by Julia Q | Dec 29, 2014 | A Composed Christmas, Executing Grace
Traditionally the day after Christmas when people boxed alms for the poor or when employers gave servants a Christmas Box.
In our house it ranges from boys boxing each other as the excitement and exhaustion of Christmas finally catches up with us to boxing up Christmas (in the odd years when we are traveling right away and won’t be home for weeks).
If you are like me at this point, the momentum of the Christmas has come to a crashing halt and you are sitting in a bit of lethargy looking at the things that will have to be packed away soon.
Not yet, but soon.
When that day comes, it may be good to have some ideas for packing up the annual decorations with next year in mind. We also like to think through what worked this year and what we would like to change for next year.
So here are some tips to file away to make packing (and unpacking) more efficient:
- Decorating is exciting. Packing away? Not so much. Plan a celebration for when the house is back to normal. If you drink a cup of cocoa as a family when the tree is finished, consider drinking a cup of cocoa when the last pine needle is swept away.
- While you are all together, talk about what you did/didn’t like about this Christmas season. Decide what you’d like Christmas to look or feel like next year. Write it down. File it. Next year you’ll know what to include in your schedule and what to avoid. I also put a reminder on my calendar on November 1st to remind myself where I filed the plan so we will be reminded of want to do differently with time to accomplish it.
- Pack Advent supplies in their own box so that you can get them out by December 1st, even if the rest of the decorating needs to wait. We like to include our advent calendars, our German Pyramid, and our nativity sets in this box, so they are among the first thingsout. A post-it note with any new traditions we want to start next year makes a great addition to this box, too.
- Pack all your Christmas music, books, coasters, and blankets away with the Christmas decorations. It frees up lots of space for the rest of the year and increases the appeal of seeing them again when Christmas rolls around.
- Wrap lights around paper towel tubes. Plug ends into each other to keep from unraveling. Stuff the extra bulbs inside the tube. Next year plug them in before unwinding to verify that they work.
- Pack ornaments by person. Last year we bought a plastic bin for each child. When we packed ornaments, each one wrapped and stored their ornaments in their own bin. This year tree-decorating stress was dramatically reduced. There were no fights over similar-looking ornaments, no congestion waiting for Mommy to unwrap and distribute ornaments, and no tears over “missing” ornaments that would later be found at the bottom of the box. Someday, when they are ready to decorate their own tree, it’ll be easy to “gift” them their ornament bin. I keep a fine-tipped, permanent marker in our ornament bin to label any new ornaments as we decorate.
- Take a page out of Bob the Builder’s book… Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! Cut off card fronts for use as gift tags next year. Or make gift boxes out of greeting cards. It’s a simple way to make the most out of those expensive cards you receive. If you feel funny about having writing on the inside of your box, you can use card stock for the bottom. We read all the cards one last time and then cut off the covers to use next year.
- Make a place mat out of Christmas photos you received. Paste special photos onto 16″ x 12″ piece of poster board. You can overlap or trim photos if needed. Use a metallic marker to add names to photos that aren’t labeled, flip it over and add more photos to make it double sided. Don’t forget to include the year somewhere! Our local office supply store will laminate this for about $3. It is a fun memory builder over the years, and a great way to clean off the refrigerator! I hate throwing all those pictures away.
- Store your wreath hanger in the bag or box with the wreath. We actually store all of the outdoor decorations and their hangers in one box. The outdoor lights are in there, too. So if we have a nice day, we only have to pull out one box and the ladder to get going. If you have lots of duplicate tools laying around, you could also add any tools you always need for this project.
- Pack a box with all of the Christmas wrap, bags, bows, tissue. Purchase additional tags & wrap at after Christmas sales. Store this box in the front of your decorations for easy access. This will free up room wherever you normally keep gift wrap.
- Replace any needed items via after Christmas sales. There will be reduced prices on lights, trees, gift wrap, ornaments, etc. If something wasn’t working this year, now is the time to replace it.
