As a child, Christmas may or may not have been a favourite time of the year for you. But either way, it arrives as the days get darker here in the UK and bonfire season is over.
As adults, Christmas might be on our minds for a lot more of the year. If you’re a planner then I’m sure you’ll have everything organised, you’ll have roped in all the volunteers you might need to deliver a full Christmas programme in your local school plus another one across town.
If you’re like me however, you might have been thinking about it for a while but haven’t got around to putting anything in place yet.
So, it’s November and you’ve just been told that you’re delivering the Christmas assembly in two weeks’ time, squeezing it in between prep for the church carol service and a big outreach campaign that you’ve been building up to.
Or you’ve been trying to get into the school since September but have only just managed to get hold of the head of RE, who tells you that they don’t have space in their curriculum for additional Christmas lessons or activities.
Christmas and schools
Off the rack assemblies can be found in a myriad of places around the internet. For example, The Salvation Army have a good bank of these; choose one that matches your resources and time available.
If you already have props which could be used, then an assembly which is an interactive Christmas story could be pulled together pretty quickly. Use an age-appropriate version of the story, either gather volunteers or, even better, ask for volunteers from the children in the assembly.
The latter will work best with under-11s. You could either go with the Love Actually approach and include a plethora of animals and human casting (in which case, it doesn’t matter too much of the props or costume you have are first-century Palestine or not).
Or tell the story as real as possible (no donkey, wise men who don’t appear until well after the birth etc). Either way will be unusual and hopefully engaging!
One very simple and yet always welcome gesture in school is to show that you think about the staff and one way to do that at Christmas time is to buy a large box of chocolates and put them in the staff room. You could write a Christmas thank you card, especially perhaps if your church has paid for the chocolates.
Christmas and you
It’s also really important to keep our heads above water in the busiest season of the year for many. You don’t need me to tell you that Christmas is a crazy busy season, you may already be feeling stretched and overtired. I think we all are.
Not only are some of us still contending with the lasting effect of long COVID, but we are all also living with the collective stress that we have been under with the ever-shifting political and financial scene of recent weeks, months and years. So here are a few tips to look after yourself in this current climate:
- Get outside regularly, preferably in the morning if you can manage it. We don’t get a lot of sunlight in the winter here in the UK, and of course the shorter days means there’s less time to enjoy the little we do have. So even if it’s just a walk around your block or a cup of tea while standing at the back door, increasing the time you do spend outside is going to help.
- Consider taking a vitamin-D supplement. I’m not hugely into supplementing our diets with tablets but this one is possibly the most effective as there aren’t too many foods we eat that contain vitamin D, our best source is sunlight and there’s just not enough of that in the winter months. A vitamin-D deficiency can cause painful problems with bones as well as extreme tiredness and feeling generally low. Get some advice from your pharmacist or on the NHS website.
- Create moments to stop, breathe deeply and pray or meditate. Whether you do this regularly or not, during this very busy season it is good to do it a little more. So, if you have an hour’s quiet time at the start of each day, try to build in another pause later in the day. If you currently live life on the run or have not picked up your Bible in months, then try to start small. Just two minutes of quiet at home, in the car, at church or wherever you find yourself will be helpful. Start with a prayer you know off by heart and sit in the quiet for a moment or two.
- Thankfulness is an essential element to our well-being and our faith. Not only are we encouraged to be thankful by Jesus, but science tells us it’s incredibly good for us. Take a few moments towards the end of each day to name three things you’re thankful. It can be big things or little things. I like to focus on the little things because in the end, those become the big things. So someone smiling unexpectedly, the kindness of strangers, access to medical help when needed or cuddles with a pet, child or other family member can all be included.
- Sing, at church, in the car, by yourself or with others. Research shows us that when we sing, the neurotransmitters in our brains connect in new and different ways. The act of singing releases endorphins which make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. Singing alongside others increases this effect. The best news is, you don’t have to be ‘good’ at singing for it to be good for you. Whether it’s carols, Christmas music, choral, pop, metal, grunge, Mariah Carey or Cliff Richard, give it everything you’ve got at every opportunity.
- And finally: if you are running on empty and looking for a way to decompress after the busy Christmas season, book into my January Retreat. This is an online retreat for those working with young people, to create some space for rest, refreshment and reflection. If you’re interested, you can find out more information here.