When I was growing up, my brother and I always looked forward to the end of summer because of all the birthdays and holidays that were celebrated in our family during those three months. Three of the four children had birthdays in November plus Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. It seemed like every week there was a new celebration! We called it “The Goody Goody Season” and we eagerly anticipated its arrival. Forty years later the arrival of Fall and the beginning of Winter still thrills my soul.
I started to write an article detailing the history and ancient customs surrounding the holidays. But it proved to be a very long article! As an alternative, I chose to discuss how to keep the holiday season simple and meaningful. Because, let's face it, commercialism rears it's ugly head this time of year and all too soon we lose sight of what each holiday really means and why folk have observed and celebrated it for centuries.
THE 1st STOP IN THE GOODY GOODY SEASON –THANKSGIVING
This is really a wonderful holiday that is still largely untouched by commercialism (other than the grocery and travel industries :o). With the house already decorated for Harvest (from before Reformation Day), we spend the days leading up to Thanksgiving Day giving thanks and enjoying a Thanksgiving meal with our extended family and friends as much as is possible. The dinner will be preceded by a special ceremony giving thanks (we read scripture, poetry and speeches and engage in hymn singing) and possibly re-enacting the 1st Thanksgiving (always fun for the little ones). By making the meal more of a potluck, it isn't such a burden on the host or any one person. This has been a pretty relaxed but very enjoyable time of thanks. As it should be.
THE 2nd STOP IN THE GOODY GOODY SEASON – ADVENT
It is imperative to us that we keep Christ at the heart of Christmas celebrations. Doing so can help keep this very busy time of the year from being so hectic that is causes depression or burn out. SO, while our family wants to decorate lots and early (weekend after Thanksgiving or by the first weekend of December at the latest) we still want to focus our hearts on Christ. As a family we do this by:
1. Teaching the meaning behind the symbols – the Christmas tree, greens & colors.
2. Attending special services at Church or in the community that focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
3. Using an Advent Wreath each Sunday night around dinner that involves Scripture & singing Christmas Hymns cherished throughout the centuries.
4. De-emphasizing gift giving by only giving 1 gift (per child or possibly just one larger gift for the whole family) and a stuffed stocking to each child. It is Jesus' birthday after all – why should be be showered with gifts. But as a parent, I find I DO enjoy blessing my children. We also help each child to remember to give gifts to his or her siblings and parents too – not just focusing on what they want to receive. This can really take a lot of effort because the roots of materialism really run deep throughout our culture. Even extended family members can tend to go over board. Be sure to be prepared to explain why your family is trying to keep things simple and ask them to please respect that effort. They usually will be glad to do so once they understand.
5. Using an Advent Calendar each day that reminds us of the reason for the season in a small but meaningful way. This is especially helpful to the little ones.
6. Focusing Christmas Eve on the birth of our Savior as a family or possibly with extended family over for a simple meal (a bowl of clam chowder and homemade bread or other meal plan we consider traditional) which ends by singing hymns around the fire.
7. Making sure to spend Christmas morning together as an immediate family. We have a quick breakfast of cinnamon rolls (our family favorite), open our gifts, give thanks and often attend church services later that morning or go to relatives homes later in the day or that evening.
It may seem like this is still a lot to accomplish – not very simple at all. It can be hectic but if you deliberately choose and plan how you are going to observe this special time of the year, it goes much smoother than if you let others dictate how the days will be spent.
THE FINAL STOP IN THE GOODY GOODY SEASON - NEW YEARS/ HOGMANAY
My wife ran across this idea a few years back and we really enjoyed it. We gather as a family or with extended family or friends (not too big a crowd though). Starting at 7 pm, we open special bags each hour of the celebration that contain something to do or eat during that hour or beyond. Here are some examples of things we put in the bags:
1st Bag (7 pm) - Fun paper goods and streamers to decorate the dining room, and a small treat to eat.
2nd Bag (8pm) - This is always a fun baking/snack-making activity, often something simple like melting chocolate chips or kisses on pretzel squares and pressing on M&M's (something that can involve everyone)! By the way, we don't eat the treat until later in the evening.
3rd Bag (9 pm) - This bag is almost always a game - possibly a much anticipated Wii game (either purchased or borrowed for the night), or a huge puzzle, Pictionary, Mousetrap, etc. OR a short movie, or really good short book - something they have never seen, and we settle in on the living room floor with pillows and blankets and start a movie.
4th Bag (10:30 pm or so)- This one is my favorite. After Christmas, we burn a DVD with all our pictures from the year and play it in slide-show mode. It's always so much fun to replay the highlights and happenings of the year. It's wonderful to take the time to reflect on God's goodness and the ways we have grown that year.
Then we take turns talking about personal goals for the new year. We take turns sharing and challenge one another to set three goals each for the year ahead (we help the children a bit in setting reasonable goals and give them suggestions how they might achieve them). You could have these written down, laminated, and hung on their bedroom walls as reminders.
Last Bag (open by 11:30+ ) - As you would suspect, all the fixings for the clock striking midnight- hats, beads, noisemakers, etc. Turn on TV and tune in a New Year's countdown celebration for timing help. Be sure to kiss in the New Year as husband and wife, and hug each child. Close party with prayer asking for God's blessings and provision for the New Year.
Thus endeth “The Goody Goody Season” in the Osborn home. We have found that having a purposeful and well thought out plan really makes a huge difference in how the holidays affect us and our family. Contrary to popular belief, you really cannot have or do it all. You have to make choices that help realize the values and purposes that you hold dear. That's really what living the simple life is all about anyway. It's not stoicism or deprivation for deprivation's sake. It's choosing what you want and knowing why you want it.
I challenge you to pursue a life that is simpler and will bring greater contentment and blessing to you and your family. Wise men still seek Him! Merry Christmas and Happy Goody Goody Season to you all!