- Make candy cane syrup from all those candy canes left lying around. This is great in hot chocolate or on vanilla ice cream. It’s easy and makes pretty gifts. Pink? Think Valentines!
- Update your Christmas mailing list before you discard the envelopes from this year’s cards.
- Pack up special Christmas clothes with your decorations. If your sweaters, Santa hat, and bell necklaces are in the same bin as your advent calendar, you can get both out to enjoy by Dec. 1, even if the rest of your decorations are still waiting.
As you pack away “Christmas” be sure to recount the memories from this year and Christmases past. And… don’t pack away Jesus. He was born to be a part of your whole year.
by Julia Q | Dec 19, 2014 | A Composed Christmas
One of the traditions my kids love most during the Christmas season is making a birthday cake for Jesus. We usually do this on Christmas Eve, or sometimes on December 23, so we can have a cake for Jesus’ birthday party.
We decorate the cake differently every year. One year we put the gingerbread nativity on top of it. Another year we simply wrote “Happy Birthday.” Some years we cover the cake with lots of sprinkles, other years we simply spread icing. Every year we like to add candles. I think we’ve settled on one for each person in our family, though 2,000+ candles were suggested at one point.
With so many sweets and desserts already in our home over the holidays, I sometimes wonder why we’ve chosen to add another into the mix. For us, the point is to mark Christmas as the day Christ was born in the same way we celebrate our birthdays. Jesus is real. He was really born. He still lives. He needs a cake. It’s just what we do when we celebrate birthdays of people we love.
So when do we have cake?
I know a lot of families celebrate Christmas with Santa, and that’s great. “Doing Santa” doesn’t eliminate the possibility of having a cake, nor does it mean the parents are syncretistic pagans. I’ve known plenty of godly men and women who include Santa as part of their Christmas traditions and still teach their kids that Christmas is about Christ.
That said, our family doesn’t “do Santa” in the traditional sense. Our kids know all about Santa, the reindeer, the gifts & coal, along with the historical St. Nicholas, his generosity, and his gentle Christlikeness. We hang stockings and everyone in the family spends the month of Advent thinking of small treats and gifts for others and secretly slipping them into the stockings. It is really fun to watch the stockings go from skinny to bulging as the month progresses.
Since we don’t do Santa, our Christmas mornings look a little different than many. We focus the whole day on Jesus’ birthday party.
We start with breakfast – homemade cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate, sausages, fruit salad – and once tummies are full and the kitchen is clean (and usually lunch preparations have begun), we read the full text of the Christmas story that we’ve read in pieces during Advent. We sing some of the carols we’ve worked hard to learn during our Advent celebration, letting each person pick their favorite. Then we open presents. The unique thing about Jesus’ birthday party is that all the attendees get the gifts. We remind the kids Jesus came to give us the gift of eternal life and also left his Spirit to give us gifts to serve in the church. When we get hungry, we eat the lunch we’ve been cooking in the background and finish with birthday cake. We actually sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. We usually have the youngest child blow out the candles, which works well because every few years we seem to have a new youngest child. At some point we’ll need to figure out a way to spread around the candle blowing so the older kids can participate in blowing out candles again. And sometime between lunch and bedtime, we like to watch The Nativity Story together.
There are lots of ways to incorporate birthday cake into Christmas. Most don’t involve a “birthday party” per se, nor do they have to. But making a birthday cake is a small thing that draws our attention back to what Christmas is all about. It focuses us.
We can use it to remember Jesus is real and still living. Or maybe we see the candles as a reminder of the Light of the world. Analogies abound: the sweetness of walking with Christ, the darkness of sin (since we usually make a dark chocolate cake) swallowed up by the cross, the moment when “it is finished” i.e. the cake is gone…
No, every bite doesn’t have to be full of significance, but every year some piece of significance fills us and reminds us of the hope we have because Christ was born. I’d say that makes the extra effort (and calories) worthwhile.
by Julia Q | Dec 17, 2014 | A Composed Christmas
I love Christmas. I love the music, the decorations, the air of expectation, and the lights. Oh, how I love the lights! Truly Christmas is a season of light.
