Encouragement for Today: Four (new) ways to celebrate Christmas

If you came over from Encouragement for Today, I’m so excited that you have joined me.


When my family began to grow, adding Josh, Stephen, and Kristin, I didn’t just gain three beautiful in-law children, we gained additional families in the mix.

Josh’s mom and brother (and his wife and daughter). Stephen’s parents and three brothers. Kristin’s mom and dad and brother (and wife and son). That didn’t count their grandparents, or cousins, or close relatives.

So, suddenly Christmas or Thanksgiving was a little more complicated.

Our traditions, like unwrapping presents on Christmas morning, children tumbling from their beds, jumping on ours, shouting, “presents, presents, open presents!” or Richard reading the story of Jesus’ birth, or praying with our children, before we ate a big Christmas breakfast, were changing.

Now, young families were hoping to begin their own traditions, especially as children were born.

They were also struggling to add in two or more sets of families, traveling for hours with kids strapped in car seats, or trying to rest after a night in a strange bed or on an air mattress.

Richard and I remembered trying to do the same thing when our kids were young, and how that Christmas became hard, and we couldn’t please everyone, and somehow the joy of Christ’s birth, and the celebration of our little family got way too complicated.

So, Richard and decided something early on.

Celebrating Jesus’ birth wasn’t going to be about a certain day, or specific traditions, but rather loving each other and celebrating the gift of faith in whatever manner worked.

Yes, we held on to some traditions. Yes, there are times we get together on the day, like this year.

But if Christmas arrives and it’s just us, then we’re okay with that. These are some of the things we’ve learned to do on those holidays.

Open your home to others

Down the street, at your church, in the nursing home around the corner. . . I promise you that within a short distance from your home there are people who don’t have family. Whether due to distance, death, or circumstances, there are people who don’t have the beautiful problem you have of juggling family.

Throw a beautiful celebration and invite in three or four people to have dinner with you, play games, open gifts (small gifts like candles or a homemade gift of fudge is a treasure). Read the Bible story (Luke 2:1-20). Pray together. Laugh. Make new friends and give the gift of Christmas.

2011-11-24 14.04.28Make nature your sanctuary

One year our children were all with their other families. Richard and I went hiking. The day was beautiful and crisp and cold. I sat on the top of a steep hill on craggy rocks. A river ran down below. I couldn’t help but sense the presence of the Creator.

As you can see, we had a blast!

Give intentionally

This won’t look the same for all of us, but make that day a day of giving. Perhaps the gift you offer is a day of no guilt for those who feel pulled between families. With open hands, be happy with and for them. Be flexible. The day isn’t important. The memories you make together on the day you choose is. .  .

Maybe you give financially to a giving organization like Compassion International or Proverbs 31 Ministries or your local shelter.

Perhaps you serve at a local shelter or food bank for a day. Perhaps this is a day you give totally to God and you crank up the worship music and celebrate in His presence all the good things He has given — life, health, a warm home, food on the table, His Son.

Create a fun new tradition

With the help of your children and in-law children and grandbabies, come up with a fun new tradition that you all do as a family, no matter the day you meet.

We have a nativity scene that is toddler friendly. Our grandbabies are three and under (we have five!) and they love to play with it. It’s not unusual to see  Joseph in Audrey’s mouth, or a sheep tucked in Luke’s pocket, or a donkey playing with Doc McStuffin and Elle. We have a special book we read just for the little ones, and Jane will tuck herself in Gaga’s arms as her Big Dad (we didn’t choose the names, the babies did!) reads the children’s book about Jesus’ birth.

We also have a nontraditional meal. By the time you’ve eaten turkey and ham that many times, a Mexican Fiesta sounds pretty good, which is what we are serving this Christmas.

Can I let you in on a little secret?

When you start to see Christmas as a celebration rather than a fixed day or a fixed way of doing things, the pressure is taken off. We discovered that our children look forward to coming, no matter what day it is, because there aren’t rigid expectations, but rather a joy of seeing them and celebrating who Jesus is to our family.


TheUnburdenedHeart_largeIs God whispering in your heart right now? What is He saying to you? How can I pray with you?

And as a Christmas gift, I’d love to give a copy of one of my books to one of you who comments today, and shares a unique alternative to celebrating Christmas!

So glad you came here today. I hope you come back soon!






