Monday, November 26, 2012
Christmas Challenge is BACK!
It all boils down to this. We are in the final days of November. The turkey sacrificed his life for our bellies, the cornucopias are packed away in the attic for another 11 months or so, and our weekends are being filled with ladders leaned against houses and staple guns and strands of icicle lights.
And I'm about to explode with excitement.
Why is that? Why is it that the day before Thanksgiving feels so much different from the day after? Why is it that life changed overnight after the silver platters and carving knives were packed away?
And why is it that the closer I get to 40, the more I heart Christmas?
As I sit typing this blog, my Pandora station is set on Michael Buble Christmas, and the fact is, though the same songs come on over and over, I never hit skip a single time. The fact is, I've had my tree up since the first weekend of November, and I've been waiting on the world to catch up to my excitement. The fact is, I look forward to Ellie the Elf's mischief every single day of this season and I hate it when she goes home Christmas Day. And the fact is, I'd move Heaven and earth to get my kiddos their heart's very desire from start to finish of this glorious time of year.
The real fact is-- if we don't deliberately make Christmas special for our kids, it will come and go and we will find ourselves on January 1 wishing we had slowed down a little more--- looked at their faces a little closer as they soaked in the lights and sounds... ate a few more cookies with them... watched a few more cheesy Santa movies.
Fact is-- Christmas has to be done on purpose.
Last year, I posted a blog with a 25 day Christmas challenge. This year, I'm doing another one-- and it's going to be 31 days long. Don't feel married to it-- but rather, use it as a guideline, an idea sparker if you will- to make this Christmas the best one you've ever had so far. Not that the ideas are mountain moving (though I think they are pretty fun), but they are simply simple ways to pause and soak in the moments around you in the middle of the chaos, the tangled lights, and the endless appetizer platters you have to make for the 244 parties you attend. Some of the things I've listed were in last year's blog. Some are new. The ideas are all pretty non-time consuming and relatively inexpensive, and even if your kids are way past the Santa years, I promise they'll enjoy the sentiment behind it all... In fact, one thing I learned in my decade of pastoring youth is that they'll put up with dorky if it means time with YOU.
Ready? Let's jingle.
DEC 1- Have a movie night and enjoy one of the greatest Christmas movies of recent years-- ELF. (ABC Family), 8pm eastern. No phones/computer/distractions allowed. Only the tree lights, popcorn, and hot chocolate in your pajamas.
DEC 2- While everyone is still asleep, hang candy canes all over the house, from the curtain rods in the living room to the refrigerator doors. Give everyone 3 minutes to find the most. The winner gets a pair of dorky Christmas socks to wear that day-- (after church, of course).
DEC 3- Make a list of all the people you want to bless with cookies and goodies this Christmas. Include the mailman, the garbage dudes, the crossing guard you pass every day, the pediatrician, and your neighbors. As your kids name people, have them explain why they want to bless them. Try to think outside the box from grandma, their BFF, etc.
DEC 4- Santa Stuff. Get a sweatsuit that's way too big. Blow up balloons, and put them in a trash bag. Line the kids up on the other end of the room from you. On GO, they run a balloon to you and stuff it in your sweatsuit. Keep on until your suit is filled with balloons. Give them candy canes for prizes.
DEC 5- Write a solider or two. Wish them a Merry Christmas and thank them for giving up their holiday with their family so you could be with yours. www.letterstosoldiers.org.
DEC 6- Only cold stuff for dinner tonight. Yep. Celebrate the North Pole with ice cream sundaes (red and green toppings only), ice cold sodas, and if you're freaking out at the junk food on a school night, frozen fruit.
DEC 7- Make snowflakes, old school style. You know, where you fold a paper several times into a square and cut little niches and nooks out of it. Have each person make 2-3 and talk about how each one is different from the other ones they made and how we are all different from each other. Hang the finished products in your windows.
DEC 8- Baking Day! Make cookies and yummies for all the people you listed earlier. Order pizza for lunch and be sure you're playing Christmas music really loudly!
