Get Ready for a Calm Christmas

As we hide away from heat advisories in sweltering August, preparing for Christmas is a fun item on the to-do list. I picked up “Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A Little Book of Festive Joy” by Beth Kempton for this purpose.

I already consider myself a mindful Christmas practitioner. Yet Kempton took an approach that I found fascinating. She proposes that Christmas has five storylines:

  1. Faith: The celebration of the birth of Jesus and the Christmas story involving church-based traditions and rituals like Advent candles, the creche and traditional Christmas carols.
  2. Magic: The story of Santa Claus, his reindeer and the elves, plus magical Christmas movies and songs.
  3. Connection: Things that connect us to Christmases past, such as “The Christmas Carol,” Christmas trees and treasured ornaments, Christmas dinners, holiday events and Christmas movie traditions.
  4. Abundance: The joy of getting and giving presents.
  5. Heritage: The Christmas practices of your family of origin and your background.

As a Christian, my Christmas celebrations focus on faith. But I was surprised to realize that my family also finds Connection as very important. For one family member, doing the same things that we have done, as in Heritage, is deeply important.

Talk to your family to see what about your Christmas celebration is most important to them. You can create an intentional approach to the season that meets everyone’s needs and desires.

“Calm Christmas” also offers a variety of ideas for a mindful approach to the whole season. I especially liked the author’s idea of spending the time between Christmas Day and New Years Day’s as a “hush” season. This is, she writes: “A time of long walks, hot coffees, languid lounging with leftover chocolates, adding birthday dates to the new diary, telephone catch-ups … and everything on pause.”

Wow! Can I have that in August, too?

Advent candles

Five Ways to Celebrate Advent

The four weeks of Advent are the beginning of the Christian year. Bringing mindfulness and intention to those four weeks helps you create a different holiday season from Christmas … one that prepares you for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. Advent is quiet, not festive. Simple, not overstuffed. Focused on the spiritual, not the material.

The season is best known for Advent wreathes and Advent calendars. (You can get a Christ-centered calendar in addition to one with toys or chocolates.) Other ideas include:

  1. Use a creche that you can fill gradually to tell the Christmas story. Week 1: Put up the empty creche. Week 2: Add the animals. Week 3: Add the shepherds and their sheep. Week 4: Add the angel. Christmas Eve: Add Mary and Joseph. Christmas Day: Add baby Jesus. Epiphany: Add the wide men and their camels.
  2. Wrap 20ish books in Christmas paper, and put them in a basket. You pick out one book per night to read to your children.
  3. Put out a basket to collect money for a cause during Advent. Keep a list in the basket of all the good deeds that the kids (and you) have done. Discuss the good deeds at Christmas Eve dinner.
  4. Find Advent playlists on Spotify to find out the difference between Advent music and Christmas music.
  5. Make or buy consumable gifts, such as food, to reduce clutter and waste.

Once you are in the Advent frame of mind, you can create your own traditions. When my kids were little, we had a small manger and a baby Jesus. When the kids did something nice, they got to put hay in baby Jesus’ manger to make him more comfortable. One year this did result in a hay-throwing situation, but overall it was successful.

Advent is a joyous time of year that prepares you for the Christmas season. Do enjoy it!

Make Blessing Bags

Making blessing bags for homeless people is a nice addition to your Thanksgiving holiday. We all know Thanksgiving should be much more than turkey, football and family close-encounters. An approach based on Christian mindfulness turns the day into a celebration of gratitude and a chance to help others.

Blessing bags can be in your car or your bag (if you take a train or bus around town) all year. When you see a homeless person asking for money, you can ask them if they would like the bag.

A Blessing Bag

Use a see-through container – either a large ZipLock bag or a see-through plastic bag. Then fill it with items to feed and help the homeless, such as:

  • Warm socks
  • Gloves
  • Hat
  • Face masks
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Beef jerky
  • Trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Mints
  • Lip balm
  • A washcloth
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Single-dose packs of pain reliever
  • Band-Aids
  • Comb and brush
  • Bottled water
  • Hand warmers
  • Deodorant
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Tampons for women
  • Fast food restaurant gift cards
  • A few dollars
  • A note of blessing (You can buy a pack of blessing notes at Hobby Lobby.)

If you keep a place in your home for blessing bag materials, you can put packages you get at the dentist and other freebies in the bag. Assembling these bags can make a great Thanksgiving activity for kids and other family members.

Other aspects of a mindful Christian Thanksgiving can include:

  • Send thank you cards to people who have made your life better this year.
  • Create a gratitude pumpkin for your table.
  • Spend time writing down your blessings.
  • Thank God for answered prayers.

And Winter Solstice Comes

Today is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. In one of the darkest (and longest) years in memory. And tonight the two largest planets in our solar system will appear as a double planet.

The last time Jupiter and Saturn looked this close together was March 4, 1226. Many are calling the event “the return of the Christmas star.” Hopefully some will be able to see it in the southwest sky at twilight. (Ohio white sky probably will make that impossible for us.)

We bring Christian mindfulness to winter solstice. We offer prayers of gratitude for our relative safety and security as the cold approaches. We prepare for winter. We fill the bird feeders. We generally make our favorite cocoa mix. (This year I went a little nuts on the hot chocolate K-cups, so we’ll skip that.)

Tomorrow the days start getting lighter. My friends in medicine are getting vaccines. My mother-in-law, who is in a memory care unit at a long-term care facility, gets hers next month. Hope is on the horizon.

sign that says joy

How to Find Lasting Joy

The nature of time makes even joyful moments feel transient. I have a PhD in “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” And I know lots of people just like me.

