"Mommy, where are my shoes?"

"Daddy, I spilled juice on my good pants!"

"Mommy, I can’t find my coat!"

We’re finally loaded in the van and on our way to our third Christmas pageant of the season when a chilling scream erupts from the back seat. "I forgot my shepherd’s costume!"

Visions of an on-time arrival dance out of my head, only to be replaced by an all-too-familiar scene of chaos as my husband wheels the van back home.

Sound familiar? I like to refer to the pre-Christmas season as "Christmas chaos," that period of time when people jam six months’ worth of pageants, concerts, shopping, parties and family get-togethers into six weeks. On top of that, we attempt to maintain an enthusiastic, energetic attitude towards tree trimming, carol singing and gingerbread-house building.

Shortly after our third son arrived, my husband and I were convinced: Christmas without a plan was a plan for disaster. Our Christmas season was void of any joy. Rushing from one event to the next was creating in our family a worship-less, we-can’t-wait-until-Christmas-is-over attitude. Even worse, racing around was having an adverse effect on our efforts to teach our kids about the true significance of Jesus’ birth. Our children were learning that Christmas was a tired, grumpy and rushed holiday.

We determined that Christmas chaos would not define our family’s holiday season. Fifteen years of marriage and four kids later (two of whom have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), we’ve developed a plan to survive this hectic season. The following plan works for our family; hopefully, it will take some chaos out of your holidays, too.

Be scheduled

Sit down with your spouse and plan your holiday calendar. Think of it as a first draft.

  • Pencil in set event dates.
  • Schedule shopping trips and available babysitters to watch the kids.
  • If travelling to visit family, mark down arrival and departure dates.

Next, take a look at your calendar and ask yourself: Does it look too full? Are there some events I can weed out? Is this event truly important? Commit yourself to a set number of activities, and don’t commit to something if you’re already at your maximum.

Another important tip: Avoid scheduling events during a child’s "pressure times" – near bedtime, mealtime or right after school. Leave room in the schedule to enjoy being at home. Children need time to relax, especially ones with extra energy or ADHD. They will require "downtime" to recover from an eventful day.

Be structured

Kids fare much better in a familiar routine. By providing a comfortable pace with intentional structure, they’ll be more likely to have a memorable, tantrum-free holiday.

  • Try to stick to a regular mealtime, bedtime and bath time – whether you’re at home or staying with friends and family over the holidays.

  • When getting ready for an event, use an oven timer. Set five- to 10-minute intervals for getting dressed, combing hair, brushing teeth, putting on coats, etc.

  • Transition kids when leaving a party or event. Point out a clock or give them a watch with an alarm set 15 minutes prior to leaving.

  • Tell your kids ahead of time about upcoming events, parties and travels. Knowing what’s happening next offers security and allows time for excited energy to settle.

Be organized

If there’s ever a time in the year to be organized, it’s the Christmas season. All those chores we normally accomplish without much thought can suddenly become an overwhelming task.

  • If travelling is in your plans, pack items ahead of time that you won’t need before your trip.

  • Place a large basket or laundry hamper by the front door for quick access to items you’ll need for various events – such as costumes, gifts, a camera, extra batteries and a diaper bag.

  • Lay your children’s clothes out the night before. If a clothing change will be required later in the day, lay those items out, too.

  • If you plan to travel, prepare a kids’ travel play bin filled with games, audio CDs, a small magnetic drawing board, books, reading lights, paper and crayons. And for added anticipation, reserve your special bin for travelling only.

  • Pack an "Emergency Kid Kit" for your car trunk. Include a first-aid kit, paper towels, non-perishable snacks, boxed drinks, extra diapers, wipes and an extra shirt or two.

  • Plan to be flexible! Kids get sick, event times change and bad weather happens. In my own experience, the sooner I came to grips with the fact that I couldn’t control everything, the better it was for everyone.

Be intentional

Making practical plans can help alleviate holiday stress and, more importantly, keep your family’s main focus on honouring and celebrating our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The following helped us be intentional about keeping our eyes fixed on Him:

  • Place Scripture verses around your home, including your children’s rooms. Try memorizing them as a family.

  • Set up a Nativity tree. Purchase a small Christmas tree and miniature nativity ornaments. In our family, we hang one ornament on the tree daily, beginning December 1st.

  • On Christmas morning, have a plan for worship (Bible reading, singing, prayer). Our kids know their role ahead of time and prepare for it.

  • Keep a Christmas devotional in the car for kids to take turns reading aloud en route to events.

  • Have your kids use some of their allowance to purchase a gift for a child who is less fortunate.

  • Take treats to neighbours, nursing homes and those who have lost loved ones in the past year. Your kids will remember sharing the love of Jesus for years to come.

Now take a breath. You can do it. Christmas chaos will not prevail.

Our family used to wish Christmas was over; now we embrace the season with anticipation. Instead of only focusing on the "to-dos" of the holidays, we’re learning to take on every task as an act of worship, doing all things for His honour and glory.

Will Christmas ever be perfect? With four spirited kids and two imperfect parents, it’s not likely. But the important thing is that Christ is at the centre of our home and holidays – and we plan to keep Him there.

Sandra Walker-Mastin is a freelance writer with a background in special education. She lives in Ontario with her husband and four children.

© 2008 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox