I went all-in at Thanksgiving (here is a picture of my table(s) before the food got there) and am just recovering — how about you?
My little Advent series so far:
I keep getting mail about Christmas parties and what to do about them.
Here’s one that I would say is more or less representative, from dear Suzette:
How do/did you handle Christmas celebrations held before Christmas? We would like to live the seasons of the Church, but each year the extended family gathers for Christmas during Advent and gathers for Easter on Good Friday. [Me: Yikes, seriously?] We do not attend the Good Friday “Easter” party [Me: Phew.], but have been attending “early Christmas.” This year our oldest is nearly five and I would really like to see us be able to live the Church seasons.
And here’s another from dear Carly:
My husband and I have been hosting Christmas Day celebrations for the better part of 13 years, give or take a couple. We have six children. Our oldest is 13, our youngest is three months. We are on one income. My husband works long hours so that I can be home with the children. Hosting Christmas Day has become too hard. As you know taking care of your own on a daily basis is a challenge. How do I tell my extended family that I can’t do it this year? Or maybe even next? Thank you for your advice.
And from dear “Wondering,” whom I met at a playground get-together in Wichita this summer (I’m paraphrasing here):
Our family drives 12 hours on Christmas Eve to spend 10 or so days at my mother’s. The extended family gathers but hardly anyone cares to go to Mass, decorate a tree, sing a carol, or even make a nice meal or feast. We love seeing our family but are wondering if our 6 children (eldest, 12) are experiencing this Holy Day as they ought.
You get the idea and probably have some variation on the theme in your own life. Overwhelmingness, affection, liturgical/cultural inappropriateness, conflicting emotions, frightening expense, a sense of opportunity cost.
What to do, what to do.
I confess that for the most part, the opposite problem was the case for me — too few family members, as I’m an only child of divorced parents. And this fact makes me realize that no one blogger can answer your concerns, however committed to giving advice she may be.
But Jesus has the answers. We could ask Him. Yes, the topic is parties, which seems fairly frivolous. Should we bother Him with such pettiness? Does it matter so much?
Auntie Leila says yes, because how we spend the hours given us matters. We can’t ignore that our choices shape our children’s experiences of these times. If we spend all of Advent hopping from one glittering, candy-and-decorated-cookie, gift-wrapped, Frosty-the-Snowman-blaring, and holiday-punched event to another, Christmas Day will be a let-down (not least because we parents will be super grouchy).
On the other hand, other people are indeed the point of all our efforts here on earth! Our connections, our affection, our gratitude — we can’t ditch all that, literally at the altar of our religious convictions.
We are living in a time when the culture of faith is, as we so often hear, opposed to popular culture. People are not on the same page. We will help them by worshiping aright, yes. But not by cutting all the ties.
So this is what I think maybe we could take to prayer and talk to Him about:
1. Worship is the goal.
Every human being is made for worship. The family is where the child learns to worship, and each child has to learn anew and be given the opportunity to have memories and experiences that shape his ability to give God His due. It’s our responsibility to see that this happens. Each season in the liturgy has its own character. Let’s just decide on how our family will live all this out.
When you put the big decisions in place, the little ones follow.
I wonder what we thought that Jesus meant when He said that he would set father against son and mother against daughter? Could it be that one thing He meant that our first duty is to raise our children to worship Him? Specifically, that if on Christmas Day the main impression the children will have is that the adults are going to sit around doing whatever, it might be time to postpone that trip to your family’s for a few days?
I guess I’m asking, “What is the object lesson your child is learning here?”
2. Family is important and we are not disembodied, disconnected beings.
Let’s communicate! A party before Christmas can work — we could organize Advent songs and even a Lessons and Carols sort of event before cookies and punch, with the lighting of the Advent wreath (because who doesn’t love candles?). If it’s close to Christmas (and Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, is a fine time for such a gathering), carols and festive food are certainly appropriate. Is there a rule somewhere that we can’t talk things over? Is there an ally amongst the relatives who could help?
As to presents, I’ve always thought that one of the most delightful ways to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas (after Christmas Day, to be clear) is to designate one of the days to open a box that’s been sent from a generous relative. That way, Christmas Day is relieved of what can often just be gift overload, with well thought out presents given hardly a glance. A box a few days later is always exciting.
