Attempt to take perfect family photo. Raise eyebrows and smile-yell at kids for refusing to look happy and/or face the camera. Ignore inner voice asking why such small details matter. Tell yourself they just do – at least according to some unwritten, hand-me-down rule of thumb. Verbally accept defeat. Hold grudge.✓

Buy a hundred Christmas cards. Scribble merryish greetings. Stamp. Mail. ✓

Scour ads searching for deals. Drive all over town to save $10. Go home, bad mood in tow. Separate “stuff” into piles for each kid. Bag it up. Cram into closet for future after-hours wrapping. ✓

Pretend baking cookies lights your fire, especially multiple varieties. Buy all ingredients at store. Unpack groceries with Zenlike mantra, “I will -AH- enjoy cleaning the volcanic remains of flour, frosting, food coloring, and candied toppings all over my -OM- counters and floors.” Freak out in middle of peaceful meditation when realizing the most important baking item missed the grocery list. Go back to store. Yell at car radio both ways for playing Christmas music on every station. ✓

I’m embarrassed to admit the above scenario described a couple Christmas seasons back in the tiny tot days of raising kids. A whiskey sour made up of three (kids in three and a half years) parts Jack-in-the-box, two parts exhaustion, and a splash of sour attitude numbs a person. As in me. Any of you?

When looking back over the chaos all I see is a neon sign flickering, “Scrooge You Lose.” Don’t get me wrong, every Christmas had love, merriment, and celebrating the birth of our Savior. But a couple of those years my priorities were askew. I invested so much energy in trying to accomplish everything society told me a young mom raising a family should do that I missed the magic and sabotaged the joy of being a young mom raising a family.

A worse tug-of-war for parents exists in today’s world. Carnivals, festivals, meals with Santa et al, lighting ceremonies, secret gift exchanges, cookie swaps, Black Thanksgiving at 6pm Friday, elves gone rogue, Cyber Monday/Week, the magic spell of Pinterest, mass media push for toys, toys, and more toys every child must have, etc.

When does the madness end? Whenever you want.

I’m now forty-six years old, my kids nineteen and twenty-somethings. Holiday preparation beats to the cadence of a different drummer boy these days. Not because of the birth of Amazon or the death of Christmas Eve wrap fests. Or even empty nest. It’s the time thing. Time teaches. And keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin into the future…♪

Steve Miller Band said it best back in 1976 when Fly Like an Eagle soared into the airwaves. I was six at the time, self-absorbed, and clueless to the lyrical depth. I want to fly like an eagle till I’m free made a lot of sense as a teen though. That’s when I turned up the volume and belted out my egocentric wish for parental liberation.

At some point while travelling over the river and through the woods, Mr. Miller’s “Feed the babies who don’t have enough to eat. Shoe the children with no shoes on their feet. House the people livin’ in the street,” struck a chord.

The scales of pointless busyness fell from my eyes.

God joined the band in singing, “Oh, oh, there’s a solution….♫”, followed by a pointed directive for me to change my ways.

I stopped sending Christmas cards eight years ago. Why? Because I dreaded the time-consuming process. Plus I figured negative energy gets trapped in envelopes. For me, sending cards with a resentful or empty attitude smells like scrooge more than not sending wishes at all.

Now I make the effort to reach out to the people I care about all year in a variety of ways. Love your neighbor type things. Regarding family photos, Christmas letters, and pet parades, Facebook spreads the love twelve months out of the year.

As for cookies, our family makes one kind – sugar cutouts. No, my kids make one kind and I smile and laugh along, dabbing a little frosting here and there. Cooking is one of my favorite things in life. Baking is not cooking. And I’ve come to accept the difference.

Cooking is a creative art which makes allowances for a handful of this, pinch of that, dab of something else. Anything is worth trying. Some of the best tasting dishes evolve from trial and error. But baking requires precise measurements and I don’t like a cookbook to tell me exactly what to do. The end.

Gifts. One of the greatest transformations in our family. As the kids grew up and understood the real meaning of celebrating our Savior, we transitioned into flying eagles through soup kitchens, Jesse Tree projects, adopt-a-family programs.

We still have some over-the-top years of gift giving to each other, but one of my favorite let my Spirit carry me ♪ rituals in our home is the White Envelope Project. My husband and I decided to implement the idea with our kiddos in 2013 after hearing the story from a dear friend who celebrates the custom with her family. 

The concept was birthed in 1982 when a wife decided to surprise her husband with a unique gift one Christmas. He despised the commercialization, hub bub, and pretense of Christmas, so instead of buying him meaningless stuff she did a random act of kindness for someone else.

The wife purchased new equipment for a poor inner-city wrestling team and donated anonymously. On Christmas morning she wrote a note to her spouse telling him what she did in honor of his “wish” for the kids on the team to have safer equipment. She placed the note in a plain white envelope and nestled it into the Christmas tree. Turns out her plan resulted in the best Christmas ever for her husband and family and is now a national movement.

This Christmas marks our third year celebrating the white envelope. If you haven’t experienced the wonder in your family, try it. Guaranteed eagle soaring, Jesus adoring adventure. My husband and I give our kids a set amount of cash a month in advance and they decide the best way to put the money to use. Hearing their stories Christmas morning is the highlight of my entire holiday experience, hands down and feet in fuzzy slippers up.

The ghost of Christmas past made me realize I don’t want to miss a minute of magic or sabotage any joy related to the Christmas season going forward. Scrooge you lose, love you win. Every minute counts.

♫ Tick tock, doot doot doot do do…♪

Shelby Spear

A self-described sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, and love enthusiast, Shelby is a mom of 3 Millennials writing about motherhood and life from her empty nest. She is the co-author of the book, How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don't need to say, "I'm fine.") , and you can find her stories in print at Guideposts, around the web at sites like Her View From Home, For Every Mom, Parenting Teens & Tweens and on her blog