  1. Dear Suzie,
    All year I look to your blog for comfort and guidance. Your words and prayers have ministered to me many times. Today, I was intentional in my giving and donated to Proverbs 31. Thank you for all you provide. It is much. Merry Christmas!

  2. Suzie, loved your post today! It was definitely the answer from a loving God in response to the changes we made this Christmas. I have often spoken of my grandson, Andrew. He is extremely medically fragile, trached and vented, with little movement. Every year we spend an hour getting together everything we need to go to the family gathering about an hour away on Christmas Eve. Loading his wheelchair into the van, getting him and his portable vent comfortable in his oversized car seat, and remembering his feedings and pump, etc. It is always a labor of love, not trying to sound complaining, but still very busy and plus we have my youngest grandson to ready as well. This year my daughter and I decided to just stay home with the boys. My son and his girlfriend, Charlene, will come over, we will have dinner. We will bake and watch a Christmas movie. We will read them the true Christmas story from their children’s Bible and a few other cute ones like Santa’s prayer to Jesus. We will sing our favorite songs…What Child is This? And Silent Night among them. And then we will get them all snuggled in bed and read Twas the Night Before Christmas. I will go to Midnight Mass! In the morning, my parents will come over after Mass and we will eat the baked breads, but first we will put a candle in it and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus! The boys will go visit their father and extended family and my daughter and I will enjoy the day quietly together. My brothers both understand and we will get together with them and their families sometime in the next week or so. I am so excited to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, our Prince of Peace, in the presence of His peace! Merry Christmas Suzie!

    • Your Christmas sounds heavenly. Our was so chaotic as we went from place to place. I longed for that quiet moment you described. I received it finally on Sunday as drop by drop my Heavenly Father blessed me as I lifted my hands in praise. I treasure family, and am so grateful for the chaos, but long for the quiet as well. Sounds so nice!

  3. Kelly Lake says:

    I am purposefully doing less this year as far as decorating, buying gifts, etc. and being intentional about going slow and savoring the moment. My husband and I have plans with extended family on Christmas day and this upcoming weekend, but on Christmas Eve we both have the day off work and we will just make a simple pot of chili and spend time with each other and our two black labs, Anna and Tank, and read the Christmas story outloud from Luke. I got a new journal too and I am going to spend a little time on Christmas Eve reflecting on the year and writing down some dreams for 2014 that the Lord has given to me. One of them is going to London on a trip and the other is writing a children’s book. I also am going to use part of my Christmas bonus from work to pay for a brand new sewing machine through India Gospel Outreach in India to help poor women learn a trade and also learn about Jesus love for them. Merry Christmas to everyone and I hope we all have a low pressure, stress free Christmas, remembering Jesus and what He did for all of us!

  4. Marilyn in East Texas says:

    Hi Suzie,
    Please pray for my husband whose glaucoma as of December 4th became “uncontrolled” (after he has faithfuly used his eye drops and has gone for eye check-ups regularly for many years. My husband needs glaucoma/cataract surgery as there are no other eye drops to try in an attempt to control the pressure in his eye (he has been on every eye drop). My husband was started on an oral medication December 4th that is very difficult to tolerate, however this medication has “stabilized” the pressure in the eye. The eye dr. thinks the pressure will remain “stabilized” until the surgery can be done following the holidays. The eye dr. prefers to wait to do the surgery since the pressure has “stabilized” due to the holidays and due to the fact that he is going out of town for 10 days after Christmas. Glaucoma surgery after care requires almost daily visits tothe eye dr. for the first few weeks to adjust and change eye drops, medications and additional laser surgery may be indicated if the filtration device fails. This type of surgery comes with a 65% chance the pressure in the eye will be lowered to preserve vision and we are being told that additional eye surgeries trying a different type of “valve” that is a more complicated surgery, may be indicated to help the fluid drain from the eye to preserve his vision.
    We saw another eye dr. for a second opinion and we got the same recommendation, however this second opinion eye dr. is more available to do the surgery following the week of Christmas including the follow-up monitoring, care and treatments.
    We are torn and so afraid and do not know which way to go. I do not want my husband to go blind.
    Please pray that the pressure in my husband’s eye will remain stabilized and that he will be able to tolerate the medication to control the eye pressure until the glaucoma/cataract surgery can be done and that the initial eye surgery will be successful and that my husband’s vision will be preserved.