Can relatives be convinced that this is the way to go? I hope so.
3. Office parties (and their ilk) are dispensable.
If you want to go, go. If not, don’t go! Don’t wear yourselves out. If it’s specifically a church “Christmas” party during Advent, I wouldn’t go (and I would tell the pastor why). Too confusing to the children to have the church seem to be at odds with what we are trying to teach them.
4. Hosting is important if you can swing it.
Thinking of Carly’s question, above, about Christmas Day:
If your hosting takes the form of morning to night with present unwrapping for everyone in a large, extended family, why not consider having “tree/present” time just for your own family and having the dinner and gathering later, after all that has taken place?
Or what about suggesting a gift exchange where you draw names out of the hat so that there isn’t an exponential number of gifts? Another solution is to pick one of the 12 Days — New Year’s Day is the Eighth Day and the great Feast of the Mother of God — to have your extended family party. And of course, there’s the Feast of the Epiphany, which could involve crowns and cake!
If the issue is more affording the meal and all that goes into hospitality, can you simply ask for more help? Make it a pot luck? Dessert? Brainstorm how to do it frugally? I am always so done with turkey by Christmas, and would much rather have roast beef or ham or really anything else, but for sure for many years I bought the extra turkey at Thanksgiving time while it was dirt cheap, kept it in the freezer, and pulled it out for Christmas Day.
I encourage you to look a bit beyond the horizon of feeling overwhelmed by your own day-to-day with littles, if you can (and I totally relate, having lived through the exact same situation — barely keeping it together in ordinary circumstances, feeling the financial pressure).
Try to imagine how things will be in just a few years. Having a house full of teenagers with only a few littles is very different from what you have now. The awareness of the older children becomes heightened. They go from simply accepting family life as it is, to a gradual comparison of how others react to the family’s way of doing things and, hopefully, to an appreciation of what our family offers to others.
Here is a great benefit of hospitality in the home. We connect ourselves to others and our children thrive, because they see that we aren’t closing ourselves off but have open arms, giving our best. Hospitality is vital and fundamental to the development of our children’s personalities.
Most children are hard-wired to love how their family does things and to form good memories of “the things we always do.” Events that stress us adults out — you know, the ones where you are acutely aware of the shortage of wine glasses and the relatives who disapprove of homeschooling and the lamp that got broken just before they arrived — are remembered by the children with a lot of warmth.
What they care about is that their cousins were there and that they got attention from the aunts and uncles — and hopefully what the guests received is the gift of being in your home.
This can be decisive for them in later years, especially today when young people have so few role models for how to live family life and how to make a home. When you host, you set the tone, and that’s important.
You are embarking on that second decade that I talk about… and you are tired… but if you drop the ball now, it may be hard to recover. Something like a holiday party can seem dispensable, but is it? Later, will you lament the weakening of bonds in the family, who see each other in a festive way so seldom? Or will you turn it all over to someone else and regret the lack of refinement or attention to what you really value?
This developmental moment can be productive for you — it can be a time when you and your husband ask the utterly practical question, “What would make things more conducive to hosting?” It might be that you need to make a few changes in decor, furnishings, or upkeep; and when you do, you find that you look forward to entertaining more — in other words, it’s that things have gotten run down or are inadequate that makes you reluctant, not that you actually want to get out of the gathering.
Often we need these deadlines and pressures to make us take things to a new level… and that new level is for the sake of the children who, very shortly, will be aware enough to either take pride in how we do things, being open to welcoming others into the home, or lapse into a general sense of our home not being a place where outsiders can be comfortable.
So — a little gentle warning: Some families never recover, right at this stage that’s so crucial to the children. Better to go thrifting, repair and clean a few things, make what you need, and assume that people want to be in your company, not judge your situation.
Sometimes, though, I hear you — we really just need some time off so that we can regroup. Again, you and your husband pray about it and then make a decision with peace and confidence! All will be well.
In short, we strive for balance but can’t always achieve it. That’s okay — we can make mistakes. What matters is that we follow the Lord where He wants us to go.
How have you managed this sort of thing at your house?