DEC 9- Take a walk. Like, a walk. With no cell phones (unless you're taking pictures), and soak up the lights in a park, or your neighborhood. While you walk, play "name that tune" with humming Christmas carols.
DEC 10- Make up a Christmas scavenger hunt. The basics of any scavenger hunt is to put a clue to the next clue, which leads to the next clue, and so forth... and it can be in your house, throughout your neighborhood, or across town. Make the prize at the end a bag of Christmas candy for each player-- their favorite kind!
DEC 11- Now, be safe with this one-- but use tapered pillar candles on stands. Give each player a water gun, where she stands across the table from her candle and tries to shoot her flame out. The first player to achieve a flameless candle wins.
DEC 12- Make Christmas pizza. Only use red and green toppings... think pepperoni, green peppers, green onion, tomatoes, etc. Serve Sprite colored with green food coloring.
DEC 13- Today begins the 12 days of Christmas. Play the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" ALL. DAY. LONG. Drive everyone crazyyyyy.
DEC 14- Take a picnic to a local park that's all lit up, and eat on a blanket under the lights... even if it's really cold outside. It's Friday, so stay out a little later on purpose-- go for ice cream afterwards!
DEC 15- Hide and go seek, using only Christmas tree lights to see by. For fun, you could also buy a blinking Rudolph nose for a dollar and the "seeker" has to wear it.
DEC 16- At dinner, play the ABC game. Everyone has to go around and name something they like about Christmas that starts with the letter of their letter of the alphabet. (The first person has "A", the second has "B", and so forth until the whole alphabet is done).
DEC 17- Make everyone wear a Santa hat all evening after school and work. If someone is caught without her/his hat on, a piece of fruitcake is the punishment.
DEC 18- It's a week until Christmas. Write everyone's names on little pieces of paper and have everyone draw a name out of the bowl. Load everyone up for a trip to the Dollar Tree. Give everyone a dollar (plus tax) and have them buy an appropriate gift for their person. Encourage everyone to put thought into why they are buying it-- for instance "I bought my sister a pink brush because pink is her favorite color" or "I bought Daddy a pack of pencils so he would quit using mine." Have everyone wrap them and put them under the tree. You may have to shop in two shifts so everyone has privacy and supervision in their purchasing.
DEC 19- Sit down and have a family meeting about how you can bless someone before the month is up. Like coffee to a cold crossing guard, cookies to a nursing home, thank you cards to an emergency room staff, or even serving food at a homeless shelter. Make it a non-negotiable that everyone participates as a family, and then choose your day on the calendar before January 1.
DEC 20- Now would be a good time to get a last minute letter to Santa in the mail. In fact, have everyone write one. Even Mommy, Daddy, and the grumpiest big teenage brother in the house. Mail them to the North Pole! Then, have everyone go to their rooms for a toy clean out. Give everyone a trash bag, and have them choose at least 5-10 good items to bless someone with. (See Christmas Eve for what to do next).
DEC 21- You know those Salvation Army people who ring the bells outside of stores? They're everywhere this weekend, as it's the final shopping weekend before Christmas. Pick up a dozen donuts. Pull up at the curb of a nearby store, have your kids hop out, and bless the Bell Ringer. Go to the next one at another store. Keep going until you run out of donuts.
DEC 22- It's Holiday Movie Madness Day!!! As long as your bottoms can sit, park them all in front of your TV with movie food. Not only does ABC Family have all day holiday movies today, but tonight, at 6, 8, and 10 pm (est), Santa Clause 1, 2, and 3 will be playing. Keep the popcorn coming. And make sure it's nice and cold in your house so everyone has to snuggle under blankets!
DEC 23- It's Christmas Eve EVE! Just when everyone is settling in for the night, all snuggly and warm, call an emergency family meeting and make everyone load up in the car for late night PANCAKES! Go to iHop, Denny's, or your local 24/7 diner and everyone eat in their pajamas! If your budget can't afford this trip, make a late night drive around at look at Christmas lights one last time. But whatever you do, do it after teeth are brushed and everyone is headed to bed. Shake it up a little!
