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Happiness Is . . . Holidays

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #90, 2009.

How to make holidays into joyful times.
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Melissa Morgan

We were feeling a little silly as we rang the neighbor’s doorbell. We held our collective breath as the door opened, and the Morgan family—at that time two adults and two small children—broke out in song. We sang “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” and ended our caroling with “And bring us some figgy pudding . . . ” We didn’t get any figgy pudding. However we still have fond memories of our impromptu outing, and made friends who remember “that family that sang for us at Christmas.”

Over the years we’ve explored many opportunities to experience holidays inexpensively and joyfully. Sadly, some families feel that holidays lead to anything but happiness, due to unpleasant childhood memories, unrealistically high expectations, stress, overspending, or depression. Families homeschooling young children may find that frantic holiday schedules just lead to sleep deprivation, extra discipline problems, and conflict with relatives. Can we really restore holidays into relaxing, inexpensive, exciting learning opportunities?

It may be difficult to change, especially if “we always did it that way.” If so, gradually eliminate burdensome, high cost events and purchases. Maintain treasured family traditions, but consider substituting less expensive holiday trimmings. For instance, instead of buying costly decorations I produce free decorative greenery when I trim my evergreen shrubs at the right time. I’ve also substituted ordinary household candles for Advent candles; they burn just the same.

I can find all the decorations I want at the thrift store, for one-tenth the price, and often better made. (One caution: older decor may be more hazardous, although all decorations should be kept out of the hands and mouths of small children.)

Some families choose not to celebrate certain holidays, for religious, cultural or ethical reasons. For example, our family does not celebrate Halloween in the traditional way of going door to door begging candy. Instead, we have participated in church-sponsored Harvest Festivals, and we have also handed out candy and gospel tracts to visiting goblins. When it comes to questionable holidays and beliefs, I try to seek the good of my neighbor, as instructed by 1 Corinthians 10:23–25.

If you take away an expected part of the holidays, replace it with something else that will produce pleasurable memories. For instance, consider “white elephant” gift exchanges—everyone gets something new to them. Create handmade gifts or decorations with your children. Make a unique gift, such as a scrapbook or video montage, to celebrate the holiday. Donate time and resources to visit a shut-in, babysit for a new mom, send encouragement to a soldier, or participate in a local food drive.

Even after scaled-back expectations and a focus on helping others, holidays can still lead to depression and stress. Find time to recharge spiritual and physical batteries and strengthen family and friendships. We can make sure we get “sunshine” vitamins, exercise, needed medical attention, and bathe our homes with scriptures and joyful music during the holidays. In Genesis we see that God rested on the seventh day of creation. So God demonstrated that it is indeed good to take a holiday at least once a week. We can use this day of rest, instituted by God, to attend church, celebrate His creation, and worship with His people.

Maybe we really don’t need to fix that ten-course meal all by ourselves. We can do only those activities that we enjoy, and ask for help when we feel overwhelmed. If everybody really “must” have it, then “Everybody” can do it. “Just say no” to overbooked activities.

Quiet time during holidays and vacations may not seem productive. However, holidays and vacations often spur intellectual leaps and academic growth spurts, perhaps because kids have more abundant unscheduled time to read interesting fiction and nonfiction, explore hobbies, and invent gadgets. Kids can help decorate their local church, bake cookies for neighbors, create their own advent calendars, make homemade gift tags or placemats from old Christmas cards, and entertain younger siblings and friends. Busy kids are happy kids—and parents can join in the fun. (Okay, admit it, you really do love guessing the names of those new sparkly crayons and gel pens.)

Before holidays, we try and plan ahead, and stock up on intriguing books, crafts, hobby and building materials. Explore holidays with your children, using books such as James Dobson’s Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration, the Thanksgiving Unit Study CD-ROM by Amanda Bennett, and A Family Guide to Biblical Holidays: with Activities for All Ages, by Robin Sampson and Linda Pierce. Check out the free ebook, Homeschool Ideas for the Holidays here, and print free holiday worksheets here. Kids light up with interest and anticipation when we use teachable objects, such as balloon crosses for Easter, three-leaf clovers to illustrate the Trinity for St. Patrick’s Day, and candy canes for Christmas. Find out how to use objects for Bible study lessons at this website.

Many families establish family holiday traditions viewing films such as The Passion of the Christ, The Ten Commandments, It’s a Wonderful Life, Veggie Tales’ An Easter Carol, or even Charlie Brown’s Christmas. After-dinner Bible reading can make holidays memorable, and adults and older children can take turns reading classics aloud, such as Pilgrim’s Progress on Thanksgiving and the Holy Bible, book of Luke, Chapter 2, on Christmas Eve.

We often reserve special books and audiovisual materials from the library well in advance of the holiday, as they will not be available if you wait too late. Church libraries also supply holiday audio visual materials and books to borrow.

Although I’m not stressing about it, I still hope to make real figgy pudding for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m exploring free recipe web sites, such as toomanychefs.net and orgsites.com. Or maybe I’ll just buy some fig bars instead. Hmm—that candy-cane recipe looks much easier. And candy canes remind me of Christ.

I especially love Christmas, because, as a Christian, I can celebrate my Savior with my family, and even share Jesus with total strangers. I am not outgoing by nature, but on Christmas, it is easier to express my love for the Lord publicly. I hope to avoid busyness, and be more like Mary (Luke 10:38–42), sitting and listening at my Lord’s feet—not just during holidays, but all year long.

Melissa L. Morgan is the co-author of Educational Travel on a Shoestring and Homeschooling on a Shoestring. With her husband, Hugh, she has homeschooled their three children from birth, taking advantage of many educational opportunities in the real world. She invites you to visit her website at www.eaglesnesthome.com.

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