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Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column is about finding joy in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season.

The Celebration. The Awe. The Music, the Joy, the Reverence. Even the Silence.

These are all words we’re supposed to associate with Christmas. But I find that too often Christmas becomes a contest: who can get the best gifts, bake the best cookies, and get it all done the fastest.

For some people that excitement is motivating. You can pick these people out if you’re driving around town at night (they’re the ones who have Santa on the roof). They don’t have that panicked look on their faces because they finished their Christmas shopping in August.

The rest of us, though, find Christmas exhausting because we’re already busy and Christmas then gets “tacked on”. It’s a whole new list of things we must get done while there are still lunches to be packed and laundry to be folded and homework to check. How do we find the time?

I tend to fall into this latter category, though most people in my extended family fall into the former. My mother buys gifts so early and then hides them away that her only stress at Christmas is remembering where she hid them. So here’s lonely little me, not very organized but still intent on finding joy. How does one accomplish this in the midst of the bustle?

I can list a myriad of ways to get more organized, but let’s face it: I don’t even follow my own advice, so why should I burden you with it? I’m not sure organization is the root of the problem anyway; if we weren’t organized, but we were excited, the busy-ness wouldn’t bother us so much.

The problem, then, is not so much a time crunch as it is an expectations gap. We want Christmas to be something that too often it isn’t. Instead of being a time of family fun it’s become a huge “gimme gimme” day. And when people—and especially children—get greedy, Christmas can feel somewhat empty, and certainly not worth the pain we experience opening our credit card bills.

This entitlement feeling is natural, though, if most of our Christmas traditions revolve around gifts. The best antidote, then, is to inject other traditions that become as regular as waking up at dawn to check what’s under the tree.

So invite someone who’s alone at Christmas to join your table. Do a ton of baking and drop off Christmas squares anonymously to people on your street or at your workplace. Attend a Christmas Eve church service. Fill up a Christmas basket for a needy family. Spend Boxing Day poring over the gift catalogues from World Vision, where you can buy a goat for a family overseas, or Three Little Pigs, or soccer jerseys, and donate some of your Christmas money. We also spend Boxing Day playing board games as a family, which is always a memory I cherish.

Or perhaps change the very nature of the Christmas presents themselves. About five years ago our family started The Three Gifts of Christmas, where everybody gets three gifts, and nothing else. We call it the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh tradition. The Gold gift is something they want; the Frankincense gift is something they need; and the Myrrh gift is something that nourishes the soul. Maybe the Myrrh gift could be a journal, or a book, or some music. It could be a family game you all play together to nurture relationships. It could even be $50 towards anything they want to give from the World Vision catalogue.

My 3 Gifts of Christmas

If Christmas has become too “gimme”, and you want some of that reverence back, then add a bit more “giving” and “family” to the season now. It doesn’t have to be all about the presents. And when it’s about far more, perhaps those bah humbugs all of us occasionally experience will go flying back up that chimney!

Need to get some good ideas for a “myrrh” gift–A Christmas gift to nurture their soul? I’ve got a whole bunch, divided up by age and gender, here.

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