We hang icicle lights from the eaves of our home, put flameless candles in the windows, hang a lighted wreath on the door, add strings of light over the fireplace, and decorate lighted trees upstairs and downstairs.
During the weeks leading up to Christmas, our family likes to drive to look at the lights on Main Street. We like to drive through neighborhoods and see the lights on houses. We like to read the Christmas story by candlelight in the evenings.
Our church, like many churches, ends the Christmas program with a candlelight service as we sing Silent Night.
The candlelight service is one of my favorite things. Our congregation leaves the pews and lines the walls of the sanctuary holding unlit candles in an unbroken ring. Deep silence fills the room when the lights are turned off. My husband takes the candle from the center of the Advent wreath and with its flame lights the candles on his right and left. Each candle comes to life as the flame is passed from one person to the next. One by one the candles share light until the faces across the sanctuary appear in the warm glow. Then a single voice begins “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Like the flame, other voices join and sing of the Light of the world, “All is calm, all is bright.” And for a moment, all is bright.
It is such a beautiful picture of the gospel. One Light pierced the darkness and touched others who spread the light. One by one as the flame passed from one heart to the next, the boundaries of darkness receded and light filled the world.
I think I love the lights at Christmas because each tiny pinpoint reminds me of the saints who collaborated so my heart could shine. I was not at Christ’s right or left side for him to start the circle with me. It took centuries of faithful saints on fire for Christ, touching the lives of others, to bring the light to my place in history.
When I gaze at a light display and see the beauty a collection of lights brings, it reminds me of the collection of saints to which I belong. I do not stand alone. We are called to light the world with the grace and beauty of Christ. As we take the light He ignites in our hearts and touch others with His love, we push back the boundaries of darkness.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5
I think I love the lights at Christmas because they remind me that darkness has not, can not, and will not overcome the light. A single point of light pierces the darkness. A single point of light draws the eye and stirs the heart to long for more. That first candle in our service reminds me a single point of eternal Light shone in the darkness one Christmas night long ago. That Light ignited the hearts of men and it no longer shines alone. Saints from ages past right up to the present stand shoulder to shoulder in an unbroken ring. As the circle of light widens to encompass all of history, we see faces across the centuries appear in the light of His word. And our voices join the ancient melody:
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
radiant beams from thy holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
This Christmas, won’t you take time to celebrate the light? Do you have time to look into the heavens and gaze at the stars? Can you find time to load the kids up in the car and search for the lights? Is there someone you can touch with the Light?
by Julia Q | Dec 10, 2014 | A Composed Christmas, Executing Grace
OK. So now it’s December 10th and school will be getting out soon, right?
When we had kids in school, every year I was surprised by the last day and found myself scrambling for a good teacher gift. Now that we homeschool everyone, I don’t have that problem, but I was caught *almost* unprepared for our exterminator last week. He always comes on the first Wednesday of the month; so, thankfully I remembered we wouldn’t see him again until after Christmas in time to get his gift ready.
This really shouldn’t have happened. I’ve been working on Christmas since July to prevent scrambling at the last minute. I really did plan gifts for our service-ers, but December 2nd came really early.
So, if you’ve got folks who serve your family in various ways and you would like to remember them with a gift, it’s time to pull out that list and get moving!
If you can’t decide what to get and would like to move beyond cash or check, here are some simple ideas for teachers, letter carriers, waste transfer specialists (a.k.a. trash men), exterminators, neighbors, etc. There’s nothing amazing about any of these ideas, but they might get you thinking, anyway. If you opt for simple gifts, it increases the likelihood you’ll have time to rest and enjoy giving the gifts rather than stress about getting them together.
