Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Simplify Christmas

Looking for ways to simplify your Christmas? Try these ideas from the P31 staff and start making more of the Christmas season--with less.

One way our family simplifies holiday gatherings is to take the potluck approach to dinner. The host family prepares a turkey and/or ham and other family members bring side dishes, desserts and disposable tableware. We organize who is bringing what via email. This takes a lot of pressure off of the host family and spreads the cost and responsibility among everyone.

Janet Burke, Assistant Editor, P31 Woman

My family is very simple in our Christmas outdoor decorating. We might have a wreath and a strand of lights around the door. On Christmas Eve, our home takes on a more traditional decoration: Luminarias. I grew up, and still live, in Arizona. This is a traditional Southwestern tradition that has spread across the country. Here, on Christmas Eve, we line our walkways with paper bags, lit from within by candles sitting in a bit of sand. It’s very simple, but it’s a way to welcome Jesus to our world.

Glynnis Whitwer, Editor, P31 Woman

Until Christmas Eve, nothing goes under the tree except the nativity scene. That way we focus on the true gift of Christmas and… everyone that comes over asks us why there is only a nativity scene under our tree, so it provides an opportunity to share our hearts.

We hang a stocking for Jesus. I ask visitors not to bring gifts but, instead, bring a gift card to a local grocery store. We give the cards to our pastor so he can distribute to needy families during the holidays.

LeAnn Rice, Executive Director

Give the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Instead of flooding your family members with gifts in large numbers, focus on quality instead. Narrow your choices down to a few significant items that communicate love, inspire creativity, and encourage growth in Christ.

Adopt the advent calendar. Lengthen your season of celebration by following an advent calendar. Try spreading your special traditions and events over the weeks leading up to and following Christ’s birth, instead of cramming everything into a couple of whirlwind days.

Make it personal. Instead of buying into the commercialization of Christmas, consider which decorations, foods, or gifts you and your family members can make. Discover the joy and satisfaction of being creative together.

Carve out quiet times. Gather your favorite Christmas books and your Bible, and commit to a time of quiet each day. Read a short selection, sip some tea, and slow down long enough to take it all in.

Reach out. What do you do best during the holidays? And what do those close to you do best? Offer to exchange skills to maximize your time and abilities. Allow others to help with things that burden you—and offer your help in areas that light you up.

Don’t overdo it. Make a list of the most cherished parts of your holiday celebration—making sure to get your family’s input. Stick to those things that are truly meaningful and keep you focused on Christ. Allow these to take deeper root in your family’s traditions and let the less significant, distracting things go.

Janine Petry, P31 Woman Editing Team

Last Christmas my husband and I committed to spending less money on the “stuff” of Christmas and spending more time on the “spirit” of it. That meant we needed to get creative about gift giving. Instead of traditional presents, we gave the gift of our presence. We looked at our relationships and decided how we could invest time in each of them. Then we got busy making coupons. I gave my husband coupons for coffee dates, dinner and movie dates, long walks and even some to “get off the computer now!” We made coupons for things like weekly phone calls to long-distance parents, quarterly lunches with out-of-touch siblings and offers to help with home improvements. Our families loved these presents and best of all our gifts kept giving long after the wrappings of Christmas were thrown away. It’s a tradition we plan to continue.

Kelli Regan, P31 Woman Editing Team

It Came Upon a Twilight Clear

By Patsy O’Shea

I have always admired and coveted those beautifully decorated Christmas trees that are in department stores and magazines. The decorations on them are so in sync with their individualized colors and themes. If there are classes on tree decorating or a how-to manual, I haven’t attended the class or read the book.

You see, if I were to describe to you the decorations on my annual Christmas tree, in comparison to those in a department stores, it would be called “Hand-Me Down” There’s no particular color or theme carried throughout my tree.

Most ornaments placed on our tree were given to us as an expression of love. Baby’s First Christmas ornaments, those from cherished girl friends, and ornaments our children made in school as gifts to mom and dad. Then, there are ornaments from friends who have moved far away, but left lasting impressions on our hearts and lives. Each year when I bring out the box of decorations, I sit and reminisce over each ornament and the one who gave it.

But there is one particular ornament that brings tears to my eyes every year. It too has become a part of my special tree ornament collection. It arrived one snowy evening many years ago.

With only one week away until Christmas, my two elementary aged children and I were working furiously in the kitchen making our Christmas cookies. The room could only be described, and remembered by a mother, as a Norman Rockwell moment.

My young children’s faces and hair were dusted with flour. Their little hands and lips showed signs of licks from colored frosting and stuck on sprinkles. Our counters and table held a variety of bowls of cookie dough, and plastic Christmas cutters. Cups of hot chocolate overflowed with mounds of marshmallows. The room itself was filled with Christmas music and the aroma of fresh baked cookies.

