Make a Realistic Christmas Plan

***The giveaway winner is…commentor #1 Sarah M! I’ll be emailing you this weekend!”***

Between the city sidewalks and strings of street lights, it’s easy to forget the good the joy of the great tidings we bring. Oh, we know Jesus is the reason for the season. But in our endless to do lists and “just one more thing” we oftentimes neglect the spirit of the season and the hope of Christ for another “have to…”



Wouldn’t it be nice to start December 1 with the details ironed out (as best we can) and the agenda set–knowing where to be when and what to bring? To walk on the first day of the calendar knowing the frivolity—the gifts and cookies and decorating—is secondary.

That our hearts are focused on a person and not a present. 

That we’ve set aside intentional time being and not just doing.

That we know the laughter in “If you don’t get it right, Jesus won’t be born.”

That peace and joy and laughter and smiles and contentment is ours for the taking.

Because Christmas is about our joy in Christ, our hope in Christ being filled up…that even though we wait in desperate longing for his second advent (which is truly what Advent is about!) we have this promise,

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:19

Before the season is completely upon us, it’s good to take an hour or so and plan out our priorities for the Christmas season—what we want to do, how we want to feel, what we want our hearts and minds focused on.

More joy? Less stress? It's possible. If you let go of the crazy.

Make a Realistic Christmas Plan

1. Decide to Simplify

Decide to make room in our hearts and lives of ourselves and family for peace, joy, love, and hope (these also represent the weeks of Advent).  Make Christmas about Christ’s birth and not the superficial–have those, but don’t let them consume what celebrating means. Choose quality over quantity.

2. Know What You Want for Christmas

I don’t mean just presents. Ask some hard questions about your traditions and why you do them, about your expectations of Christmas and what is (or you feel is) expected of you.

Choose a tangible and intangible priority for this Christmas season and focus on that.

3. Plan for Your Christmas Activities

Print out the Streamline Your Christmas Activities printable and write down every event you could attend, date, time, and what you need to bring. Then go back through and prioritize what events actually meet your family’s priorities for the year.

Keep your family sanity a priority and remember your calendar is not your master.

4. Let Go of Stress

This is hard, but doable. Let go of those things that are sucking the life-breath out of you. If it’s giving you proverbial hives and making everything more complicated, then let. it. go. 

Is it the Christmas tree? The 12 dozen cookies you make every year and send out? Is it equally dividing the cost of presents across kids or grandkids? Is it that gift exchange you don’t really care for?

Let it go. 

Christmas is not about doing. Ever. Being? Yes.

Remove what distracts and causes stress and behold Christ.



So…Christmas with less stress and more joy? As my son says, let’s do this!

Catch up on the whole A Joy-Filled Christmas series here.

Photo Credit 2


Streamline Your Christmas Calendar

I’m not here to tell you what can or can’t be on your calendar or how many activities you should or shouldn’t do in a week. That’s for you to decide what best fits your family.

I’m here to ask you a few helpful questions to get you there.

For me, the more things that show up on my calendar my breath constricts and life spins like a whirlwind around me and I can’t quite catch my balance to stand up. I hate that feeling. I hate feeling like I have no control, no choice in what is happening in my family life.

But I do have control. We make choices everyday of what we will allow into our lives. Granted there are certain things we can’t control, but our response and what we say “Yes” to—we can.

What do I mean? When I’m not watching our calendar, when I’m not pacing our in’s and out’s, our family life can become hectic pretty fast. Rather than enjoying the things we’re doing or the people we’re seeing, they become built up stressors ready to explode, because I haven’t taken the time to examine what is really best for us or planned for tight spaces.

Today we’re going to streamline our calendar for December, filling our days with people and events that meet our family’s vision and Christmas, while bringing us the most joy and least stress.

3 Steps to a Better Christmas Calendar

1. Don’t be a slave to the calendar.

Print out a blank December calendar and pull out a piece of paper (or print the Streamline Your Christmas Calendar printables at the bottom of this post).

