We can be more effective leaders and teachers when we plan ahead. When we look ahead and make decisions early, we have time to think about what our family really needs and what we can realistically do. We can make Christmas 2014 more effective if we take the time to make a few notes now about any changes we wish to make and then set a schedule to accomplish what we really want to do.
Most of my children as well as most of my grandchildren live far from me. This means that I must consider not only what presents I want to give to them but how to get the gifts delivered. I tried for several years to individualize the gifts but realized that I want the same blessings for all my children and grandchildren. I love them all and do not play favorites. I decide what I want to give each of my sons, each of my daughters, and each grandchild, not particularly what they want but what I want them to have. I purchase or create a few gifts, but I send the bulk of my Christmas gifts in the form of money for the parents to purchase whatever they need or want for their home and family. Sometimes the money is used to purchase Christmas gifts for their family. Sometimes it is used to purchase season ski lift tickets. Sometimes it is used to purchase an item for the home or put in savings towards a future purchase.
Since my actual gifts are usually few and small, I spend a great deal of time thinking about I want to give. There are some definite “lessons” that I want to share with my children and grandchildren, and these lessons concern the gospel of Jesus Christ, family, and patriotism. My gifts almost always fall within one or more of those categories. I already have some ideas for next year; I am currently in the planning process and will soon start the actual creation.
Many years ago I told my children that there were not many “things” I needed and I could purchase whatever I wanted. I told them that I wanted pictures of their families, and I usually receive several family pictures as well as individual pictures. I suggested that they do service for someone else and share their experience with me; these “gifts” have brought much happiness to me.
I try really hard to keep my focus on the Savior in my plans and in my celebration of Christmas, and I have some suggestions for parents with children still in the homes or gifts from grandparents. One of the most obvious ways to focus more on the Savior is to have Christ-centered decorations. I believe that every home needs at least one Nativity scene. No home actually needs as many Nativity sets as I own but having something Christ-centered here and there among the decorations is very pleasing to me.
A friend of mine recently shared how her focus is usually on finding the perfect gifts, preparing the most wonderful feast, and having the most beautiful decorations. She said that after working so hard to have everything perfect, she usually came away from her Christmas celebration less than satisfied. This year her family decided to focus on the Savior instead of the gifts, food, and decorations. They decided to have a small family devotional each evening in which they would share a scripture and/or a Christmas story and sing a Christmas hymn about the Savior. Even though there were nights when the family could not do the devotional, she said that her December was much different than usual and she was better prepared to have a more meaningful Christmas.
Other parents decided to use their family home evening each week to focus on the Savior. The various lessons during December could focus on a single aspect of the Christmas story. One week the focus could be on the symbols of Christmas and how they relate to Jesus Christ and His birth. Another lesson could focus on the shepherds, and the family could dress as shepherds, eat the simple food of shepherds, and the discussion could be about how the shepherds must have felt as they saw and heard the angel telling of the birth of Christ and then traveled to the stable where they actually saw the Son of God. Still another lesson could be about the wise men, and the family could dress as the wise men and discuss their gifts to the Christ Child and how they must have felt when they saw the star and followed it to the house where the young child lived with Mary and Joseph. Yet another lesson could be about the gifts that the family could give to the Savior, such as making cookies for the neighbors, serving in the community, etc. Many families enjoy acting out the full Nativity story on Christmas Eve.
I encourage you to spend some time thinking about what you liked and what you did not like about your December and your Christmas celebration. Think about what you want to continue doing and what you would like to change. Dream big – but be realistic. I know that Christmas can be more fulfilling if we plan ahead and start early in our preparations. I know that sharing more meaningful Christmas celebrations can strengthen families, communities, and nations.