Tag Archives: sustainability

Ways to Fully Enjoy the Advent Season

Upon opening the last present Christmas morning, my then 5-year-old uncle famously walked over the Christmas tree, pulled the plug, and announced, “Christmas is over.”

It was probably 8am.

Don’t we often feel that way? Not only has advent been replaced by a frantic countdown calendar entitled “Only – Shopping days until Christmas!”, but the concept of “The 12 days of Christmas” has been completely forgotten.

Somehow, the entire Christmas season has been reduced to that single moment of our families running down the stairs and saying “OOOOOHHHH” at the magical bounty we’ve created for them under the tree.  Starting the season early just means getting a jump-start on locating, purchasing, wrapping, and cooking the items necessary to create this snapshot image.

Trying to save money, reduce waste, and spread contentment and gratitude under this mindset is almost impossible, because we’ve created this formula:

Christmas = room full of gifts, therefore fewer gifts = less Christmas = deprived kids.

Many of us add an hour of church on Christmas Eve to this equation, plus nagging reminders to our kids about the Real Meaning Of Christmas, the Joy of Giving, and the Threat of Coal in the Stocking, but we all know the above formula is the dominant one.

But what if we gave ourselves and our family an entire SEASON of authentic, sustainable gifts, and then made Christmas morning last for days and weeks, rather than an hour?  Sound exhausting and expensive?  Exactly the opposite.

Through trial and error, and some stumbling across wonderful advice from friends and authors, I’ve compiled a list of inexpensive and even FREE ways to help us celebrate Advent as an entire season of sustainable joy, abundance, and gratitude rather than a frantic race leading to a fleeting moment of indulgence and entitlement.  Many of these tricks are for families with young children, but can be adapted to any situation.

3 Fun Ways to stretch out Advent:

The Bean Jar:  Starting December 1st, set out an empty jar next to a bowl of dried beans.  For each good deed done in our family, a bean goes into the jar.  Yes, it works the other way, too, in our house, at least. Christmas night, Santa replaces the beans with jelly beans (therefore knowing how Good or Bad everyone was), taking the dried ones back to make soup for the tired elves.

The Book Basket: This involves wrapping up 25 Christmas or winter-themed books and letting the kids unwrap one per night.  I use books we already have, but throughout the year search thrift stores and library sales to add a few surprises.  My kids LOVE this tradition, and even though they read chapter books independently by now, they cuddle up next to me (yep, even my 11-year-old) and allow me to stretch out a little more childhood in our family.  Plus, they get to unwrap 25 presents before Christmas morning!!

The Activity List:  Starting NOW, start brainstorming fun things you’d like to do this Christmas season.  Put a price limit on the entire thing, and treat the budget like one of your Christmas gifts…opened early!  Make sure many can be done spur-of-the-moment.  I seriously urge you to involve your kids in this list, because when I asked mine what they wanted to do, the simplicity of it often shocked me: Draw a picture of Santa Claus.  Make a paper chain for the Christmas tree.  Sing a song.  These are the things kids treasure, and we often miss them because we’re trying to give them a Barbie Dream House.

The best part of all three ideas is they give us practical and teaching methods to get the season in line with our values.  The Bean Jar encourages us to help others, recognize good behavior in our kids, and begin a healthy dialog about right vs. wrong.  The Book Basket can start the habit of a nightly devotional with our family, especially if we choose our Christmas books carefully.  And the Activity List can encompass service projects, educational opportunities, and time for fellowship.

With all of this, the Christmas season is already looking pretty good, and we haven’t even gotten to Christmas morning…that’s next week!


Celebrating Authentic Holiday “Seasons”

It’s the day after Halloween, and I bet some of you have already seen your first sign of Christmas advertising.

It used to be that Christmas Commercial Season began as soon as Santa made his way past Macy’s department store in New York City Thanksgiving morning, which was bad enough, according my mom’s rantings.  Now, it begins the morning after Halloween night.

This is ironic for a few reasons.  First, we still have a holiday to celebrate, and it’s one that involves being thankful for the things we already have, rather than planning what we already want to get next.  Second, today is All Saint’s Day…the whole POINT of Halloween…in which we traditionally give thanks for the sacrifices made by those extraordinary people who gave up everything for their faith and their world, followed by All Soul’s Day November 2nd, in which we give thanks for everyone who has gone before us.

But these concepts don’t sell candy, cards, and toys, so we skip them completely to make room for more time for thinking about everything we NEED and WANT.  And more time for advertisers to tell us and our children what those things are.

In the last post, we discussed how to streamline our approach to the impending holiday season by focusing on what values we want to celebrate and preserve, and, on the flip side, what drama and waste we want to avoid.

This week, let’s think about how we can preserve the true SPIRIT of each holiday by stretching it out into an entire season.  Just as a bad habit is most easily broken by replacing it with a good one, we can fight the damaging commercialism of the holidays by replacing it with something authentic, pure, and simple.

Halloween: It’s not too late to salvage this! Spend some time today and tomorrow in gratitude for the “saints” and “precious souls” in our lives who went before us and helped us get where we are today.  Let’s talk about them at dinner tonight with our spouse or children.  Write a letter or call any living saints we have in our life and let them know what they’ve meant to us.  Mark your 2012 calendar to remember these two days next year and approach Halloween with them in mind.

Thanksgiving:  All too often, this holiday has been reduced to a marathon car trip, hours alone in the kitchen, a 30-second prayer, an hour of gluttony, and more hours in the kitchen cleaning up while the men watch football.

How can we turn the 30 seconds of thankfulness into an entire season?  Younger families can create a “thankfulness jar” for kids in which every day, something is written down to be saved and read at the Thanksgiving meal.  Older families with tech-savvy teens can create a Google document where everyone contributes funny stories and memories over the month to be shared at the gathering.  Single adults can reach out to one person a day in the form of a letter, a phone call, and email, or a coffee date, in which each person is told how much they are valued and appreciated.

By proactively celebrating the values of these holidays we endorse, we avoid a season of discontent, despair, and debt.  We also avoid any feelings of depravity from our children, because they will begin to view the season as something more than what commercials are telling them, and will be able to hold onto an entire season of pure, authentic, sustainable memories instead of looking for the quick, cheap thrill that’s gone in a moment.

Next week, we will continue this discussion with Christmas, and how to revive the concepts of advent and the 12 Days of Christmas to create a spirit of abundance and contentment in ourselves and in our children.

This Week:

  1. Share any Thanksgiving traditions you have that can be used to stretch out the season for all of us.
  2. Make a list today of all the people for whom you are thankful.  Write out a plan for how you will reach out to each of them between now and Thanksgiving.
  3. Start each day with a prayer of gratitude.  Keep a list of what the things are, and return to it often.
  4. Check out these links for wonderful prayers of thanksgiving, and read a few aloud:  http://www.churchyear.net/thanks.html
  5. Read the following passages in the Bible in which prayer and thanksgiving are intertwined:
    1. Daniel 6:10
    2. Philippians 4:6
    3. Colossians 1:3
    4. Colossians 4:2
    5. I Timothy 2:1