Recently, my husband and I were discussing how short-lived the Christmas season can be and how all the good will can sometimes seem artificial. Of course, the lead-up to the season has started earlier and earlier each year, but as soon as January 1st hits we are typically back to focusing on ourselves and stripping away all the joyous intent: no more cheerful music, no more family get-togethers, significantly less charity. We decided that the issue isn’t the traditions and facets of Christmas, but instead the fact that we associate them only with Christmas and thus leave them behind in the new year. But why can’t we keep that spirit going?
I’ve been considering all of the elements that comprise the Christmas season, and I want to make it my mission to incorporate them throughout the year. There’s no reason we can’t enjoy this spirit all year round and use it to greatly improve our lives. Here is what I thought of:
- Connection with the Church – While there are many who spend Advent fervently preparing for Christmas, there are others who return to the church only annually as a pilgrimage to the source of the occasion. Those who retain the religious core of Christmas view it as one of the chief times to reconnect with the church. However, this connection can happen weekly, daily even, with simple actions and intents to strengthen your faith. This year, in whatever manner your practice, try to reach out further through routine Mass and prayer.
- Family & Friends – This time of year we almost always look forward to spending quality time with those closest to us. We travel for miles, balance logistics, make phone calls, send cards, and more just to let our loved ones know we are thinking of them. Yet I know I am guilty of those calls lapsing the rest of the year. Any time is a good one to send a letter or gather people together, so why not make it a point of staying in contact continuously? All it takes is a quick message or visit from time to time.
- Seasonal Traditions – Each family has their own set of events set off by the Christmas season: tree trimmings, Advent calendars, Elf on a Shelf, ice skating, cookie baking, readings of “The Night Before Christmas”, sledding, etc. Especially in situations where change is ever present, such as with military families, those traditions can be the constants we anticipate all year. But such traditions can exist in each and every season, if we so choose. They are the events and activities we cherish and pass down, and while they may evolve and adapt over time, they keep us present in the times.
- Gifts & Charity – Of course it’s the kids who run to the presents under the tree in excitement, but the truth is that everyone enjoys a thoughtful gift. One of my favorite parts of Christmas is searching out that “perfect gift” for someone, anticipating what their reaction will be when they receive it. But I’d like to think that from time to time I could make or find simple gifts to surprise those I care about, either to honor minor occasions or to cheer them up. Also, starting with Thanksgiving, this time of year is when most of us try to be more generous through coin donations and acts of service. Yet organizations such as the Salvation Army and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital need such help every day. This year, make it a point to volunteer your time or funds towards good causes, even if it’s as small as gifting some food to someone in need.
- Cheerful Music & Media – Every year I have a list of “must-see” holiday-themed TV and movies I need to watch in order to consider my season complete, along with playlists full of Christmas music. It’s hard to stay in a bad mood singing along to Jingle Bell Rock or watching The Grinch grow his heart. So why is it that the rest of the year I forget to use such feel-good media as a tool when I’m feeling down? No one says you can’t dream of a white Christmas starting in July, and nevertheless there is plenty of other cheerful music in this world for us to appreciate. Make a playlist and collect videos that make you happy, and hold onto them for a rainy day.
- Decorations – I love those calm, quiet nights that you can bundle up, stroll down the street, and wander among the lighted houses. Or sitting by the Christmas tree after everyone has gone to bed. For only up to a month we strive to make our homes beautiful and deliberate, filling them with reminders of the season. And yes, some of you are already expert decorators and I applaud you, but a lot of us focus our efforts on Christmas. But there are simple ways to incorporate those sentimental trinkets, those seasonal displays, and those twinkling lights. See what ways you can think of to carry these through the other eleven months.
- Homemade Items & Feasts – Some of the best gifts are homemade. When you know someone has spent not only money, but time on your present it means a lot more. Funny enough, sometimes those gifts are even easier (a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies can go a long way). This goes even further with the typical homemade feasts we enjoy on Christmas Eve or Christmas night. Generally, this is a time we drop the processed convenience and make wholesome meals to sit down and share with our families and friends. Now, I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I could make a turkey dinner after work. But there’s no reason I couldn’t choose to make it on a weekend. And striving for home-cooked meals for our families is always a good thing.
- Good Will – Especially during this time we often speak of “good will towards men” and try to be friendlier with those around us. As shy as I am I still try to wish those I encounter “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. But why does this effort stop with the last “Happy New Year”? We don’t have to begin elaborate conversations with everyone we meet, but even a simple “hello” or “have a nice day” can cheer someone’s spirit.
- Miracles – It is sometimes too easy to forget the core of Christmas and the miracle it is celebrating. It is then too easy to stop recognizing miracles in our everyday lives. Whether it’s through church or being present in our gratitude, miracles are granted all the time. Be grateful for the gifts you receive and celebrate them.
While nothing can, or should, replace the glory of Christmas Day, I hope this list has given you some ideas for ways to continue the Christmas spirit throughout the year. Most of all, I wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas.
“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” – Bob Hope