  • Make a list of all the events you could attend, have attended in the past, you or immediate family want to attend, and events you feel obligated to attend whether you want to or not. Think of church functions, community events, school functions (concerts, plays, parties), service activities, and family gatherings you could attend.

What is physically, emotionally, and financially feasible? Do you still have room to breath?

  • Next to each event write the date and note anything you need to bring to the event (food dish, gift, white elephant gift, ugly sweater, etc).
  • Mark the events with their priority level: Must Do, Like to Do, Obligated, No Preference, Nope!.
  • Starting with the highest priority place the events on your calendar. How fast did it fill up? Does looking at it cause anxiety? Is it something you’re looking forward to?

If you’re feeling that tension, pare down. Leave only what is a high family priority and you all will enjoy.

Printables to Help Streamline Your Christmas Calendar

2. Keep family sanity a priority.

How will the events on your calendar affect your family’s needs? Bedtimes? Sensory issues?

Need for interaction or stimulation? Too much stimulation? Diet? Financial concerns?
How do these events encourage or detract from your tangible and intangible priorities?

3. It’s not set in stone.

Once the month is underway and if you find what is left on your calendar is too much, then cut back. If it turns out you’d really rather not go to another ornament exchange or bring 2 dozen cookies to a cookie decorating party, then don’t!

On the flip side, if you find something you’d really like to do, then do it! Your calendar is not set in stone and you are it’s master.

Don’t be afraid of disappointing others. Remember your aim is less stress and more joy for you and your family. If it’s causing you stress and detracting joy, then let it go.

So often we get to December and wrapped in the season, before we know it we’re overcommitted and stressed out by all the good and fun things to do or attend. They’re not bad, but they may not be best for you and your family, at least right now. Next year will be a new Christmas, another season for your family to evaluate the previous year and work toward what fits your family this year.

After you’ve filled in your calendar and planned all the parties, I hope you have found room to breathe. To laugh and dance and play. I hope you’ll find a few days where spontaneity takes you by surprise, room in your days and heart for little joys.

Don’t spend the Christmas season feeling trapped in a tightly packed schedule or even a light schedule. Leave room for joy. And be brave to do what’s best for your family.

For more joy & less stress

Today start jotting down all the events you’d like to participate in this Christmas season and use the Streamline Your Christmas Calendar printables (Calendar & Activity List) to organize it all!

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Loosening Christmas Expectations

Loosening Christmas Expectations

Expectations often feel like chains when we feel compelled to act instead of eager and willing. By loosening expectations of ourselves and family we’ll stress less, enjoy our family and friends more, and be able to actively participate in the heart of the season.

What Expectations?

When it comes to Christmas, expectations could be mandatory visits to both families, accepting every party invitation, completing a list of daily Christmas activities, and gifts. Gifts seems to be one of the greater expectations at Christmas—it didn’t cost enough, it cost too much, it’s not high enough quality, not enough presents, it’s store bo

ught, it’s handmade, etc.

What’s tricky about expectations is you may not even realize you’ve altered your life to fit someone else’s view.

Expectations often are unspoken. Either it’s the way a relationship has always been without questioning or you can tell if the circumstances of the expectation changed the other party would react negatively. We often play along to the expectations of others to make life easier—we think for both parties, but in reality it really only makes life easier for the other.

With expectations you may not even realize you've altered your life to fit someone else's view. // Loosening Christmas Expecations

Healthy & Realistic Expectations

It’s important to remember not all expectations are negative. It’s good to know what you or your family is hoping for and to honor what is within reason. However, many of the expectations we operate under (especially during times of stress) are unrealistic and unhealthy.

While you might feel like you’re taking one for the team and making everyone happy, unrealistic or unhealthy expectations breed unhealthy behaviors.

When we wear the expectations of others to the point we feel we must do this or things won’t be right, someone will be horribly disappointed or even mad at us, we’re letting this real or perceived expectation control our life.

We’re seeking to please people rather than do what’s best for our family and spirit. Living under undue pressure we become insecure, tiptoeing around fulfilling someone else’s expectations and seeking their approval, instead of resting in Christ and being comfortable in what he’s given us or called us to do.

