I am not like Ebenezer Scrooge, truly I am not! However, I must admit I am rather glad when Christmas is over. It is always with a sense of relief that I stuff the Christmas tree back into its box, gently lay the Christmas baubles into their hibernation home and hurriedly whip rows of Christmas cards off our hall wall.
I love the Christmas story with its message of a selfless God who cascaded into our sin-darkened world bringing dazzling light. I love the snapshots of the nativity scene which tell of a God who valued a relationship with us so much that He gave Himself that first Christmas. Wouldn't it be wonderful to reflect that same concern for developing relationships at Christmas?
What can we do then to deepen our friendships with families, friends and others we may come in contact with during the holiday season? What can we do to put the "joy" back into Christmas? What can we do as pastoral families to reduce the amount of stress that descends upon our homes during the Christmas period?
1. Give a Promise
One way of making Christmas contact more personal is to offer to pray for the person you are sending a Christmas card to. Ask the individual to contact you and let you know of any specific requests they may have. if you are creative, you could always design your own card with a Christmas message on one side and the promise of prayer on the other. It is probably the most precious gift you can give.
Suzie asked Carrie and others to pray for her to lose weight as extra pounds piled on due to steroids. The following Christmas, Suzie was thrilled at wearing a smaller dress size for the festive season knowing that many had prayed for her.
2. Regular Notes of Encouragement
Instead of discarding your Christmas cards, keep them on hand and pray for the sender of one of the cards during your devotional time. You can do this several times throughout the year. Afterwards write a note of encouragement to the individual. Keep a basket of notelets with your devotional material and in five minutes your note will be written. Doing this will enhance your relationships with others rather than following the usual routine of only making contact once ayear. Friendships are too valuable not to be maintained.
3. Make Use of the Sales
I always buy and wrap my Christmas presents for the following year in the January sales. Not only does it allow me to buy things at half the cost, I am able to buy things that I feel family and friends would like. It is one way of alleviating the Christmas stress and it frees me to enjoy the season, allowing me to spend more time with others than my cheque book!
4. Create a Tradition
Christmas eve is probably the best part of our Christmas season. In our pastoral home Christmas is usually a time of frenzied activity. Christmas eve is a stop-gap for us. We buy a Chinese meal to be eaten at home, huddle up near an open fire, open one present and just enjoy being with one another. Jonathan and I make time to spend with our children, entering into their excitement of the day to come. I treasure the memories of these times together.
5. Buy One Present
Instead of family members buying one another presents perhaps one family can purchase one gift for another family. The money saved by not buying individual gifts can be given to someone in need. There are many causes that need help particularly during the Christmas period. Deciding on a cause and getting involved practically or financially can enhance our relationships with each other as a project is worked upon.
I read of one family who placed red envelopes on their Christmas tree, containing a donation each person had made to a particular cause. Christmas is a great time to reach out to those in need.
6. Don't Spend a Dime
Instead of giving gifts why don't you give of yourself? During the Christmas season, James and his nephew Donald helped an elderly relative build a patio. Working alongside one another was great. The elderly relatives who were desperate for the patio to be built, valued the gift of time and skill a great deal.
This can be carried through the rest of the year. For Pam's birthday her family plans to spend the day with Pam carrying out general house repairs and working on her garden which causes her much stress. It is much easier to give a gift, but it will strengthen relationships more when we give of ourselves.
7. Getting to Know Others
Christmas is a great opportunity to deepen relationships with neighbors, your children's friends and their parents or colleagues at work. Why not have "Open House" and invite your acquaintances into your home. You need only serve simple snacks and relaxing conversation. You may end up with a friend.
8. Make a Memory
This past Christmas was a really busy one for us. We travelled. We entertained. We met the needs of our extended family. However, the highlight for us was spending the night in an old-fashioned guest house en route to visiting relatives. We slept in a family room, talked and giggled as we tried to get to sleep. We had no one's needs to meet but that of ourselves. The whole experience was cozy, comfortable, and satisfying. In the midst of all the busyness of Christmas, spend time alone with your family. Make that time pleasant. They will remember that long after the presents you buy them.
9. Don't Forget Your Present to God
God's present to us on that first Christmas was His Son. Jesus Christ was born on this earth to give each one of us the opportunity to know God intimately as we were created to.
In response we can give God the chance to make His gift meaningful in our lives by consistently spending time with Him. Why don't you use the Christmas season to examine your relationship with God and see if God's gift is still important in your life?
Relax, you may now enjoy Christmas knowing that you are doing the most important thing of the season by reaching out and deepening your relationship with others. After all, isn't that what Christmas is all about?