Have you started singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” yet? Admittedly, I’m a humming machine right now. The sights, sounds, and nostalgia of the holiday season have drawn me in, and my senses are celebrating from the simple pleasures.

As I snuggle in my cozy blanket on the sofa, candles flicker on our kitchen table, twinkly white lights grace the doorframes, soft music plays in the background, and the aroma of sweet treats permeate the kitchen. (Frozen cookie dough for the win.)

Our girls’ giggles echo from upstairs as they play with their friends, and the song’s stanza “kids jingle belling” brings about new meaning. It’s the kind of easy evening captured in movies. The kind of easy evening in which everyone wishes they could be included — one with friends and family, community and conversation.

And then my eyes skim the rest of our home. I spy the sink flooded with the morning’s dishes, the laundry piles towering on the chair, the foyer stacked with boxes, my overbooked day planner, and somewhere along the way my Normal Rockwell portrait shatters amid real life.

The thought of “parties for hosting” gets tossed to the curb next to the Amazon Prime boxes. Panic sets in. Friends can’t come calling — my house is too small, too disorganized, too loud to practice any kind of hospitality. I hear arguing from upstairs, and those joy filled giggly girls from moments ago are now bickering over outfits.

And we’re expected to sing “Peace on Earth”? Many of us want to practice peace, but this time of year has us floundering. There’s a delicate tension, isn’t there?

Our hearts’ desire is to welcome the long-awaited Advent season with soul-filled expectation, yet we’re pulled in a million directions in our already maxed-out schedule. The reality of purchasing presents puts additional financial pressure to buy stuff that we don’t need with money we don’t have. We’re expected to sign up and show up and sprint from one expectation to another, so how can we seek Him first, savor a simple season, and make meaningful memories?

Simply, we prioritize Whom this Advent season is truly about — the birth, celebration, and wonder of our newborn King, our Savior. We remember what makes it memorable over the course of a lifetime. It’s always the little things that are the big things, like family karaoke to the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” gathering around the table, sleeping under the Christmas tree lights, and picnics on the family room floor. Those are the things they’ll always remember. And lastly, when we solidify our compelling reason why we celebrate in the season, the hows will fall peacefully into place.

When my daughters start reminiscing about why this is their favorite time of the year, not one thing included spending much money. It wasn’t a big present they remembered. It wasn’t the vacation cruise we went on (okay, we never took one so that doesn’t count). It wasn’t all the decorations I spent money on. It was the experiences, the traditions, our Jesse Tree devotional, the music and laughter – the simple times we gathered together.

I have been sharing “It’s the little things that are the big things” since I started writing here, and the best part about it? With history behind me, it’s still true! A peaceful Christmas (and Thanksgiving) can be cultivated by determining your priorities a whole month ahead of time. It will be different for every family, and there’s no one right way to travel through December, but my heart’s desire is to see you embrace its simplicity with expectation.

I’ve purposed in my heart to claim this December as His, and I invite you to join me. This Advent season celebrates our Savior’s birth through the simplest of arrivals, so follow His lead. Don’t over-complicate, over-schedule, and overthink this precious season. Be intentional today about carving margin into your calendar, mark in free days, and guard that down time like it’s your job. Release unrealistic expectations and embrace the beauty that comes from simplicity.

Grace on. Guilt off. We prioritize Jesus first and then enjoy these simple additions.

Here’s my simple to-do list for creating a peaceful Christmas: 

  • Slow down, stop, and sip the eggnog (or coffee with eggnog) or 5 minute homemade hot chocolate.
  • Light the candles and white lights because everything is better with twinkle lights. Take a minute to create a gratitude list and add to it throughout the month.
  • Crank the Christmas carols and dance in the kitchen like no one is watching. Or better yet, gather the kids, embarrass them for a minute, and twirl them around with everyone watching.
  • Give the gift of experiences this year rather than purchases we can’t afford. Statistically, the majority of us will add credit card debt to our already stressed finances. Don’t complicate your January by starting 2020 in the hole. It’s never worth it.  Check out some of the simple experiences we’ve given. 
  • Cultivate strong family ties by adding at least one simple tradition. Start it, commit to it, and in twenty years, that is what everyone will remember. Need inspiration? I’ve been sharing our traditions for a decade here. 
  • Say no to filling your calendar with activities that add stress. Right now, carve out multiple days for simple family or friend time. For peace to reign this month, we must have meaningful margin.
  • Gather often. Just open the door. With friends and family, neighbors and co-workers, time together doesn’t have to be all-consuming; simple gatherings make the season sweeter.

I’ve learned that special moments, created with love and intentionality, are embraced and appreciated just like those that took weeks of planning. So rather than seeing December as a month filled with hectic line items on your busy to-do list, ask God to open your heart to new ways of embracing the joy-filled abundance and peace of the season.

What are some of your ideas to reclaim the season?

I first wrote this for (in)courage and I love some of the ideas suggested there.