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Writer, Retreat Leader, Resource Creator
As a child, I loved Christmas. As a young adult, I grew to love Advent, this season of darkness preparing for the light that will begin in four weeks (can’t you see me jumping for joy inside?) As a pastor, I began to feel cheated of this season, both of Advent and Christmas.
Part of it is the church season, and part of it is the commercialized Christmas. Commercial Christmas starts today, really. The music is being played in stores and the decorations are up and the sales have started. In the church season, Advent starts, as I said, in about four weeks (this year it is the Sunday after Thanksgiving) and in the traditional church, one did not play Christmas music until Christmas eve. Advent carols were OK (think “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”) but not real Christmas Carols (no “Joy to the World” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” until Christmas Eve, when one would expect to be remembering the angels singing).
So, in the midst of the preparation of the church life, in preparing candle-liturgies and Christmas Eve Candlelight services and caroling and pageants and all that, by the time a pastor gets through this busy season, it’s Christmas Day–and after Christmas Day, the music is turned off in public, for Commercial Christmas is over. Sure, there’s some festive and cheer until New Year’s but it’s wracked with the after-Christmas sales and exchanges and gift card hoopla.
I’m an adult who still likes to celebrate Christmas as a child. I want to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the “Charlie Brown Christmas” and the *original* “Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” By the time I get through the Advent season, I’ve missed out on most of the preparation for Christmas that is part of the Commercial Christmas that I love, and I really can’t experience the Church Advent and Christmas seasons in the same way.
So here are my Top Ten Tips for Celebrating Christmas (When You’re the Pastor)
1. Practice what you preach. If you believe Christmas is overcommercialized, then don’t worry about missing the sales or needing to start shopping in July. Advent Conspiracy is a great source of resources not only for your congregation, but for yourself. Another great way to give gifts is through Heifer you can give the gifts of animals to communities in need throughout the world.
2. If you are into TV Christmas specials like me, you can check out this site for a schedule of your favorites. Note: it is not always accurate. I already mentioned my favorites above. And who can forget the 24 hour TBS marathon of A Christmas Story? You can always catch that!
3. Practice Advent at home. Make your own wreath, light your own candles, spend some time in the dark. It takes effort–my husband and I have tried to do this every year and I don’t recall a year when we have made it past the second week (most years we haven’t made it past the first) but every year I at least try to mark Advent at home rather than only at church.
4. Listen to Christmas music if you enjoy it. Who cares about the church tradition when the rest of the world is already singing “Angels We Have Heard On High.” You can still keep it out of your Sunday morning service if you practice the tradition, but go ahead and let a little of the spirit into your car while driving or even your office.
5. Decorate. I am one of those annoying people who likes to get out the Christmas decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving. NOT before, though–I do think we need to allow for Thanksgiving to take place, but soon after, get out the lights and the decorations. I know from my experience, if you wait, then everything ends up happening at the last minute.
6. Accept gifts. When your congregation wants to give you gifts, accept them and don’t worry about giving something back, because your ministry presence is a gift to them. (Thank you notes are always appreciated, but you can wait until after New Year’s).
7. Take the week off between Christmas and New Year’s. Unless there has to be a funeral, rarely will anyone call you that week, anyway. Enjoy some time for yourself and family. If you didn’t get to listen to Christmas carols the whole season, play them at home this week.
8. Breaking the rule in tip #5 only slightly, write your Christmas cards (and Christmas letter if you do one) BEFORE Thanksgiving. If you’re doing one of those cutsie photocards (we do) and you need to wait to take the picture, at least have your address list ready and stamps purchased. That way you’re not trying to find a weeknight in Advent without something going on to write them.
9. Plan on a Christmas event–either a concert, caroling, get-together, party, whatever it is–outside of your church life. Go to another church’s Christmas concert. Go to a friend’s party, even if it means canceling (or at least skipping) a church meeting. Do something fun and festive for the season that is not work-related for you.
10. Know that things happen out of your control. You may still have to do a Christmas Eve service that is timed at the same time as the family Christmas Eve dinner. You will have to get up on Christmas morning this year and go to work. Someone may die right before Christmas (happened my last year at my last church) and you will have to plan a funeral in that time. Whatever happens, and whenever it happens, remember to close your office door, turn off the phone, and play a favorite Christmas carol, remembering that Christ’s birth also reminds us of the newness of life, available in every moment: a chance to begin again.