Living under undue pressure we become insecure, tiptoeing around instead of resting in Christ.Expectations could be mandatory visits to both families even if it means filling up on two Christmas dinners and dragging tired, overstimulated kids across town or to the next county. It doesn’t matter if they enjoy it, as long as they’re there. Or matching present for present what another relative is giving you or a family member. Perhaps you’ve put on the expectation that to make Christmas special you have to do a Bible-based activity every day.

For me, I get nervous and begin to worry what family members think when it comes to Christmas gifts. I’ve made my own gifts (for the most part) for the last 7 – 8 years. Most of my family enjoy and look forward to whatever I’m making for the year. However, some family members aren’t the handmade type. While this has never been said, you can tell by their reaction to homemade gifts that they’d rather do without it.

Last year as I made a list of supplies, I started thinking of how I could make presents look more store bought and fancy. In my head, I needed more gifts or an elaborate project. I wrapped my acceptance in my gift giving and was beginning to hike up my stress meter to appease someone else’s (perhaps) expectation.

I ended up going back to my original list. A gift is not worth putting undue pressure on myself. It’ll only steal my joy.

Examine Your Expectations

Let’s get practical. And honest. It can be uncomfortable, and I’m sure in some families it will be uncomfortable, but that hard lesson of living to please the Lord and not men? We need it.

  • What expectations have you put on yourself? What’s healthy? What’s realistic?

  • What expectations does your immediate family (or those you live with) have? Are they realistic? What’s important to them at/about Christmas?

  • What expectations does your extended family have? Are they healthy? Are they realistic?

Keep expectations, hopes, or wishes that are healthy and meet the goal, the heart, and mission of your family.

Don’t be afraid to disappoint others. Some will be. Talk to them about why these changes are important to you and your family.

For more joy & less stress




Are there areas of your celebration and life where expectations need to be loosened?

Identify some and make a plan (of action) to loosen them.

For more posts in the series visit the A Joy-Filled Christmas page or subscribe to the blog and get posts emailed to you!

Photo Credit 1, 2, 3


A Joy-Filled Christmas Giveaway!

A Joy-Filled Christmas

I know it’s still November, but here’s where I secretly (or rather, not so secretly) admit I’ve been listening to Christmas music as I’ve prepped and written this series the last few weeks. Usually I try to wait until after Thanksgiving, but I couldn’t help myself. (I hope no sensibilities were offended in this confession.)

It’s funny how whenever I’m writing something God tends to try me on my own ideas. “Oh, more joy, less stress? Let’s see how far you believe that.” Because, seriously, looking at December and all the things that could possibly show up on my calendar is stressful. I know my inclination to say “yes” at every turn and I really don’t want to do that.

I want the joy, not the stress. Intentional time being and not just doing. I want peace and joy and laughter and smiles and contentment this Christmas…for me and my family.

I want to be present. So the world and it’s spinning has been tempting this week and I’m trying to turn my face away to better things. To not just show up to every activity, but to be engaged at a heart level, an eye-seeing-eye connection. You?

*deep breaths*

We can do this.

A Joy-Filled Christmas Giveaway from The Reluctant Sojourner

So…while we’re diving into examining our Christmas traditions and what we want our priority to be this Christmas season all the while giving up the stress and embracing the joy, I wanted to share with you some of our Christmas favorites.

The Muppet Christmas Carol – A favorite, kid-friendly Christmas movie. My husband grew up watching this and introduced me to it our first Christmas together. We’ve been singing “It’s in the singing of a street corner choir…” ever since.

Advent Songs by Sojourn – If you’re not listening to Sojourn, you’re really missing out. Seriously. Theologically rich songs, beautiful, lyrical music.

Starbucks Giftcard – Peppermint Mocha. Red cups. Need I say more? It’s a Christmas necessity people.

To Enter…

We’ll make it easy, because who’s got time for 15 different ways to enter? Leave a comment sharing…

your favorite Christmas tradition.