- A tin or platter of cookies.
- A cellophane bag of chocolate dipped pretzels or other homemade candies (butter mints, peppermints, caramels).
- A popcorn bowl with un-popped popcorn, boxes of candy, and a Redbox certificate for a movie night.
- A gift card to a local coffee shop tucked inside a Christmas mug.
- A pair of slipper socks, a bottle of nice lotion, and some dark chocolate.
- A mason jar filled with homemade cocoa mix.
- A mason jar filled with a dry baking mix.
- A mason jar filled with layers of dried foods and spices for soup.
- Homemade jelly or jam.
- Grocery gift card.
- Gas card.
- A photo calendar with pictures from the classroom.
You can get fancy, if you like, and check Pinterest for ideas on puns and cute sayings to go with your gifts (“Thanks for getting me out of a JAM” on a jar of jam for your mechanic…). Or, you could wrap them simply and let them stand on their own. In the interest of peace and rest during the holidays, I vote for simple wrap.
by Julia Q | Dec 3, 2014 | A Composed Christmas, Executing Grace
So here we are in December. If you’ve been composing Christmas with me since July or September, now is when all our hard work begins to pay off.
All the carefully laid plans begin to play out. It’s the first week of December, and our letters/cards have been mailed. Parties are planned. Invitations issued. Boxes of gifts are sitting in my office waiting for a trip to town to be mailed.
On Monday we began our Advent celebrations – and you can join us this year! We also decorated our house for Christmas. I’m a little behind on wrapping gifts, so our tree is still bare beneath the lowest branches, but we’ll catch up. It’s a small thing, really.
And this week in the Quillen house, we get to celebrate Dipping Day. On Saturday we’ll pull out all the candy centers, cookie dough, and cookies we prepared during October and dip, bake, and decorate to our heart’s content. It’ll be messy. It’ll be loud. And I *hope* it’ll be fun. (Seven kids and lots of sugar and chocolate… it could go either way!)
But the best thing about having so much done in advance is the ability to enjoy this season with the unexpected curve balls thrown into our path. December is shaping up a bit differently than I expected! This week we added basketball practice to an already full schedule and I found out I’m needed as the coach for my daughter’s cheer squad. I certainly hadn’t planned on that!
I like to Compose Christmas so I can focus on Christ. By planning ahead and distributing over several months all the busyness that seems to distract and overwhelm me, I clear a way to rest in Christ, to marvel at his gift, and to place my hope on the child in the manger who grew to save me from way more than a hectic and distracted December.
So, here’s where irony enters.
I have spent months planning and preparing our schedule and home so I could focus on the hope born at Christmas, and now I am tempted to place my hope in my schedule, plans, and effort. It’s so easy to (mis)place my hope in my effort instead of in Christ.
Yet the whole point of composing Christmas was so that I would be free from distraction and could abound in His hope. Romans 15:13 says,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Do you see that? God fills me with hope, joy and peace, not my planning. The power of the Holy Spirit gives me abundant hope, not my power to schedule things well. Peace comes from Christ, not my composition of Christmas.
Oh my heart is so easily deceived! I so easily exchange the peace I was seeking for my method of seeking peace. I can shift from being careful to protect my schedule so I can live a life of worship in December to worshipping my schedule. I begin to shift from serving the Creator to serving my creation (Romans 1:25).
But there is hope for me. And hope for you, if you, like me, are clinging a little too tightly to your plans, or taking pride in your effort, or marveling in the work of your hands. Christ came to give us hope. Christ came to wrest the idols from our hearts and free us from idolatry and slavery. Christ came to draw our hearts back to him when we stray to worshipping our efforts to love him instead of loving him.
I hope to enjoy the fruit of my labors during this crazy-busy time of year. And I plan to take some time this morning to commit my ways to the Lord, to refresh my mind and heart with the hope of Christ, to offer up my schedule and plans to Him. Isn’t that why we planned and worked so hard? Today I want to sit at Jesus’ feet and choose the good portion (Luke 10:41-42). I want to know his peace. I want to know him.
