Opting Out of the Rat Race of Christmas

Opting Out of the Rat Race of Christmas - #staymarriedIt’s an interesting time of year, isn’t it? Christmastime, I mean. I know the politically correct term is “Holiday Season,” but if we’re truthful about the season itself here in America, it is really the “redecorate your home, bribe your children for the perfect family photo, attend themed parties, hurry up and don’t miss out on the ‘traditions,’ and buy lots of things” season. Or at least it can be.

I don’t mean to Bah-Humbug what is going on in the world. I love this time of year. Decorating and celebrating and participating in all of the festivities means so much to me. Seeing the wonder of it all through my children’s eyes is delightful. This year, however, I’ve found myself entering in with a bit of trepidation. I want to participate in the joy, but I do not want to participate in the race. I want to be a part of the loveliness, but I do not want to be a part of the competition for loveliness. I want to enjoy this time with my family, but I don’t want to get caught up in looking like I’m enjoying it so I can document our “joy” on social media. So, I’m ditching some of my very own traditions.

At first, I bet that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Ditching my own traditions. I’ll explain. When Tony and I got married a lot of colliding needed to happen. He comes from a traditional home, which to me means that his parents are still married and love each other. I come from, well, not that. In his family, they do have traditions, things they can count on to celebrate with each other. Traditions are beautiful and create that sense of shared meaning that Dr. Gottman talks about in building a long-lasting happy marriage and family. Of course the Petersons have their holiday traditions… mom always makes the best ceasar salad and deviled eggs for Christmas dinner… but they also have other little traditions throughout the year.

One of my faves is their birthday tradition because it’s one I can truly participate in. Tony’s family is quite musical, so as a funny tradition, they sing Happy Birthday as loud and off key and out of tune as they can to whichever family member is being celebrated. It works best in a group, as I’m sure you can imagine. Tony’s parents live about four hours away, over a mountain pass and through a dessert, in Spokane, Washington. This year, for my father-in-law’s birthday, our little family happened to be with my sister-in-law and our nephews so we called him up. We got the kids in on this Happy Birthday song tradition, and we didn’t even have to explain to them how it worked! It’s fantastic, and though it’s expected, still always delightful. There is something about traditions that you can count on that helps make and keep a family close. My in-laws are a great example of that and I love that I get to learn and grow into it.

There is another side of traditions, though, that I’ve found isn’t quite so sweet. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it until I heard something in church recently. Our friend and pastor Prentice said that well meaning Christians throughout the centuries have gotten themselves focused on the WHAT (customs, traditions, behaviors) over the WHY of what we believe. He said it’s easy for us to get caught up in what we do and forget why we do it. Prentice was talking mainly about religious rules and the standards we put on one another and how focusing on the rules distracts us from the heart of Jesus. It hit me that this is just the tension I’ve been feeling about Christmas.

Creating Our Own Traditions

When Claire, our firstborn, was a baby and we were approaching her first Christmas I felt desperate to create something meaningful. I insisted that we needed our own traditions for our own family and out of that was born our version of Advent. That first Christmas with our tiny Claire was pretty magical. I held her in my arms, we lit a candle each week, Tony played the guitar and sang. It was perfectly sweet.

The following year, we had two littles to light our candle and sing our songs with. It felt a teeny bit less sweet as I wrestled baby Nora in my arms while Claire ran around not participating. Last year we tried again, now with two toddlers and a newborn… Wait, I don’t actually remember if any candles were lit.

This year, as we were approaching Advent, I’ll admit I wasn’t looking forward to it. Aside from the very first year with just one little baby, our supposedly beautiful tradition has not looked like the Rockwellian paintings I once hoped for. I wanted to create something meaningful for our family, something that wouldn’t focus so much on material things, but on being together and the miracle of Christmas. I’ve had to realize that Advent is not getting that job done for us. It was stressing me out and making me irritable that my kids would not sit quietly in awe of a flickering candle and lovely acoustic music played especially for us by their father. They didn’t want to listen to the Bible story each week without interrupting and running around. Can you believe they just wanted to PLAY? I was so focused on the WHAT of making our Advent tradition happen each week, that I’d forgotten WHY this was important to me in the first place.

