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We less than two weeks away from Advent and this year, I think it’s really important that we have an intentional Advent season.

Many of us get hit in November… Thanksgiving sneaks up on us, then BAM it’s Advent and Christmas everything. Before we have a second to take a breath and plan what we want to do, the season is already here! The stores are filled with Christmas music and decorations. Costco tempts you with lots of “this deal is great and you know it won’t be here the next time you come” so it’s easy to panic and start buying without a plan.

Events start popping up left and right… parties…volunteering…Christmas lights on everything…and FREE refined white sugar everywhere you go.

I don’t know about you but I feel a little tense just thinking about the holiday storm that’s headed my way.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to give in to the way America does Christmas. We can be intentional about our activities, our food, our decorations, and yes, even the mood of our homes. This year I want to invite you to take control of the Advent season leading up to Christmas. I want you to cut out the things that stress you out and I want you to embrace the things that give you peace.

I want you to do this even if it’s counter-cultural.

The world needs more peace right now and I believe that starts in our living rooms. Don’t give way to MORE MORE MORE. We don’t need more sound, more stuff, more food, and more stress. American Christmas is not the boss of you.

Jesus is the boss of you.

I have to work really hard to protect my heart during the holidays. It’s easy for me to give in and feel envy, an overwhelming desire to eat all the free food put in front of me, a disordered urge to buy my kids things they don’t need, and deep depression as I see the shallowness of how the world treats Christmas – it really bothers my soul.

Now, I can choose to give in to these emotions when they pop up or I can simply recognize them and say, “Nope, I’m going do X instead.” By having a plan and knowing my next steps when temptation comes my way is how I live intentionally during the holiday season.

Here are my top ten tips for How To Advent Without Losing Your Mind!

  1. Get on the same page as your spouse! Sit down and go over what happened last year. What was stressful? What was fun? Ask the kids what their favorite traditions are. They might surprise you. Choose the things that bring your family peace.
  2. Create a CODE word with your spouse. Pick a word that means, “Hey, I need to talk to you for a second.” This allows you to feel empowered to talk to your spouse privately. Maybe you see your husband about to get in a political argument. Maybe your husband really wants to go but he doesn’t want to be rude your friends. Whatever it is, having a CODE word helps us to be more kind to our spouse when we’re in public knowing that if there’s something difficult we need to say, we can do it privately.
  3. Say NO early on. You’re probably going to be invited to a ton of work/school/friend parties. Do you like going? Can you handle going and not eating all the cookies? If yes, keep them on your calendar and spread the love of Christ everywhere you go. If you don’t like going, politely say no early so you don’t cancel at the last minute when you’re too tired, too stressed, or it’s not a good fit for your family.
  4. Don’t drink then be merry! I struggle with my weight and so I have to be very careful during the holidays not to eat everything that’s put in front of me. One of the quickest ways I blow it is by having a glass of wine. Simply one glass of alcohol ruins my resolve to stick to my healthy food plan so my solution… I don’t drink at holiday parties.
  5. Set gift expectations early. If you’re tight on money this year, communicate it now to your family. Write a nice email explaining that you’re paying down debt and you won’t be giving presents this year. Instead, maybe you can give coupons. “Help snow shoveling” or “Sister tea date at home”
  6. Prepare for sticky family situations. It’s likely that if you’re family was crazy and contentious last year…they’re going to be this year too. Write down some uncomfortable conversations you’re likely to encounter and come up with some responses. Even if you’re answer is, “I’d love to talk about that. I’ll email you tomorrow,” at least you’ll be armed with a response.
  7. Volunteer! If you’re lonely during the holidays, the best way to cure this is to get out and volunteer. When you’re giving food or warm clothes to homeless people, it puts your lack of a boyfriend into perspective. Serving other is always a way to lift your spirits.
  8. Focus on Mary! Jesus tends to steal the show during Christmastime but really, I think Mary is the star of Advent. I picture our sweet mother traveling, super pregnant, on a donkey having no idea where she’s going to have her baby! I think she deserves extra prayers and thanks during Advent.
  9. Squish your envy bug! Don’t give in to the idea of keeping up with the Jones’s. Envy/Jealous steals our joy. When thoughts of envy pop into my head, I imagine a little bug flying near my ear whispering awful things to try and get me to want more things and to stop being grateful for what I have. I squeeze my thumb and my pointer finger together, pretending to squish that bug and I move on.
  10. Be grateful! We hear this over and over again during the holidays but really, how many of you are actually keeping a WRITTEN account of all the things you’re grateful for? Do it this year. It’s one of the fastest ways to have a peaceful and joyful holiday season!

I expand on each of these in more detail in my new book Be Merry: A Catholic Guide to Overcoming Anxiety and Depression During the Holidays. I have a lot of exercises laid out that are quick and easy to do so you can have a more intentional Advent season.

Don’t let the world steal your joy. Our peace comes from Jesus Christ and no one can take that way from us.