Yet I’ve changed. There is a way to find lasting joy. I have it in writing.

Since 2017, I’ve kept a five-year journal that asks a question each day. It’s so interesting to see how I’ve answered the same question over the years. The question for Dec. 19 is: If you could change one thing about today, what would it be? My answers:

  • 2017: My broken ankle would be healed, and I would be completely mobile.
  • 2018: I would be on track for Christmas. The house would be completely decorated, tree done, presents wrapped and stocking stuffers purchased.
  • 2019: Mother would not be in late stage dementia in a nursing home that is giving her questionable care.
  • 2020: We would be able to see our 3-year-old granddaughter at Christmas because the pandemic would be over.

The broken ankle healed. I am on track for Christmas. Mother’s agony at the nursing home ended with her passing. It all was resolved. Hopefully, next year we will be able to enjoy Christmas with our granddaughter because the pandemic is over.

In a few days, I will be asked to answer this question, “When was the last time you felt joy and peace?” The answers so far:

  • 2017: During morning prayer
  • 2018: During morning prayer
  • 2019: During morning prayer. Mother died this morning.

The 2020 answer will probably also be “during morning prayer.” (I am fortunate enough to have multiple prayer times each day, but I fill out the five-year journal directly after morning prayer.)

The nature of time makes it difficult to feel peace and joy. Unless you are spending time in the presence of Jesus. Christian mindfulness involves experiencing the present in the presence of God. That is how you find lasting joy.

Why Celebrate Advent

Advent is a time of waiting, but not sterile and empty waiting. It is a time of creative expectancy … we know that we must get ourselves ready for the coming of Christ. We know that Christ is with us, but we also know that the full presence of the Risen Lord is never totally a part of our consciousness and our actions. Advent brings that presence into our daily lives so that at Christmas we can say that God is more a reality to us than before we began our waiting.

Rembert Weakland, OSB
Santa with giant bag of presents

Meditate on Santa’s Gospel

The Gospel According to Santa Claus goes beyond commercialization. It impacts the heart and soul of the Christmas celebration. It took its shape as gospel in the 20th century. And it’s going strong today.

What does Santa preach? The late, great nonprofit organization, Alternatives, wrote about it in their compilation “Treasury of Celebrations: Create Celebrations that Reflect Your Values and Don’t Cost the Earth.”

"The good news of Santa Claus is for the affluent.
Santa's mission is mainly to the healthy and successful.
The heralds of Santa Claus proclaim self-satisfaction.
Pleasure is the dominant theme.
There is no room for self-denial and the cross.
To stimulate business: 'Let one who has a coat get another coat.' " 


"Treasury of Celebrations" is out of print.  Grab it if you can find it.  It's a five-star book for my household. Other good resources for Christian mindfulness are here. 

This Advent, consider how the gospel of Santa Claus contrasts with the gospel of Jesus.  The Jesus who  came to Earth to sacrifice himself, at great cost, so we can join him forever in Heaven. The Jesus who  cares about the poor, the homeless, the sick, the imprisoned. Meditate on this. 

girls putting ornaments on a christmas tree

Try It: Rejoice, Rejoice

Let’s open ourselves to the good and glorious for the rest of the Advent season. It’s all around us, even if we are staying inside our homes each day.

Stay in the present moment in the presence of God this Advent. And notice what is good around you. This is Christian mindfulness. It brings us relief from the suffering and fear of pandemic and politics.

Notice the blue sky outside, the Christmas decorations inside. Look deeply at those that have significant meaning … the ones from Grandma or the kids when they were small. Drink in the memories and thank God for your life.

Express your joy to those around you. Especially on social media. It’s catching. And you may share things about your family life that they don’t know.

Pray or journal in silence, asking the Lord to show you how you have grown this year. What are the true benefits of this time in your life as a Christian?

We can expand the good with prayers offering thanks and seeking similar peace, especially for those with whom we disagree.

Try It: Laugh on Purpose

The joy of the Lord is your strength.

Nehemiah 8:10b

The pandemic Advent is focusing us to look at things in a new way. In my house, we are moving toward the first Christmas without both our mothers and the presence of our grandchild. It could be sad. So let us intentionally bring joy and laughter to our homes instead.

This Advent, make laughter a daily intention. If you haven’t laughed hard by 7 p.m., watch a funny movie or TV show. Listen to a funny podcast, or read a humorous book. If you have friends who always make you laugh, reach out to one of them. You also could create an Instant Smile collection, described here.

Laughter is good for you. The Mayo Clinic lists these short-term and long-term benefits:

  • Stress relief
  • Enhanced intake of oxygen-rich air
  • Stimulation of heart, lungs and muscles
  • Increased endorphins
  • The ability to raise and then lower heart rate and blood pressure, causing relaxation
  • Reduction of the physical effects of tension
  • Improved immune system (releasing neuropeptides that fight stress and illness)
  • Pain relief
  • Improved coping abilities
  • Reduced depression and anxiety

So make laughter part of your Christian mindfulness practice this Advent. It’s no joke. You’ll feel better.

God’s Extravagant Love

This holy season trumpets God’s extravagant love for us, a love beyond reckoning. Into our beautiful yet wounded world comes Emmanuel, God-with-us, carrying the promise of fresh hope to enliven our hearts. No matter how broken or seemingly hopeless our world may sometimes seem, the Advent messages are rich with joyous expectation and longing, insisting that God can and does bring forth life where none seems possible.

Pope Francis