One reader writes: “I always look forward to the Christmas season but by the time it arrives I’m so exhausted I wish it was over. For many years I’ve told myself that “this Christmas things will be different.” It hasn’t worked. I continue to find myself on the same old treadmill. Do you have any suggestions?”

In one of his Letters To An American Lady, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Just a hurried line . . . to tell a story which puts the contrast between our feast of the Nativity and all this ghastly “Xmas” racked at its lowest. My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, “Oh Lord! They bring religion into everything. Look — they’re dragging it even into Christmas now!’

That letter was written forty years ago and since that time things have only gotten worse. For many people, Christmas is just another holiday. Even those of us who know the real meaning of Christmas has to fight against the tendency to get caught up in the busyness and frenzy. In the midst of all the marketing Christ becomes an afterthought and frequently gets left away in the manger.

For over 20 years Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli have led pre — Christmas workshops. They have created a Christmas values test that asks people to rank the importance of 10 statements. Each begins: “Christmas is a time . . . .” If you have a pencil or pen handy take a few minutes and go through this list. Rank the importance of each statement to you with 1 being most important and 10 being least important.

___ To be a peacemaker, within my family and the world at large.
___ To enjoy being with my immediate family.
___ To create a beautiful home environment
___ To celebrate the birth of Christ.
___ To exchange gifts with family and friends.
___ For parties, entertaining and visiting.
___ To help those who are less fortunate.
___ To strengthen bonds with my relatives.
___ To strengthen my church community.
___ To be relaxed and renewed.

What did you come up with at the top of your list? In their workshops most people list their top values as being with immediate family or celebrating Christ’s birth. That’s what I had at the top of my list.

Now go through the list one more time. However this time I’d like you to rank the 10 statements in order of which values actually get the most of your time. Use a 1 for the value that gets the most time and a 10 for the value that gets the least amount of time.

What values came out on top of this second list? Was it the same as the first list? If you are like most people I’ve shared this little test with, probably not. At Christmas, many of us end up giving most of our time and energy to buying gifts, planning socials, and just trying to keep up with all the parties, fellowships, musicals and programs.

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Terry Mattingly, a syndicated columnist and lecturer on popular culture at Denver Seminary has observed that “Christmas was supposed to begin with four weeks of rest, a season called Advent, followed by a big party of 12 days — you know, “On the first day of Christmas,” etc. What we have now are two months of frantic running all over the place, followed by a two—hour explosion of giving gifts, followed by the NFL playoffs.”

The good news is that this Christmas season can be different. How? It starts with a choice. You can choose to make this celebration of Christmas the most meaningful one ever. You can make a choice to not allow the urgent things that characterize the Christmas season to crowd out the important values that signify what Christmas is really all about.

You have the power to choose to nurture these good intentions by putting your feet to them. Look over your first ranking of Christmas values. What is most important to you about Christmas? What were your top 3 items?

Now, starting with number one, make a list of 3 specific ways you can fulfill those values. If your number one value is to celebrate the birth of Christ ask yourself “What are 3 specific ways in which I can meaningfully celebrate the birth of my Lord Jesus Christ?”

Christ came to give Himself for others. This Christmas you can choose to build, nourish and cherish those you love in new ways. But don’t stop yet. Don’t merely focus on what you can do. Ask yourself when will you do it? Schedule quality time for what you have, in advance, determined is most important. Don’t give that which is most precious the crumbs of your day. Make those values a priority and squeeze your other activities around those values and priorities.

Christmas is “God with us.” Christmas is God becoming man so that He might “give His life a ransom for many.” Put first things first. Come celebrate Jesus! Then go shopping.

Taken from The Center for Relationship Enrichment, by Gary Oliver. Copyright © 2007 Gary Oliver. All rights reserved. Used by permission

Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D. is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Visit Gary at