"I want to participate in the joy, but I do not want to participate in the race for Christmas." - Michelle Peterson #staymarriedHave you done that? Have you been focusing on what you need to do this season instead of why you do it? Are you feeling stressed and pressured and passing that stress and pressure on to the rest of your family? This year, I’m putting Advent on the shelf. We are reevaluating the stressful bustling we usually rush to participate in and trying to figure out what we really want this season to look like.

This Christmas, I’m rejecting the pressure I am so used to putting on myself. If I think the activity is going to cause more stress and tantrums than joy and love, then I’m not doing it. You won’t find us in line for Santa pictures. No, I won’t be handing my babies to a bearded stranger to hold on his lap while I photograph them screaming for their lives. I think those pictures can be funny, but I have this feeling the kids aren’t in on the joke, so I’m skipping it this year. You also won’t find our bulk Christmas cards in your mailbox. This one makes me a little sad, I super duper love cards and stationery and mail, but I have to give this one up. If you follow on Instagram then you already have the most recent photos of our family, and there is not a single one with all five of us smiling because, well, we don’t live in a magazine. I’m rejecting the pressure to make us look like we do. I want to make this season meaningful, which I think might look differently for our family than it does for yours.

We are opting out of the race to make Christmas perfect so we can stay in and snuggle and think up new ways to enjoy this very special time of year. For now, that means I’m setting aside my little dream of a perfectly celebrated Advent each week. Maybe as they get older we will pick it back up again. Maybe not. What we want now is more joy and peace, more time together as a family. I think maybe less stress and pressure to keep up with everyone else will help us stay focused on what’s important to us and #staymarried.

P.S. I have found something I think my kids are enjoying, so I’ll share that with you soon. Think “Elf on the Shelf” with a generosity twist…

The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

Michelle Peterson #staymarried

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about how we are doing things a little bit differently as a family, you might also like these:
♥ Gratitude is the Antidote
♥ House Rules
♥ How to be a Great Dad

New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and our first entry to get a little background. You can also find us on the socials: PinterestTwitterFacebook, and Instagram. I’d love to connect on any of your favorite platforms.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

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6 responses

    • Happy to pass along the little things we are still figuring out. Joy and peace sound pretty great, don’t they?

  • I’m SO with ya on this one this year! Over the years, we’ve collected a daily advent (that has nothing but candy usually in it – super spiritual), a second daily advent that my mom made and sent us this year, our weekly “Jesus-focused” candle advent (with a similar atmosphere as yours it sounds like), AND the freaking Elf on a Shelf. Adding the third kid, I’ve had to let it all go. And I’ve felt really guilty about not doing even our Jesus advent candles this year, and only doing the Elf. In fact, consider this my public confession that we haven’t done Advent this year (eek!). But this post might have just freed me from that guilt. Because who cares. I’m caught up in worrying about SAYING all the right things so that my children “learn” what Christmas is all about. But really, if they look back on Christmastime of their childhood and see stress, and worrying, and the need to jump through each Christmas hoop (like I do of my childhood), well then, we’ve missed the point. It won’t matter how much “Jesus” was woven through each activity and craft. If it was just another THING to make this season “magical”, then it was a waste. So thanks for this post. And for saying that it’s okay to let it all go. Because love and joy and peace in the home I think will bring about greater fruit for our kids in the long run.

    • Yes, Ashley! Yes and YES!!! Not to add to the pile of things you’ll have to let go of, but have you considered writing a blog? 😉

  • Michelle! I work over in the marketing department with Michael at TGI, that’s how I found out about your blog. Love reading your posts, especially this one! 🙂 Thanks for reminding us what the holidays should really be about.