    • Lord, I come to you humbly and expectant for this loved one’s eyes. Lead the doctors. Show them anything that might not have come to light with man’s knowledge. Fill this home with your presence, and may they sense you in such a powerful way. Thank you that we can trust you when things are hard, that you walk with us through those difficult times. In Jesus’ name, amen.

  5. Christmas for us this year has definitely taken on a whole new perspective. We have always known that Christmas was all about celebrating the birth of our Savior, but with the circumstances life finds us in right now, it has truly taken on new meaning. My husband lost his job at the end of May, unemployment has ran out and still no job. We stand firm today completely immersed in our faith and hope that we have in Christ, our Savior that He will provide and protect us in the midst of it all. More than ever we are celebrating who He is, why He came, and what He has given us. The gifts under the tree are great, but the greatest gift we have ever and will ever receive is the gift that hung on a tree. So this year we are taking the gifts that He has ever so carefully placed within us and laying them down at His feet at the cross and offering them back to Him in service. My husband and I decided not to get each other gifts, but only my daughter. She will receive three gifts, just like the Wise Men brought Jesus, and her gifts are all gifts that will encourage her gifts that God placed within her to glorify, serve, and honor Him. We are also celebrating not only the birth of our Savior, but the fact that He gave His life on the cross because if He would have stayed in the manger, we wouldn’t be free today! Different perspective on this joyful celebration this year, and thankful for the opportunity to see it this way!

    • One year we were in dire financial straits. It wasn’t that things were tight, but things were desperate and we were doing all we knew to do, working as hard as we could. That was a year that The Dollar Store was our children’s gifts, and our focus was on family and each other and the joy of our faith in Christ. It was also realizing that we had a place to lay our head at night, and a family that truly loved each other even on our craziest days. I pray that things look up financially for you soon, but so grateful for the spiritual depth I hear in your comment.

  6. Thank you for this post… I am definitely filing this for keeps!! I have 3 adult children all still single but this year our oldest moved to MN from our home in CA. With a new job, he is unable to come home for Christmas. First time in 33 years not to all be together. What a change that is but it is a good change! We are learning that Christmas isn’t a day but an experience we share and should be everyday!! So we already had our Christmas celebration this past Saturday since he could come home for the weekend! Even though he was here less than 48 hours they were focused hours of family fun and creating new traditions! I know that as my children marry and new families develop change is inevitable! I so appreciated you sharing your perspective and I am going to embrace this with an open heart and open hands!! Merry Christmas!!! Enjoy your Mexican Fiesta…one of our favorites too!!

  7. I so enjoyed your post this morning. I am at the same place in my life with my 4 grown children and precious grandchildren as you are. You have opened my eyes to new opportunities for my husband and I since traditions don’t always fit in now. Please pray for my youngest son who has gone through a divorce that he didn’t want. I know the holiday season is hard for him. This is usually his favorite time of year. Merry Christmas!

    • Father, I pray for this son who is going through an emotionally hurtful time. Wrap him close in your love, Father. Give him what he needs to, day by day, trust you, to find joy unexpectedly. Give him wisdom and strength beyond the circumstances, and guide him to a place of filling up in you. Thank you that you are with us in those dark places. May his Christmas be filled with discovering the depths of who you are. In Jesus’ name, amen.

  8. Vonnie Kronk says:

    Thank you, i needed this today! I have been so down about Christmas this year. My kids are all grown and have other things to do and places to go. so I’m having to be flexible But still be open to everyone coming to my house whenever they can & that makes me down more…Any help is appreciated!

    • Hi Vonnie, for me, I changed verbiage. It wasn’t that I “had to” be more flexible, but that I had an opportunity to focus on the beauty of the season, and to open my home to my family on a day that worked for all of us. And the one holiday, I didn’t see my children at all, but the memories I made with my husband were great. So, it’s taking the pressure off, changing focus, and if need be, finding a place where we can intentionally fill up (nature, a play, a movie, reading a good book with a nice hot cup of cocoa, etc.) so that I could also give out (open my home to others). Only you know what might do it for you, can you share that with me?

  9. Thank you, Suzie for reminding me just how special my family is. My mom decided when her 1st grandchild came & as my sisters & I married that it was important for each of us to have our own traditions. Growing up a Navy Junior we more often than not were away from our extended families so most times family came to us. Mom continued in that tradition and rotates her Christmas visits between the three of us. While we never had children and had careers in retail it meant we didn’t have to stress to add travel when already exhausted. My mother in law was probably the best anyone could ask for & she too would come to visit as both families spread apart from home base. Now Mom is over 80 & we lost my husband’s mom several years back we have gotten very involved in church and it has kept “the reason of the season” foremost in our celebration. Our Senior Pastor is known to literally give the shirt on his back away it has been a true blessing to learn how to really give, to be involved in such an accepting & loving body of Christians.

