If I were to say the word Christmas to you, what image would pop into your head? A snow-covered landscape surrounding a beautiful home with its festively decorated front yard? A living room with a Christmas tree laden with all sorts of Christmas treats? A brightly lit and sumptuously decorated Christmas tree that’s surrounded by pile upon pile of brightly colored presents of all shapes and sizes?
It’s sad to say that this is what typically comes to mind when people in most of the developed world think of Christmas. But there’s one problem: that’s not how it really was! The first Christmas was drastically less complicated and dramatically more simple. The first Christmas was filled with a frigid, smelly, broken-down barn, dirty barn animals, and a feedbox—with a newborn baby inside!
“While they were there, the time came for her baby to be born, and she [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:6, 7).
You can’t get more simple than that! Nor did the simplicity of Jesus’ life end there. Not only was He born in simplicity; He was born into simplicity. Jesus lived in Nazareth, a village on “the other side of the tracks.” And as He grew up, His job was simple. In fact, one of Jesus’ first interactions with others was somewhat negative. Nathanael, who was to become one of His disciples, made the demeaning comment, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46).
And to make things worse, Jesus was a carpenter. Today, that profession is highly specialized and skilled, but back in Jesus’ day, people who worked with their hands were looked down on. Not only that, during the entire three years of His very public ministry, He, Himself, admitted that He never had a place that He was able to call “home” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58).
keeping Christmas simple
It seems that every year, keeping Christmas simple becomes more and more complicated. Given the chaotic state of our world, we’re all searching for some sort of respite—some peace from the pandemonium— and many of us hope that Christmas will deliver—rather than the One Christmas is about.
Unfortunately, the advertisers don’t care about your mental health. In fact, every year, they work harder and harder to sell you things that can harm your health! Every year we’re bombarded earlier and earlier with ways to complicate our lives and spend increasingly more time, energy, and most important, money on Christmas. So how can we break the pervasive cycle of busyness, anxiety, and complexity—and just simplify?
Admittedly, this is difficult to do, but it’s not impossible. It just takes a lot of prayer, proactive planning, and persistence to make it happen.
I will suggest five key simplicity strategies to help make Christmas much less stressful and complicated and much more enjoyable.
1. Make Jesus first. It’s easy to get so consumed with preparing for Christmas that we forget the One the day is about. Bring Him up in the conversations at the dinner table. Set aside some time during the day to read the Christmas stories from chapters 1 and 2 in both Matthew and Luke, and then engage everyone in a conversation about what they found important in the stories and their spiritual lessons for us today.
2. Consider your choices. The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in the Greek city of Philippi, encouraged them with these words: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
I agree, and I think this is a discipline worthy of your consideration at Christmastime. Begin by sitting down and being still with God. Have your Bible and a pad of paper with you, and pray what I like to call “the most dangerous prayer.” It’s found in Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24).
3. Decorations. Do we honor Christ’s birth when we spend extravagant sums of money on decorations, both inside and outside the home? Americans, on average, spent $60 on Christmas decorations in 2020. There are homeless people and people who have lost their jobs. People are suffering from illnesses that need special treatments they can’t afford. Instead of spending that money to decorate your home, why not consider donating it to your church or favorite charity—or better still, that specific family or person at your job, in your neighborhood, school, or church, who you know needs the money—not to spend on extravagant Christmas decorations but just to help them survive the holiday season.
Another great idea would be to decorate your home with some of the holiday cards you’ve received in previous years. You don’t want to do that? Get creative, but keep the cost down. Spend some time researching inexpensive and frugal ways to decorate your home.
If you still have kids at home, take time to make all sorts of homemade decorations together. The memories you create with each other will bring you many more positive returns than any decoration you will purchase at a store.
4. Gifts. Giving gifts is where people have the most problems—and get into the most trouble financially. The fact is that Christmas is a time to remember and celebrate the fact that Jesus came into the world to give all of humanity the most lavish gift of all: salvation through the sacrifice of His own life! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
However, people use this reasoning to overextend themselves financially and overspend. In fact, research shows that, on average, men spend a whopping $725 on Christmas gifts, and women spend $609! However, people often get into financial trouble at Christmastime, partly because so many of them—55 percent!—use credit cards to pay for their purchases.
Children love toys, and it’s appropriate to give them toys at Christmas, but for the most part, keep them simple and inexpensive unless there is something more expensive that a child needs, in which case you might consider saving it for Christmas.
Keep gifts practical: clothes, books, tricycles and bicycles, educational toys that challenge children mentally. And as part of your Christmas giving, make material donations of used clothes, toys, or other material goods to your church or a favorite charity that helps people in need.
Last, you could consider gifting your church or charity the precious gift of your time and talent. Take a look at your schedule and set aside several hours during the busy Christmas season to spend time ministering to others.
5. Food. It might shock you to know that, on average, people spend anywhere from $70 to $100 on the Christmas meal—just one meal in their home! That’s a lot of money. Sometimes people throw out the baby with the bathwater and don’t do anything special for Christmas. It’s important to remember to have balance in all that we do because even in our eating, we can praise God
(1 Corinthians 10:31). Even in our eating, we can honor God by our temperance. Remember that the holidays are not just about eating!
Although it’s appropriate to prepare a special meal for Christmas dinner, keep in mind that it should be healthful. You should avoid preparing rich foods with lots of sugar and unhealthy fats. And avoid eating more than you normally would for this meal—or for any meal.
Two things are especially important as you look forward to this year’s Christmas season: economy and moderation. These are important for the decorations you will set up, for the gifts you will give, and for the Christmas meal you will prepare.
Omar Miranda is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times.® He lives in Plainville, Georgia.