Make the most of Advent
Don’t let your Christmas preparations get you into a frazzle. It’s a time to make space for friends and have some fun, says Faye Smith
As good Christian women, we know we ought to embrace the true meaning of Christmas, expel all trappings of consumerism, buy everyone a goat or stethoscope from Oxfam Unwrapped and glide into Christmas repeating the mantra “it’s only one day and a roast dinner after all” on a cloud of good will to all persons.
So form an orderly queue if that’s your experience . . . thought not! Me neither- though over the years I’ve worked and prayed hard to create some less stressed family traditions and leave time to draw others into the season- especially those who haven’t yet grasped the purpose of it all.
Starting with my children and family, I pruned a lot of the superfluous activities and trappings that made me frankly stressed, grumpy, over tired, resentful, critical (any of these ringing bells, or is it just me?) and generally a victim of that most terrible of afflictions, PCT or Pre- Christmas Tension!
Now my Christmas looks very different. Before and during Advent, I have created several opportunities to share the love of Jesus, our indescribable Christmas gift, with those I care about most. Here are some of my tried and tested ideas . . .
The shopping evening
Towards the end of October, I hold a pre- Christmas shopping evening. It grew when my best friend started doing Phoenix cards from home and asked if I’d invite a few friends over to browse her Christmas range. “Of course”, I said, then realised what a great opportunity it would be to get my pre- Christian friends along to have a nice glass of wine and some treat nibbles, while mingling with my lovely Christian friends.
Set up on my (long) kitchen table, toy chest and two settees were gorgeous bags and scarves, Fairtrade cake ingredients, chocolates and advent calendars, Usborne children’s books and the Virgin Vie Christmas range.
Over 50 women passed through my doors, browsed and generated profits of about £60, which we sent to an orphanage in Mozambique. I particularly didn’t want anyone to feel they had to buy something, or that I was getting a financial reward from it. There was a huge buzz to the evening, fun raffle, the sellers were blessed and everyone had a great time.
The craft evening
At the end of November, the last Friday before Advent, I invited my neighbours round for the second Advent crown making evening. I had started the year before, inspired by an idea from Activate, who offer useful resources to download from their website’s Christmas pack. Two friends from my home group helped me, and seven of my neighbours and key non- Christian friends joined us for mulled wine, mince pies and creativity.
We emphasise the fun element- no competition here - and last year we got deeper. As an ice breaker, we asked what people were most looking forward to and dreading about Christmas. All but one woman said “buying presents”, which provoked a deep level of sharing. At the end of the evening, we simply say . . .”same time next year” which, four years down the road, shows a level of commitment to these relationships.
To bless those who can’t attend, we pack up the ‘Crown Kit’ and deliver it to them, which has really been appreciated. Or how about making a spare crown for a friend who is sick, recently bereaved, elderly neighbour, workplace canteen/staff room or even your child’s school? My daughter’s head teacher was delighted and used hers in assemblies throughout December.
The informal party
One year I decided to do a neighbours’ mulled wine and mince pie evening, and sent round an invitation attached to one of our carol service flyers saying, “please join us for the carols and afterwards back at ours for drinks and nibbles”. I laugh as I write, as no-one came to the carols, but every single family, bar one guy whose mum had just died, came to our house for the party! Just keep sowing the seeds, friends, and let the Lord of the Harvest do the rest . . .
The school event
While we still had young children, my friend Geraldine and I decided to run a Celebrating Christmas event at school. We tried it at Easter and got about 18 mums from school packed around my table to share ideas of Easter traditions, recipes (complete with tasting of the finished product) and crafts to make with little ones. We talked about why and how we celebrate Easter from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Sunday, showed the books and videos we use with our own kids and had a lively night. It went so well, we enjoyed the same mid- November with a Christmas theme.
Another mum has been inspired to start organising evening socials, once each term. How about doing that for your class Christmas party or helping design the invites? If the mums you know have taken a break from paid employment, they will probably jump at the chance of their own ‘works Christmas party’ equivalent! Top tip- organise somewhere with a fixed price menu and bar drinks, it saves messy finances at the end.
Enthuse your friends
I think it’s important to resist the temptation to surround yourself with Christian friends at these events. Why not positively encourage them to do their own event with their networks (or at least to bring a pre- Christian friend along to yours, so they can help and learn to do their own next time).
Give them your contacts, ideas, recipes or whatever and let them get on with it.
I have loads of friends in different schools and neighbourhoods doing similar things now and sharing resources. We encourage and enable each other. One friend put an appeal for Christmas poems or readings, and the reason she needed them, on Mums Net and was bowled over by great ideas and interesting questions on threads . . .
Remember to be inclusive
It’s all too easy to hibernate over Christmas in our cozy Christian families with the telly and the kids. I did that for 14 years, but it’s only when you become the one on the outside looking in that you realise the truth that Christmas really is the hardest time to be alone. Like a waif in a Dickens novel, there are those in our networks who see us as happy, shiny families in the warm candle light, while they are on the outside peeping in through the frosty window - maybe feeling lonely, cold, sick and afraid.
Which single mum, elderly person, foreign student or struggling friend could you share yourself with this Christmas? A walk with your kids, trip to the cinema, video night or evening working out how to play your new board game could make their (and your) Christmas.
Sure it may cause you to put yourself out a bit, but honestly - can you imagine the tangible pain of waking up on Christmas morning or spending New Year’s eve alone while your adored children are with their dad and his new girlfriend or former in-laws for example?
I have all the time in the world for Care for the Family, who send all the single parents on their list an e-mail on New Year’s eve to remind us we are worth something and though we may be lonely, we are not alone. We are called to love and love selflessly - not self protection. Remember the reason for the season . . . our blessed saviour may come to us in many guises.
Could you make space to do at least one of these things this Christmas? Have a clear out of old habits and make some room in your life to share the joy and peace of the season with those who need it most. I bet it’s the start of your best Christmas ever!
* www.Activateyourlife.org.uk has all kinds if good ideas and resources to inspire you to draw people together
* www.careforthefamily.org.uk Look for their single parent’s section and e-newsletter