  10. This is such a great post. I’m blessed to have in-laws that don’t pull us every-which-way. I still feel spead thin most holidays and we have still had to make decisions. This makes me think about when are kids are grown and married, we can be a blessing to them and still have wonderful holidays. Thank you for this post!

  11. This year, my husband and I made the decision to spend Christmas alone. We needed the down time and to experience the season peacefully. I went easy on the decorations, just my tree with lights! It is not about the “bling” but about celebrating the birth of Jesus. Having made the decision to not allow ourselves to go crazy with the commercialism, we are focused on The Lord. Next year, we plan to keep the tv off during November and December. It is not about buy, buy, buy, but about the Prince of Peace. Merry Christmas sisters! Peace to you all!

  12. Thank you for this post. I needed this reminder of the important things as I go about this Christmas season.

  13. The thing I love best about you Suzie, is that you always know just what to say at the right times! And this message about Christmas is no different! At my family’s home, we no longer do presents between RH adults, instead we put all the money together and we put it into a different organization every year! This year we bought cows for a few families. It’s great to be able to share Christ’s love and make some pretty unique memories (for us and those who get those gifts)!

  14. What a wonderful reminder! We are still in the hustle and bustle with small children but don’t have near the commitments that some have. You’re right that it is difficult because as much as we want to see everyone, it doesn’t always work out for us.

    I look forward to years to come when we can get creative with our time!

    Also, thank you for the reminder to pray with our kids. I most definitely struggle in this area for myself and my family.

    Merry Christmas!

  15. I miss those special times when my family and I would get together at my grandparents house. There was always a warm fireplace, an ole fashion Christmas tree and the smell of wonderful food on the table. All my cousins, aunts and uncles came together. Now, it our church family we celebrate with and my own family get together.
    I would like to help a church in Oklahoma City who reach out to children and their families. This year the pastor’s wife is coming to speak at our church and I am hoping we can give to them as we reach others for Christ. I am asking everyone to bake cookies and also to give money to help them out.
    Just something I love to do.
    And Christmas time this year I have four face book friends I have never seen personally, but I have chosen to give them a gift each this year. They have been an encouragement throughout the year and be great prayer warriors.They sent me their address and I made them a picture with scripture on it and also gave them an angel decor to hang in their car.
    My boy’s helped give out gifts to children in Tulsa, Oklahoma this year. We usually give cookies and gifts to our neighbors each year.

  16. Thank you Suzie! My word of thanks to you is more for your cheerful tone and outlook than anything. I still live with my parents and my brother has been out of the house for several years so no worries on that front. My mood has been lacking it’s normal Christmas joy as of late and your post reminded me of all I have to be thankful for as I am very blessed! Thank you!

  17. Thanks, Suzie, for this beautiful reminder! My sister won’t be able to come “home” to spend Christmas with my family. Her son is the only grandchild, and it is very hard not to get to see them. This is the first year of my life that I will not get to celebrate Christmas with her or my 15-year-old nephew. I was feeling sorry for myself, but after reading your blog I have realized that her being gone has actually taken away some of the stress! (Even though the stress is worth it. I’m trying to think positively!) We don’t have to work around schedules. I don’t have to worry about getting everything “right” for our celebration. It has forced me to think about Mary’s first Christmas experience. She was away from her family as she welcomed the newborn King. I’m sure she longed for her mama! And they didn’t even have social media to share pictures!

  18. Needed this today – with several close family deaths in the last year, new ways if doing holidays are filtering through much of my family now. Grief has made it difficult to enjoy holidays even, but this was encouraging. Thank you!

    • Praying for you and your family, Amanda!