Examining Your Christmas Traditions

Examining Your Christmas Traditions // A Joy-Filled Christmas: Planning Christmas for More Joy & Less Stress

Traditions are built over time as a way of marking what’s important to our family. I like to think of traditions as modern-day altars of remembrances.

“A tradition is the handing down of information, beliefs, worldview from one generation to another by word of mouth and by regular repetition of example, of ceremony, of celebration. For a Christian, tradition is laying up God’s words in our own hearts and passing his words to the next generation.”

Noel Piper, Treasuring God in Our Traditions

Examining Our Traditions

Christmas traditions is an area that often runs away from us, and before we know it our traditions are controlling our holiday rather than helping us prize what’s most important.

A way to help amplify the joy, lessen the stress, and simplify Christmas is to identify the Christmas traditions you currently have and evaluate what works for your family.

  • Are your traditions enjoyable?

  • Do they stay within your budget?

  • Do they propel your family closer to each other and Christ?

What’s important to your family?

Traditions are tools, not commands.

When examining our Christmas traditions it’s important to keep our whole family in mind. It’s easy as curators of our home to pick traditions that are most appealing to ourselves.

Think of your spouse and children—what do they enjoy and value? What traditions draw their heart toward Christ at Christmas? What do you want to pass on to your children?

Consider how your traditions reflect the vision and mission of your family, as well as your yearly priority. Sometimes simplifying means redefining our traditions, perhaps eliminating some, so that we are moving toward our end game–Christ in you, the hope of glory.

One tradition we’re doing this year is celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. We’ve never made Santa a focal point of our Christmas, but he’s also never been completely excluded. We’ve taken pictures with Santa and have a few books and toys with Santa, but we’ve never had the kids write Santa a Christmas list or pretend gifts are from Santa. In the last few months, my oldest son has started asking more questions about Santa, how presents get to our house, and who gives us presents.

By celebrating St. Nicholas Day, I hope he sees the historical “Santa,” but more importantly how Nicholas’ giving was out of a generous heart that loved Jesus and he gave greatly because so much had been given to him through Christ. We’ll have a few small things in stockings for the day (a new ornament and a candy cane), as well as $10 for the kids to pick something to give to another child in need (maybe a toy for Toys for Tots or something from the Compassion Christmas catalog).

Finally ask, “Why do we do this?”

Is this tradition something you’ve always done, decided to do one year and it just stuck? Was it a tradition passed on from your families, do you even like it, or do you feel compelled to do it?

Why are we celebrating St. Nicholas Day this year? I don’t want my children’s Christmas’ filled with more stuff and I most definitely don’t want their hearts to look to Christmas and see Santa and getting and ‘more for me.’ I want them to look to Christmas and see the humility of the God-Son coming as a baby to save their souls.

I want them to look to Christmas and see the generosity of a servant, whom culture has turned into a reason to pile high the tree skirt, who loved greatly and gave greatly without looking for something in return. I want them to look to Christmas and see the sacrifice of Jesus that brought redemption.

Print a copy of Examining Our Christmas Traditions and make a plan for what traditions you hope to do this year and why. #MoreJoyLessStress

Traditions as Remembrances

As I’ve thought of traditions I’m reminded of the altars God’s people built as they journeyed through life. I see them as stone pillars set in a field and as each generation passes they’re reminded of what God did for them there, in that place.

Our traditions can be a similar place of remembrance for our families. They can be a way we say, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, my rock of remembrance, knowing where my help comes from.”

Remember traditions are tools, not commands.

If it doesn’t work drop it or change it.

A Gentle Reminder: As a young family, you don’t have to continue every tradition each of your respective families have done. Pick what you want, but remember you’re making your own family now. This is your family–not your parents, not your grandparents. You can break from past traditions to adopt new ones that fit the vision for your family.

For more joy & less stress

Print a copy of Examining Our Christmas Traditions and make a plan for what traditions you hope to do this year and why.

What do they say about your family and what you’re remembering?

This Christmas choose joy. #MoreJoyLessStress

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