Peace on earth. Good will toward men. That’s what Christmas is about, isn’t it? It says so in the Bible after all and we read it most often during this time of year.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'” Luke 2:13-14

Sounds simple enough, but for me, it’s actually quite complicated. As a woman with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), staying focused has never come naturally. Even ordinary, non-holiday periods are challenging—at home, at work, definitely at the grocery store and the mall (so many distractions). Despite my attention-span shortcoming, treatment allows me to get through most of the year relatively unscathed.

From Peace to Chaos

But then the holiday season comes charging in like a bull in a Lenox shop, and all the strides I’ve made in ADD management fall by the wayside. Can you relate? You may not have my attention issues, but maybe your ability to focus also shatters like a prized porcelain angel when you stumble upon your first Christmas decoration display, sometimes as early as July.

I’m a firm believer that we make our own choices and are responsible for the consequences. Somewhere along the way, I chose to get sucked into the commercialism of Christmas, and I’ve been paying the price ever since. The holiday season is downright stressful for me. I’m talking head-spinning, heart-stopping, mind-blowing, body-crushing stressful.

It’s not only being a spineless consumer, buying into retailers’ temptations of Black Friday deals and the more-is-more mentality. There’s also life, which doesn’t stop for the holidays. I’m a working mom with a live-in mother, Mormor, my husband, David, and two young girls, Serina, 9, and Sophia, 7. Our days are hectic with homework, dance, horseback riding, dinner, grocery shopping and never-ending piles of laundry.

Each year I charge myself with creating the perfect Christmas: the right tree, the right presents, the right cookies, and most importantly, the right Christmas card. Everyone must see we are the perfect family enjoying the perfect Christmas, by golly! I wind up marching to the maddening tune of Christmas chaos instead of the harmonies of Christmas joy.

Then, there are holiday work parties, one per spouse; the classroom parties, one per child; and cupcakes, one dozen per party.

What about gifts? Do I have everyone covered? Extended family on my side and David’s? What about colleagues, teachers, neighbors, the cleaning lady and my hairdresser?

Promises in the Pandemonium

When all these obligations, real or imagined, creep into the holiday season, there’s less time for what matters most — quality time with family and genuine gratitude for the promise this season brings, as cited in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

There’s no chaos in that promise. No confusion. No stress. Just love.

I, like you, know that comfort and joy, not worry and stress, belong at the heart of the Christmas season. It’s a matter of putting them back in their rightful place. This Christmas, I decided to put comfort and joy back in the heart of Christmas.

I made a few promises of my own. The first went to God as I committed to highlight the true reason for the season. I’m starting each morning on my knees, soaking in God’s grace and praying for a grateful heart — one filled with His comfort and joy, not my chaos and stress.

I made a promise to my family to foster a comfortable and joyful holiday environment in our home.

I also went back in time, reflecting on the simplicity of my childhood Christmases.

Christmas Could Be How It Once Was

Christmas at our home in Minneapolis was mostly tradition wrapped in happy. It started the weekend after Thanksgiving when Mom and Dad loaded us all into our old, rusted Ford to pick up the Christmas tree. We were a traditional, blue-collar family and never bought big, extravagant Christmas trees, but we thought ours were the most magnificent in the world.

Then we pulled them out—thick, grandiose JC Penney and Sears holiday catalogs packed with pages of wish-list potential! Just looking was half the fun. One weekend, maybe two, we’d hit the local mall, checking out holiday displays and posing for pictures on Santa’s lap. We took our meager savings, brimming with pride as we paid for gifts we hoped our family would love. What I remember most: Christmas shopping wasn’t about whom we had to buy for, but whom we got to buy for.

Over Christmas vacation, we’d help Mom make Norwegian Christmas cookies and play outside while they baked. We’d come back inside to sweet aromas wafting through the house. Mom let us sample the broken ones; they were just as delicious!

Those are the kinds of Christmas memories I want my children to have. Not, “Come here, run there, smile for the expensive photographer or Santa won’t visit you this year.”

New Christmas Traditions

We went on a family vacation to Norway this past summer, visiting the beautiful country from which my mom and late father emigrated. We took a few snapshots of our joyful family experience that will make memorable Christmas cards. How appropriate that we share those images with friends and family! Check that one off the list.

Speaking of lists, as they have saved me at work, why haven’t I regularly utilized list-making to get a handle on my holiday to- dos? There’s just something so satisfying about checking those tasks off! But I digress…

This year, Christmas gifts will be minimal. Fortunately, Serina and Sophia don’t ask for much. Usually my own mom guilt, magnified by my own insecurities, tells me to overindulge. Truth is, if I don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses, my girls won’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses’ children. As far as I know, that’s never even occurred to them.

I’ve never been the artsy-craftsy sort so the idea of homemade gifts intimidates me. But last year I discovered a simple sugar cookie recipe, tripled it and suddenly had thoughtful, edible holiday gifts to share with colleagues, teachers and neighbors. Check, check and check. Plus, the children were able to help, and that meant more quality time spent together. Check.

Class and company parties may not be avoidable, but good planning goes a long way. In the past, I’ve let them slip up on me.

However, if I take a few minutes to add these activities to my master calendar, I can prepare. No last minute scrambling required. But as someone with ADD, that is my natural inclination — to hold myself captive to self-induced chaos and stress. Through prayer, however, peace, clarity and focus can reign.

The Truth of the Season

God gave us Jesus—Christmas—so we could be saved, not enslaved. God doesn’t want Christmas to be my burden but to represent my salvation. How ironic.

In the end, December is just another month on our calendar year. It just symbolizes the most important piece of our Christian lives.

Today, I choose to break through the self-imposed holiday chains and relish in the freedom of God’s comfort and joy. That’s the greatest Christmas gift I can give my husband, mother, children, church family, neighbors, colleagues and myself.

No wrapping required.

[Photography by Hung The Moon Photography]