Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I remember the childhood magic of unpacking our Christmas decorations every year, the anticipation of eating the candy cane cookies that my dad and I twisted into perfect pink and white hooks, and the joy of finding at least one special present under the tree. For years, I told my parents that someday I would get married at Christmas; eventually I fulfilled that promise by getting married during the middle of a Michigan snowstorm, a few days after Christmas.
But somewhere along the way, Christmas lost its magic. Gradually Christmas became a time of endless obligations, grading deadlines for report cards, and a growing list of gifts that needed to be purchased in order to deliver the perfect Christmas.
The birth of our children helped to turn around my Christmas slump. When our kids were finally old enough to do more than put wrapping paper into their mouths, their excitement over decorations, stockings, and finding that special gift under the tree became my excitement.
But even that joy doesn’t make up for the pressure that I often feel at the height of the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because we love having guests and cooking for others, for several years we launched the season by hosting Thanksgiving dinner. We spent weeks planning and cleaning and finally, on the day before, preparing a full spread for as many friends and family members as were able to make it to our Indiana home. At the end of the day, we were always thankful that we were able to go to sleep in our own beds without having to drive home from some other location.
Then two years ago, a couple of months before our second Thanksgiving in Texas, my husband suggested that we look into camping during the Thanksgiving holiday. After all, we didn’t have any family around, the weather was going to be fall-camping perfect, and we had some extra days off of school. It was the perfect time for us to plan a trip several hours away from Houston.
So, we did it. We packed up all of our easily transportable outdoor cooking equipment and loaded it into our camper, bought the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner for four, and headed down the Gulf Coast, settling on a state park less than two hours north of Corpus Christi. We spent the day before Thanksgiving driving down to Corpus and then all the way to Padre Island National Seashore, sightseeing and watching our kids pick up seashells along the coastline. The next day we enjoyed a small—but complete—Thanksgiving dinner, and on that Friday, we didn’t even realize that we had missed Black Friday shopping.
Last Thanksgiving, we made reservations just south of Dallas, and although it was cooler than our Thanksgiving on the coast, we once again enjoyed the escape from civilization. We were joined by friends, their two young daughters, and my sister-in-law and her family. This time, instead of spending our Black Friday on the road driving home, we spent it hiking, hopping across a river, and exploring fossilized dinosaur tracks.
It was official. Campsgiving was here to stay.
It is so easy to let the season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s take on a life of its own. We convince ourselves that everything has to be perfect. We over plan, overspend, and overstress. We spend time with people we would prefer not to see and are so busy being busy that we don’t spend quality time with the ones we want to see most. We say that we are thankful but don’t demonstrate that thankfulness. We say that, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but then we fill up the space under the tree with things that we don’t need while others receive nothing. We make New Year’s resolutions but mentally prepare our contingency plans for when those resolutions fail.
But what if we just said, “No!” to all of the things that detract from the holiday celebrations and distract us from each other?
We discovered a holiday contentment that we had never before experienced when we made the decision to escape it all and camp for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t freaking out about the house, we weren’t scouring newspaper ads for things we didn’t need and—although we ate a huge Thanksgiving dinner—we hadn’t been bored. We didn’t sit around eating food we didn’t need before and after dinner out of boredom, because we were enjoying life in the great outdoors. It’s refreshing. It’s been so refreshing, that in addition to Campsgiving this year near New Orleans, we have also planned a Christmas camping trip to southwestern Texas. We intend to leave after church and a quiet Christmas morning and return just in time to ring in the New Year.
I’m not suggesting that the answer to all of our holiday busyness is to just drop everything and head outdoors. I spent most of my life in the cold, snowy north; that kind of outdoor living is only for the truly dedicated. But we do need to give ourselves permission to cut the things that prevent us from truly celebrating. Maybe we vow to buy fewer gifts and be truly intentional about the gifts that we do buy (and stick to it). Maybe we focus on experiences like zoo and museum memberships instead of more toys that will just get broken and forgotten. Maybe we volunteer at a homeless shelter and spend our time serving those who have nothing instead of sitting around watching football and holiday movies. Maybe we sit around the kitchen table to play a game instead of allowing everyone to retire to their own corners with the electronic devices of their choosing.
Instead of seeking the perfect holiday experience, maybe it is time to seek to better know our loved ones, to show compassion for those who are suffering, and to glorify the God who made our end-of-year celebrations possible.
But we can still enjoy a piece of pie.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!