      And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

  19. Practical & easy tips. I like the blog; it’s easy to read. Merry Christmas to you.

  20. Wow… I SO needed this!!! God always, always, ALWAYS knows JUST how to bring special “words” of encouragement into my life when I need them. I’m going through an especially rough time this year/season having to spend the first thanksgiving and Christmas without my dad (he and my mom just separated after 36 years of marriage this summer) and he hasn’t spoken to my brother or myself since my mom made that decision. Its been heart-breaking to say the least. A huge hole is in my heart, but God is showing me that HE has always been there, ALWAYS, to fill every hole that my father~ and the entire world~ has ever created! I’m learning more this holiday season about God’s true GIFT of unconditional love than ever before… and learning to ACCEPT His love probably more fully than ever before as well!! One thing that together with my 9 year-old twins we are choosing to do this year as a new tradition to symbolize being grateful for God’s ultimate gift of Jesus this Christmas, was inspired both by what I’m learning from God about receiving His unconditional love *and* by a Hallmark ornament I found for my daughter… it is a cupcake ornament that says “Happy Birthday Jesus” and actually plays that birthday song. We are planning to bake cupcakes Christmas morning and then sing Happy Birthday to Jesus!! 🙂 A new fun way to remember the real reason and to say thank you to God for giving us His Son!

  21. I love your perspective on this! As a mom to two little ones, in the throes of juggling family commitments, this it so refreshing! (If i share this with the rest of the family, think they’ll take the hint???)

  22. Thank you, i needed this today! I have been so down about Christmas this year. My kids are all grown now and have things to do and places to go. Im having a hard time adjusting to them being adults. But you are so right with everything you have said. Its not about what day you celebrate! I will work on new traditions and will have a much better Christmas!
    Thanks again

  23. Thank you so much for these words of encouragement both here and in the devotions on Proverbs 31. I desperately needed to hear them because I have gotten to that place of not enjoying Thanksgiving or Christmas for the reasons you have stated here. My mom has always been one who has wanted to have Christmas celebrated on Christmas Eve and /or Christmas Day. For most of the time I was married the first time and then a single mom, that worked out, even though we gave up our time to start traditions with our daughter. But since adopting my son and being remarried, things have become increasingly more difficult for us to make that work. We now have 3 families to accommodate – mine, my husbands, and my former in-laws. My first husband died so we were and still are to some degree very connected to my former in-laws. My husband and I want to have our own traditions established. And to top things off, my daughter is now grown and living 11 hours away. My parents live 4 hours away and when she comes home, she is not too excited about traveling further. This year she will not be able to come home until the day after Christmas because of work. I am fine with that but it created a lot of stress for me because it meant trying to fit everyone else into a short amount of time with others schedules that didn’t always coordinate real well. This led to health issues for me related to this stress and others in my life. So to hear your words gave me the hope and encouragement that I needed. My husband and son and I are going to do some of the very things you mentioned and I am excited about it. I just hope everyone else can adjust and be okay with it too.

  24. I probably echo others when I say that I needed God’s peace that came through your words. Eventhough we have been empty nesters for a couple of years, it wasn’t that bad because we had our children in the same city and we were flexible with the one that was married. We gave up our traditional Christmas Eve celebration because my daughter in law’s family celebrated it and after a couple of Christmases of late night drive in cold weather to our house, we decided to give them the gift of flexibility and we started new traditions with the other two boys still at home.
    This year however I was starting to feel sad because none of our children and grand babies will be around, you see, out of our four children the three boys joined the military, one is stationed in NC, KS, and CO and my daughter and her family in CA. Oh and by the way did I mention that Nov 25th we welcomed our 7th grand baby in NC. Oh yeah, we recently moved to a little mountain town where we don’t know anyone. After reading your post I am excited to star our own new traditions. I really liked your idea about opening our home. I have noticed there seems to be quite a few older single ladies, that I haven’t seen them have people over. Eventhough it’s the 23rd, today I will reach out and hopefully have neighbors over for Christmas. If not my husband and I have decided to focus on the reason for the season, our Lord Jesus Christ and each other. Thanks again for all your love.

  25. Wow! Your words and encouragement were just what God knew my heart needed this morning! Our family is in that exciting place of adding in laws and new traditions and it is an emotional time for us as parents and for the children still at home! My husband and I do not want to hold our children in bondage to our expectations! Thank you for your words and ideas! You are so right about how amazing it feels to take the pressure off…amazing for us as parents and for our adult children! Blessings to you as you share what God has already taught you as parents with those of us just beginning that new phase of life! God is good!

  26. I’ve been thinking long and hard about being intentional in our giving. This year our family will be delivering cookies to local recruiters from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines who may not be able to make it home for Christmas. The recipient may change year to year but I am hoping to make this a tradition!

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