During these very nostalgic moments, my door bell rang. I quickly wiped my hands on my apron and I rushed to answer it. As the light went on, I looked down, and to my surprise stood a small little boy. He was holding a flat white box.

The light revealed a worn coat and hat that wouldn’t have been warm enough on that cold, snowy night. As I opened the outer storm door, my eye caught a glimpse of an older model station wagon parked next to our street curb, with its lights dimmed and motor running.

We greeted each other, but before telling me his reason for being there he opened the lid of his box. Inside, on top of white tissue paper, laid neatly placed handmade clear plastic beaded ornaments. They were in the shape of Christmas wreaths. Each one had a red velvet ribbon tied at the bottom. Some were larger than others. Some were all green, while others were crystal clear. Each had a small price tag stuck on it. The smaller ones were $1, the medium were $3, and there was one in the middle. It was the largest and it was $5.

When the boy spoke, he told me that his mother had made each one, and they were selling them to make money to buy Christmas presents. He then pointed to the big one in the middle and said, “This one is the prettiest.”

I was flooded with mixed emotions. I wanted to pick him up and hug him. I wanted to invite him in for cookies and hot chocolate. But, I thought what I really needed to do at that very moment was to show respect that was due and treat his visit to my home as a normal business transaction. For all I knew, this may have been their only means of buying gifts that year.

I agreed to make a purchase. While leaving the door to get money, I noticed the boy turning back to look at the car. Perhaps it was a gesture to say a sale had been made.

Unfortunately, the only cash on hand was a $10 bill. I wanted to buy every one of the ornaments; however I knew a check wouldn’t do. Returning to the door, I made my selections very carefully to equal the money I had. To his delight, I included the prettiest one in the middle.

Each year as I put my tree up and place all my love ornaments, I proudly display the hand made beaded wreaths. I make sure the prettiest one from the middle has a special spot on the tree. All the while, I remember with tears the little boy at the door who came proudly to my home selling his mother’s very special ornaments. This little family brought the true gift of love to my home.

Creative Ideas for Christmas Cards

History of Christmas Cards

Though wood engravers produced prints with religious themes in the European Middle Ages, the first commercial Christmas and New Year’s card was designed in London, England, in 1843. The picture on the front—a family with a small child drinking wine together—turned out to be controversial, but the idea stuck.

John Callcott Horsley (1817—1903), a British narrative painter and a Royal Academician, designed the first Christmas and New Year’s card at the suggestion and request of his friend Sir Henry Cole, who was the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Horsley designed the first Christmas card in 1840, but it did not go on sale until 1843, when one thousand cards were offered for one shilling each. The Christmas
card became very popular, and other artists quickly followed Horsley’s concept.

Early English cards rarely showed winter or religious themes, favoring flowers, fairies, and other fanciful designs in honor of the approach of spring. Humorous and sentimental images of children and animals were popular, as well as increasingly elaborate shapes, decorations, and materials.

Louis Prang was the first printer to offer Christmas cards in America in 1875. The style and extravagance of the cards evolved throughout the twentieth century with changing printing techniques. Patriotic themes were popular during the world wars, and religious themes dominated starting with the 1950s.

The Christmas Card Today

Even though new technologies have caused a serious drop in the number of cards received by households, approximately 1.8 billion cards are sent annually.

Here are some ideas on to incorporate Christmas Cards into your family’s traditions:

The Christmas Letter

In recent years, some families have opted to include a Christmas letter updating friends on the events of the past year. You might choose one person or merge the contributions of all the family members. This is especially easy when done on the computer. Note: It’s best to produce a letter with genuine news—letters that sound like press releases touting family achievements can be tiresome.

The Christmas Photo Postcard

Christmas Idea: Some families have chosen to send a Christmas postcard containing a family photograph and printed greeting. This has become a very popular way of updating friends and family members who live far away with how the family is growing and maturing.

Christmas in January

You might want to consider sending your Christmas letter in January, a current trend. After the hustle and bustle of celebrating is over, there is much more time to thoughtfully create a mail-out of better quality and meaning. Also, there is more time for the recipient to read it at their leisure.

Christmas Card Tree

Create a Christmas card tree by using a hole-puncher to put a hole in the top left corner of the card through both front and back. Tie the card to the tree with a ribbon. You might also want to place a Christmas basket on the coffee table or kitchen counter in which to place cards as they arrive, giving family members a chance to look at them. Handmade, particularly beautiful, and sentimental Christmas cards can be easily maintained in an album with favorite cards from past years.

Excerpted from Everything Christmas by David Bordon and Thomas J. Winters. Copyright © 2010 by David Bordon and Thomas J. Winters. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

About the Authors
David Bordon and Tom Winters are partners in Bordon-Winters, LLC, a book concept and packaging company that produces successful books and gift products. Their previous titles include the 101 Things You Should Do series, especially the popular 101 Things You Should Do Before Going to Heaven.

Click here to purchase the book “Everything Christmas".