DEC 24- First of all, leave Christmas music playing all day, no breaks. Have everyone bring out their trash bags of toys. Take them to the front porch and attach a note to each bag, asking Santa to please bless another child with these toys. Ask him to send them to the kids who lost their homes in Hurricane Sandy, or to a kid in their own school whose parents lost their jobs this year. Next, find a Christmas book that tells the story of the Nativity simply enough for your youngest love to understand. When it's evening time, have everyone gather around the tree. Read the story to everyone. Have everyone go around and tell something they are thankful for about your family. Give each other your dollar gifts from earlier in the month. If you're really adventurous, watch Home Alone at 9 pm (est). Get the Man in Red's cookies and milk ready, an then OFF TO BED... He's on his way!
DEC 25- It's SHOWTIME! Little feet will patter quickly toward the tree, and even your mopey teenagers will move a little faster this morning. But before wrapping paper starts flying, join hands and pray together as a family, thanking God for His provision in your lives. Open presents one at a time, starting with your littlest fella, and working to Mom and Dad. Everyone opens one present each round. This makes the magic last longer, I promise. Have a good breakfast together. Play all day. Nothing is more important today than those people you woke up with. Soak it up. Take it in. And be careful not to throw away something important in the wrapping paper.
DEC 26- The holiday let down begins. *sigh* Today, spend time with each member in your family, playing with their favorite new toy. This may involve stepping into a foreign world for you, but pledge 30 minutes to each child... get inside their world by enjoying THEIR joy.
DEC 27- You know those police officers who watched the streets while you slept Christmas Eve? Know those Firefighters who were on duty while you opened gifts Christmas morning? Now would be a good time to take them bagels with a note telling them you haven't forgotten about their sacrifices.
DEC 28- Game Night!!! Play board games, hide and go seek, basketball, whatever... as long as you play together and you eat something really yummy. No one leaves, and everyone plays. And this means that each person gets to pick a game. So, yes-- your teenagers will have to play Chutes and Ladders if that's what your kindergartner picks.
DEC 29- Give everyone 5-10 small pieces of paper. Have everyone write down something on each piece that they enjoyed about this year. Put it away until New Year's Eve.
DEC 30- Have everyone take a nap today. You'll be up late tomorrow night! ;-)
DEC 31- New Year's Eve!! Today, it's all about fun. Your last chance to make memories in 2012. Let everyone pick a food they want for the late night party-- fuel for the crew as you wait for the ball to drop. Make a grocery store run with everyone- put someone in charge of the list, someone in charge of paying, someone in charge of putting away the groceries, someone to help you get the kitchen ready, etc. Then, cook your little hearts out! When it's getting dark outside, begin the party! Open your jar of memories from this year. Have each person draw one out and read it, and repeat until the jar is empty. Play games not found on a board- like 2 Truths and a Fib (players guess which is the fib), 20 Questions, and Truth or Dare. Have a movie marathon-- fun ones like Sleepless in Seattle, It's a Wonderful Life, Ratatouille, and the Wizard of Oz will keep you busy. Get sparkling grape juice in fancy glasses ready for the big moment, and watch the ball drop! Count it down, scream and holler, yell and dance your legs off. It's a new year! And you just celebrated the holidays for 31 days with your family.
Even if you celebrated half of these days, KUDOS to you.
The days pass slowly, the years like a flash. Soak it up, parents. One day, we will wake up, put on our slippers and robes, shuffle into a living room with no bikes or dollhouses around the tree... no grumpy teenagers with bad breath will greet us... and we will look back on these days and wonder where they went so quickly. We will count the hours until our kids are done with Christmas with their OWN families and will make their way toward our home.
I don't know about you-- but 216 months isn't long enough with mine. 18 Christmases are too few. I've gotta slurp every last drop out of this. Since I started this post, hours have passed. I've changed a few diapers, fed a couple of babies, and ran a few errands. And just now, my little guy crawled into my lap, where he sits, sleepily fighting his late nap. I am painfully aware at this moment, just how short this phase of his life and mine, is. I squeeze him a little closer, and find myself humming him a Christmas song.
Merry merry to you. And yours.