Black Friday and Beyond

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photo credit: Flickr

Although I know that many Black Friday sales started yesterday on Thanskgiving, I was at my mother-in-law’s house, enjoying food and company and beating my daughter three times in checkers on the iPad, so I am only facing the existence of Black Friday sales today. That’s my choice, and you have choices, too.

I encourage you to make choices leading up to Christmas that allow you to approach the holiday with joy and enjoyment of the delights the season brings. This is the way to “tame Christmas.” Instead of climbing on the Christmas season roller coaster  and being whipped around by other people’s demands and store advertisements and your own expectations that things need to be perfect for you to be happy, you can get into the driver’s seat of the Christmasmobile and take it where YOU want to go this season.

We’ve already talked about how to handle Christmas events this year, and about how to make decisions about Christmas to reduce your stress. Today, let’s talk about gifts.

This video from the TV show Big Bang Theory is a humorous look at how most people view gift giving.

 

How similar is your view of gift giving to Sheldon’s? Do you look at gift giving through the lens of reciprocity–giving a gift to those who give you a gift? Does it fill you with anxiety that you might be given a gift by someone and be unprepared to give one in return? For many people, gift giving is a “non-optional social contract,” as the characters in another episode of Big Bang Theory state. I love this video clip because even though it’s true that most people (not just Sheldon) look at gift-giving this way, it shows how cold and mechanical that can be, which is the opposite of the whole idea of giving gifts.

I have learned to look at gifts another way. The way I see it, a gift is a way to bless someone else. Gifts are an expression that the receiver means something to you, that you care about them enough to bless them with a gift. This viewpoint can change the way you look at both giving and receiving gifts.

For many years, my family could not afford to buy gifts for family members that cost as much as what we received. My MIL and parents still buy for us like they did when we were kids growing up. They buy the same way for their grandchildren. At first, this was uncomfortable. I tried to compensate by spending many hours each year making gifts that would be worth a lot more money than the raw materials. After a while, I accepted the fact that there was no way to reciprocate in kind. But here’s the thing: nobody expected us to!

I now see that giving gifts is a choice by the giver. This works both ways. I have given gifts with no expectation of any in return, and I have received gifts without reciprocating as well. Sometimes I am touched and I want to give a gift in return. Sometimes it is so unexpected that I am unprepared to give a gift in return.

Our words can smooth over some of these awkward gift exchanges. As a receiver of an unexpected gift, we can simply be gracious and explain that we did not expect the gift and thank the giver. As a giver, we can explain that we don’t expect a gift in return. It is amazing to me how people agonize over gift exchanges. Think about it from the other side. Do you expect a gift for every gift you give? Are you going to get angry if your gifts are not reciprocated? That wouldn’t be a nice way to handle things, would it?

Letting go of some of the expectations surrounding gift-giving is a great way to enter the official Christmas shopping season. Get into the driver’s seat, make a list of who you would like to give gifts to, then shop as you see fit. According to your budget and schedule, you may also choose not to give gifts, even if you have done so in the past. This is a legitimate choice, so don’t feel badly. Just explain the situation and go on with your Christmas. It will be okay. Really. Breathe. You’ve got this.

Enjoy your day! Repeat.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Hardly a day goes by in my life now when Christmas isn’t mentioned or represented in some way. The stores are decorating, the road the mall is on is decorated, and one of my students even saw someone bringing home a live Christmas tree on their car the other day. My tree is dry enough by New Years, thanks. I will wait until after Thanksgiving.

My reaction to the people around me who are talking about Christmas and the Facebookers posting about Christmas has been a very firm “It’s too early.” The cartoon above sums up how I feel about it very well. Let me enjoy Thanksgiving and spend some time being thankful before you start bombarding me with Black Friday ads and wrapping paper sales.

It’s very ironic that we spend a day expressing thankfulness for all our blessings, then immediately, sometimes even an hour after eating, go into an intense focus on all the things we don’t yet have. Before the leftovers are even cleared away, family members are rushing out to the Black Friday sales. This will probably happen in my own extended family, and I just think it’s a shame that people consider it so important to get these things that they need to go out on Thanksgiving night. I love my family, that’s just how I feel about that issue. We can love each other and disagree.

I’m thankful for so many things this year. At the top of the list are my husband, who is wonderful to me every day of the year in a thousand ways, and for the way God has allowed my writing to grow this year. This blog and my other one, www.nextlevelfaith.com, as well as my two Kindle book,s 7 Days to a Closer Relationship with God and Taming the Christmas Monster, are a testament to God’s faithfulness in fulfilling my lifelong dream to be a writer. And from what I understand, this is just the beginning.