If you’ve been with me since July or September, won’t you join me in this, too?
by Julia Q | Nov 12, 2014 | A Composed Christmas, Executing Grace
I don’t know about you, but I have spent a lot of years rushing through Christmas only to arrive at Boxing Day a little perplexed about why this year didn’t feel like Christmas and a little discouraged that my family was focused more on gifts than The Gift.
Part of my plan to rescue Christmas from the rush has been to compose the Christmas I want – and we’ve been working on that since July. But I can schedule all the tasks in advance and still miss Christ at Christmas.
If I want to trade the rush of the season for the hush of the stable, I have to intentionally plan to spend time focusing on Christ each day. If I want my kids to savor the Savior, I need to serve him daily in their presence.
I’ve tried a lot of different “Advent traditions” over the years – and it all comes down to one thing: is it doable? See, with seven kids ranging from two to fourteen, the busyness of the church calendar, the school calendar, the special events calendar, the sports calendar, and all the other things that crowd into the room during December, if we don’t have something short and simple, it won’t get done.
So several years ago, I created an advent calendar for our family. It has simple cards with a small portion of scripture to read each day, a suggested hymn or carol, and a principle of Christmas to memorize (we have a total of seven principles to learn over the course of the season). We repeat this exact same schedule every.single.year. And now, many of my kids know the first (and sometimes second) verse of certain hymns by heart. They know the motions we’ve put to the principles and look forward to the unhurried unfolding of the Christmas story over the month of December. It takes 5 minutes if we are in a hurry, and longer if we can break out guitars, violins, or gather around the piano. Sometimes we light candles as we read about the light of the world, sometimes we read quickly and rush off to school or to bed or a to party. And some days we miss it altogether and need to catch up on a different day.
We’ve managed to incorporate this short Advent tradition for over ten years (mixing it up a bit from year to year). It forms a sweet part of our Christmas traditions and memories. It brings the mystery of Christ at Christmas to the table every day. It’s short enough for the toddler to pay attention and brief enough that we can succeed.
This year, you are invited to join us!
I’ve added a Bible Study and devotion for the moms, derived from the verses we’ll read as a family each day. I made some cute printables with a couple of ideas for how to create your own advent calendar. I’m still working on including sound files for the hymns and carols so you can sing along if the tunes are not familiar. And in 2014 the whole package is FREE!
Enrollment begins November 19. If you subscribe to this study you’ll get:
- Daily email with a brief devotion and directed Bible study for moms to dig into the scripture for the day.
- FREE printables and instructions for creating your own Advent Calendar
- Daily Reading Plan for the whole family
- Suggested hymn or carol tied to the reading for the day
- Ideas for activities for the kids
- Memory verses and principles to learn from the Christmas Story
- Fun give aways for Advent Study participants
You’ll also have access to an exclusive Facebook group to share ideas, photos, encouragement, and prayers as we study together. And you can follow my Savor the Savior board on Pinterest for more ideas of how to bring the Christ of Christmas into your December days.
**Please note, subscribing to the Advent Study is different than subscribing to Cultivate Grace. If you subscribe to the study you’ll receive daily emails from December 1-25, and then they’ll stop. It will not interrupt or replace your Cultivate Grace subscription. You’ll continue to get my blog posts as scheduled, year round, if you are subscribed to Cultivate Grace. You will not get the Advent Study emails unless you subscribe to the study itself.**
Enrollment opens next Wednesday, November 19, 2014. The printables and instructions for creating your advent calendar will come via email so that you have time to prepare before the study begins on December 1. Please feel free to join any time! It’s never too late to jump in. 🙂
I also encourage you to share this study with others! Share on Facebook, forward the email, pin it on Pinterest! Let’s Savor the Savior this Christmas.