I have a less-than-grateful attitude and/or I’m not getting enough rest or eating properly. If I stay up late the night before Thanksgiving preparing that orange-cranberry relish I ran out of time to make earlier and then get up in the wee hours of the morning to begin cooking the turkey, I will struggle to be a cheerful giver of myself or the food later in the day. I need to forget the orange-cranberry relish and get some sleep instead. The same is true of what I eat; the food I use to nourish my body needs to be wholesome and nutritious. If I feed myself on junk food just to calm my hunger, I’ll quickly run out of energy and cheerfulness.
If preparation begins in my heart, then that is where I should focus my attention before I begin the work of preparing my home. As a family, we begin early in November to read psalms of thanksgiving aloud every day and to keep an ongoing record of our blessings. From the time our children were preschoolers, in a variety of ways we began displaying a visual reminder of the many blessings in our lives. Before the first day of November, I tack a 3-foot square section of a fall-tree-patterned plastic tablecloth to the wall. Every day between November 1 and Thanksgiving Day, each of us writes the name of something or someone for which we are grateful on at least one red, orange, or yellow construction paper leaf and then tape the leaf to the wall tree. Anyone who comes into our home is encouraged to contribute to the gratitude tree, and by Thanksgiving Day, the tablecloth is covered with leaves of gratitude. Except for our gratitude tree, which stays tacked to the wall until after we have begun decorating for Christmas, we take down all the fall and Thanksgiving decorations over the long weekend the day after Thanksgiving. Before packing those decorations into a large plastic storage bin, I make any necessary repairs and take note of what I might want to replace before next year, so I’ll be better prepared to take advantage of those post-holiday sales. Finally, I wash the linens and store them in a separate resealable plastic bag in the storage bin. Thanksgiving is such a beautiful prelude to Christmas and Advent, don’t you think? While we continue to contribute to our gratitude tree, I begin thinking about Advent and the devotionals our family will use. Two of my favorites are:
- The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader by Donna W. Payne and Fran Lenzo, published by Moody Publishers. It’s no longer in print, but used copies are usually available for little more than the cost of shipping.
- The Greatest Gift:Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp. Ann is presently writing a second edition of this excellent devotional for families of all ages, and it should be available soon. There are many other online resources for devotionals and Bible reading suggestions, as well as ideas for giving.
Ann Voskamp’s 4 Ways to Celebrate Christ in Christmas points to many of them. The little ones in our family enjoy using an Advent banner or calendar. It helps them mark the days until Christmas and is a daily reminder of Whom and what we are celebrating. The cloth banner I use has a pocket for each of the 25 objects or people in a Nativity scene, including Mary, Joseph, wise men, angels, shepherds, sheep, cows, trees, stars, and baby Jesus. Each piece sticks to the manger scene with Velcro, and every day beginning on December 1, a child removes one of the objects from a pocket and attaches it to the manger scene. On December 25, the baby Jesus is attached to the manger and the Nativity scene is complete. These simple devotional practices encourage our whole family to stay focused and cheerful over the holidays. They enhance my personal quiet time and ultimately my joy and contentment. In this holiday season, may our hearts and homes be filled with contentment and gratitude in our many blessings, love and joy in the day we have been given, and hope and peace for the future.
So how, about you – how do you prepare your homes and hearts for the holidays?