Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day rush at us at seemingly breakneck speed. Our calendars are full to overflowing with recitals, shopping, family gatherings, and endless errands. Each year, we promise ourselves we’ll slow down and make time for what’s really important, yet each year we find ourselves captive to the tyranny of the urgent, swept up in the cultural chaos of Christmas. We limp through holidays, then let out an exhausted sigh in January, wearily vacuuming up the fir tree needles and boxing up the nativity while vowing to do better next year.
Instead of resigning ourselves to overwhelm and lack of margin this holiday season, let’s redeem the time, as Paul instructs in Ephesians 5:16.
But how can we hold the hours accountable?
To keep time from being frittered away by every obligation which comes our way, we need to guard our time budgets as carefully as our financial budgets.
Without a budget, money slips away on random purchases here and there, leaving us wondering at month-end where the paycheck went. So too without proper planning, our time falls prey to this activity and that, leaving us frazzled and threadbare when the holidays are over. We need to plan for our priorities, and schedule rest.
When your calendar is groaning under the weight of it all, the idea of scheduled rest might seem like a paradox. But the truth is, creating a plan and structuring your day into a series of routines actually has the power to free your time, rather than consume it.
To reclaim the holidays and unlock time to focus on what really matters, map out a plan.
1. Make lists and identify priorities
First, make a list of what absolutely must get done. Online classes, of course, would fall under this category of non-negotiable tasks. Jot down class meeting times, study sessions, final exam dates, and any extra-curricular obligations, such as rehearsals.
Next, write down what’s most important to you during the holiday season. Is it decorating cookies together? Is it attending the annual tree lighting in the town square, catching a local Christmas concert, or just making sure you’re all together in the tree-lit living room at least once? If past Christmases are any indicator, these things don’t just happen on their own; you need to fight for them.
2. Guard your time and practice saying no
Now that you’ve listed your priorities, both scholastic and seasonal, you’ll need to proactively guard your time for these moments you’ve identified as most important. Mapping out priorities is not enough in itself; you need to be empowered to decline other non-essential activities which stumble across your path. (But when you know you’re preserving time and space for something you actually want to do, it’s much easier to say no!)
3. Lighten the (You Teach) load
Assess your remaining academic responsibilities. Look through the lesson plans for the You Teach subjects -- all the homeschool classes which aren’t online or outside the home -- and take stock of what concepts will be covered over the next few weeks. Think outside the box; can you teach these concepts in seasonal ways?
What about downloading Christmas-themed teacher-created worksheets online to teach the same math concepts assigned in the textbook? Dropping the regular composition assignments and write a few Christmas cards to grandparents instead? Pausing your family read-aloud to pick up “The Christmas Carol”?
The goal here is not to make your life more complicated, but to eliminate superfluous busy work and allow you and your children to celebrate Christmas together in the most stress-free way possible. Skip review of already-mastered material, lighten the load, simmer cinnamon and orange on the stove, and move school work to the couch near the glistening tree.
4. Harness the power of the half-day
Have you ever noticed the peculiar way tasks tend to completely fill the time allotted? There’s a name for this phenomenon, actually: Parkinson’s law. As online class schedules allow, turn Parkinson’s law on its head by cutting your school days in half in the weeks leading up to the holidays. Designate the mornings as power hours, and plan for festive activities (or hygge rest) in the afternoons. You’ll be astounded how much work you get done before lunch. And since you’ll be staying on track over the holidays, too, you’ll be able to ring in the new year without a frustrated “we’re so behind!” lament.
5. Remember what matters
In the memorable words of the Grinch, “[Christmas] came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.” Empty calendar or full, Christmas will come. No matter what you accomplish -- or don’t accomplish -- this holiday season, the truth is not altered. Christ is still Lord. The earth-shattering, life-changing power of the incarnation still rings true.
This, of course, is Christmas. And this is the true source of all the season’s wonder and magic: the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
Immanuel! God with us! (Matthew 1:23) May your home and family be blessed in this upcoming season.
Gina Munsey is a Mexico-born, Eastern Europe-raised missionary kid who ended up in Franklin, Tennessee. A blogger for 16+ years, editor, magazine contributor, second-generation home educator, and writer who has only completed four chapters of her languishing memoir, Gina spends her days full of coffee and adventures while helping her asynchronous daughter with Chinese homework. You can find Gina at oaxacaborn.com, or in the middle of [home]school surrounded by stacks and stacks of books.
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