1. Focus on God’s gift and not your gifts: God’s gifts are often times taken for granted. Fresh air for the lungs, birds merrily singing during sunrise, and a passing smile from a stranger are some of His gifts. Ask any patient dying in the hospital about some of God’s gifts and they will inevitably lament about good health and more time on earth. It’s time we open our eyes to the wonders around us and begin to re-adjust our attitudes about life. The greatest Christmas I can recall had nothing to do with any gift I received but rather a gift I gave my mother. I will never forget her glowing eyes as she ripped away the wrapping and opened the box containing the sweater that took me months to save for. We have the power to give life with our actions or take it away. Joy is found with the giving of life and is the perfect way to celebrate the season when we celebrate the beginning of the greatest life to ever walk this earth.
2. Make your gifts instead of purchasing them: This works miracles for all involved. There is a great deal of satisfaction in spending time making a special gift for somebody else. Anybody can snap a finger and push a button on the computer and days later, a box appears at your door. For most people, it’s not the price tag on the gift that really matters but the thought and time involved. Money can not buy happiness and it can’t buy the perfect gift. The best gifts come from the heart and take time to either make or thoughtfully considered for that special person. My wife loves it when I make my own goofy birthday cards because it adds an element of myself that money cannot capture. Ask yourself the things you remember most about Christmas. For most of us, it’s the time with family, caroling in the neighborhood or snuggling on the couch to a holiday movie. Christmas is not about gifts, it’s about giving.
3. Attend a Christmas Eve Service: No matter your denomination or even your religious affiliation, experiencing the sights and sounds of a Christmas Eve service at one of the hundreds of churches on the peninsula is a must. Even if you do not normally do “the church thing”, take the time to understand the spiritual significance of the birth of the greatest gift to grace this planet. Prepare your heart ahead of time by clearing it from the clutter of the day. Open your heart to the message and try to clear your mind of all the anxiety and worry that seems to accompany the “happiest time of the year”. If you have kids, show them you are excited about the opportunity to worship the Lord in a country where we still have the freedom to do so. That kind of excitement is contagious.
4. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a family: The American Film Institute rated this movie the number one American inspirational film of all time. The lead character was planning suicide on the Eve of Christmas when an angel came to his rescue and showed him all the lives that he had touched over the years. There will not be a dry eye among your family by the time the credits roll on this classic 1946 film. The soul-stirring message is as relevant today as it was the sixty-four years ago when it was created. Our lives have a purpose. Heaven is watching. The lives we touch today can boomerang and touch generations to come. Bring an extra box of tissues, snuggle on the couch, grab some popcorn (or chocolate in my case), and lose yourself in this timeless tale of the holiday season. It’s time well spent.
5. Read the Christmas story straight from the original source: The Bible. Dust off the Bible and turn to the beginning of one of the gospels. Slowly read the Christmas story with the family gathered around. If you have a fireplace, add some extra wood to it, turn on some classic holiday music, and enjoy the story about the birth of Christ, the most significant event in human history up until that point in time. Make sure you have a Bible that you can understand. There’s nothing worse (especially for the kids) than reading a Bible that contains English that is difficult to comprehend. This only turns the younger generation off to spiritual matters. There are parts to the story that you might not have known. Did you know that the three wise men risked their lives after meeting baby Jesus? Did you know about the conspiracy to kill Jesus as a baby? How about the public shame Mary, the mother of Jesus, must have experienced when she found out she was pregnant out of wedlock? The intrigue, suspense, and miracles will surprise you if you take the time to delve into the story of stories.
6. Commit to spending less time preparing for the big day: I must admit this is very appealing to me. As I write this, it is being strongly suggested to me by my wife Tina, who is the director of the Christmas decoration team at my house, to get up the outside lights. I have a dozen tightly packed boxes in the attic just waiting for me to unpack them and place them all around the outside of my house. I don’t do things half way…don’t believe in it! The airport has called several times complaining about my house being mistaken by pilots for runway lights. But as my kids get older and my body ages not as gracefully as I would like, the drudgery of eight to 10 hours of ladders that wiggle, lights that don’t work, and extension cords that don’t reach have gotten to me. And the icing on the cake last year was the reaction of my then eight year old son Caleb when I pulled him away from his video game to show him the pretty lights. He used to clap his hands together and jump up and down and yell, “That’s pretty daddy! You’re the best!” Last year, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Great dad, can I go back in and finish my game.” If preparing for Christmas stresses you out, don’t do so much! Commit to fewer lights outside, less stuff inside the house, maybe fewer parties. Enjoy the holiday and get a spiritual booster shot from it, don’t dread it and wish it away.
7. Take the family to Williamsburg: We live in one of the premiere vacation playgrounds in the States. With the Atlantic Ocean just to our east, the Chesapeake Bay outside our backdoor, and historic Williamsburg a few minutes west, residents of the peninsula have a unique opportunity to enjoy a vacation without driving for days on end or being strip-searched at the airport. Why not head to Williamsburg just before sunset and park in the Colonial section of town? Confiscate the kids iPods, cell phones and hand-held video games and “force” them to walk among the ageless buildings. The lights are spectacular, the decorations first class, and the food to die for. Erase everything occupying your mind and cherish the timeless classic beauty that surrounds you. Tell the kids about our history, the constitution, the men who risked their lives to be free from England. Tie it into the Christmas story and have some fantastic family time away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. You have the power to make it happen! Christmas was meant to be enjoyed!