If you really think about it, you will realize that you are very blessed. If you have access to a computer on which to read this blog, you have so much more than most people in the world do. I hope that in addition to being blessed with material things, you have also been blessed with things you can’t hold in your hand: people to love and who love you in return, joy and an optimistic attitude, fulfilling work, and a personal relationship with your Creator.

God bless you this Thanksgiving. Please enjoy the time with family and friends, and think about what you’re thankful for. Post your comments below!

 

 

 

How to Handle Christmas Parties and Events

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Central Moravian Church at Christmastime

photo source: Flickr

 

My church’s Christmas Boutique was held two Saturdays ago. This is a craft fair the church holds every year to raise money for youth ministries activities, missions trips and such. This is always the first Christmas-themed event on my schedule each year. It is held the first Saturday in November. Kind of early for my taste, but if they waited longer, people get too busy and can’t make the time to come (or to be a crafter, either).

Although this event is a little early, it won’t be long until the deluge of invitations to Christmas parties, church events, plays, shows, and programs begins. Thanksgiving is only 2 weeks away, and if you want to avoid a mad rush of activities, it’s time to make a strategy for just how to handle the next month. Here are some things I’ve done to make better decisions about Christmas-themed events.

1) Think about last year.

 Did you think last year was too busy? What event(s) did you most enjoy last year? What events did you not enjoy or decide afterward were a waste of time? Maybe you can even settle on a number of events per week as a maximum you can handle. I have had weekends in December with multiple events in one day or weekend, which not only left me exhausted, but left me without time to do the other Christmas preparations I had planned. It is okay to set limits, even if that means you can’t do everything you want to do (or other people want you to do). Doing things out of obligation that you really don’t want to do will steal your joy this season. Other than your kids’ Christmas program, don’t feel obligated to attend events you really don’t want to go to.

2) Encourage your circle to spread out or skip events. 

If you are asked for input, let your boss, pastor, scout leader, etc., know that having a Christmas party or event isn’t necessary. If someone seems determined to have a party, suggest holding it after Christmas, even after New Year’s, to lighten the schedule before Christmas. Between my husband and me, we are involved in over a dozen organizations that could have parties. That’s a lot of holiday events. I’ve been able to offer input to several of them, and as a result my workplace and our Bible study group both have their parties after the new year.

3) Make the best of it.

If you are attending an event purely out of obligation, try to find something enjoyable about it. Start a conversation with someone who interests you, try a new food, or suggest a fun party game (Apples to Apples is fun and can be played pretty quickly). If you are allowed, bring someone you care about so you can spend time with him or her while attending. Take time to appreciate the efforts of the event organizers, whether it’s good food, pretty decorations, or festive background music. Avoid thinking about your to-do list; stressing about what you should be doing will not accomplish anything and will prevent you from enjoying yourself.

At worst, attending a Christmas event will fulfill your obligation to someone you consider important. At best, it may be a great opportunity to relax and have some quality time with people you enjoy. Some of my husband’s and my favorite date nights come at Christmas, going to our town’s Christkindlmarkt and (when we get invited) our alma mater’s Vespers service. Don’t let stress rob you of enjoying all the season has to offer.

This Week’s Christmas Not-To-Do-Yet List

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Here is a list of Christmas preparations I didn’t do this week:

1) Decorate my house. If I do it now, I’m tired of it by Christmas.

2) Buy from any of the Christmas displays I saw in stores this week.

3) Sing along to Christmas music, which I did hear little snippets of on TV and radio. Same reason as #1.

4) Watch any of the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. Yes, they already have Christmas specials on just about every day. I’m seeing the ads on other channels.

5) Baking or card writing. I have done these things in other years, when I subscribed to the “plan way ahead” method of Christmas preparation. My stress level has lowered considerably since I abandoned that method in favor of the “keeping Christmas in perspective as one day of the year” method.

I’m not against some level of planning ahead; however, intensive planning this far ahead doesn’t really lower my stress level much. Instead, I find that I’m at a heightened level of busy-ness for close to two months, and by Christmas day, I am exhausted. It takes most of the week between Christmas and New Year’s to recover.

I have decided this is too much to put into one day or holiday. Being intentional about keeping things simpler and less time consuming relieves my stress and is a better reflection of my beliefs.

photo credit: Flickr