Celebrate the Christmas Season with Purpose, An interview with Melissa Spoelstra, Author of Total Christmas Makeover
In the bustle of the Christmas season, it can be easy to get swept up in all of the things to do: decorating, cooking, socializing, and shopping. However, it is important to pause and remember the priority should be to spend time celebrating Christ’s birth and not forgetting to invite Jesus to His own party. In Total Christmas Makeover: 31 Devotions to Celebrate with Purpose (Abingdon Press), Melissa Spoelstra provides a practical approach to helping families learn what it means to truly celebrate the Savior.
Q: What is a total Christmas makeover?
A total Christmas makeover doesn’t mean scrapping all your holiday traditions or adding ten more to your list. Instead, it is a personal time of reflection to evaluate how your Christmas practices align with some biblical concepts of celebration. The Old Testament is filled with instructions to celebrate and remember with marked days and times. Passover, festivals and feasts were instituted by God to help His people remember who He is and what He has done.
While we have no such specifics given for our celebration of Christ’s birth because it comes from church history rather than biblical mandate, we can glean some important principles about celebration from Scripture. In studying the holy days God instructed the Israelites to observe in the Old Testament, we notice three key elements consistent in their practices. Rituals, including special gatherings, particular foods and specific actions, helped God’s people remember His faithfulness. Relationships were a key part of everything. Rest was mandated, and stopping ordinary work helped people savor God’s goodness. As we think about our Christmas rituals, relationships and time for rest, we can make simple Spirit-led changes that will help us celebrate Jesus and bring realignment to His mission. That is a total Christmas makeover.
Q: Some people thrive on the holiday season while others dread it. What factors differentiate the enthusiasts from those who would rather skip the holidays?
It really is our attitude that differentiates us. Those who want to skip it may have significant factors contributing to their posture. Perhaps they lost a loved one this year, and Christmas marks a time of loss flooded with memories of an absent person at their celebrations. Others may have complicated family or friend situations or might be battling cancer or a serious illness. However, many want to skip Christmas because their lists of things to do are overwhelming. The hype of Christmas requires a lot of work and sometimes isn’t very nourishing to the soul. Rediscovering enthusiasm for the season means stripping away the excess and getting back to Christ. Waning enthusiasm can return when we begin to ask good questions about how and why we celebrate. These devotions are designed to do just that. When we redirect our focus, we can celebrate Christ even through rough seasons of life.
Q: For those who feel like Scrooge or the Grinch (most definitely secular characters) around Christmas, what kind of self-examination should they do?
Feelings are fickle at times. They can change from day to day when we take into account our fatigue, workload, relational issues, etc. If we are consistently feeling like Scrooge or Grinch throughout a longer period of time, then we need to do some digging to get to the root of a pattern of feelings that isn’t Christ-like. God is generous. We can never out-give Him. At Christmas, generosity is highlighted and contagious. If we aren’t joining in that Holy Spirit-led desire to give and serve, then we need to do a heart check. These could be symptoms of something we can take action to reverse, such as lack of prayer or study in God’s Word. Maybe we have isolated ourselves from a community of believers and need to re-engage. Sometimes the issues run much deeper to past abuse, grief or secret sin. A good counselor might be needed in those cases to help us walk through our pain in a healthy way.
Q: How do you approach the Christmas season differently now than you did five or ten years ago?
I’m less concerned about doing what I think I “should” do and more focused on spending time with the Savior I celebrate. I still love many of the rituals of Christmas and continue to decorate, attend parties, incorporate family devotions and prepare for special church services. I’m just more OK with saying no to some things. I don’t have to attend every party we are invited to. With teenagers, we now do weekly family devotions in December where they take turns leading. I spend more moments savoring, singing and praying and less time fretting, shopping and trying to make everything “just right.”
Q: So much of the Christmas season is centered around the giving and receiving of gifts. How can we make over our approach to gift-giving to be more Christ-focused and meaningful?
The wise men brought gifts. Jesus is the greatest gift to us. Giving gifts is a tradition to remind us of our generous God. However, anything God intends for good, the enemy tries to twist. This has certainly happened with holiday shopping. Marketing targets us and our children to desire bigger, better, faster and more. Dialoguing about the tradition of gifts and taking time to include our families in being generous to others help realign us in remembering the greatest gifts usually aren’t bought in a store. People are gifts. Peace, contentment and forgiveness are gifts. When kids catch a vision and a taste of giving to others, it is the best medicine to quell their natural desires to receive. Shopping for a needy family, reading about missionaries and starting traditions of gratitude help us rediscover the joy of giving and receiving.
Q: Is Total Christmas Makeover intended to be used as a family devotional or for the adults read and apply to their family time each day?
It could be used either way. For adults whose small groups or Bible studies break for December, it provides a daily reading to keep them in Scripture and reflecting on the reason for the season. It includes Scripture, a devotion, a prayer prompt and practical application ideas. These could be read and discussed as a family or on an individual basis.
Q: The 31 devotionals go beyond Christmas day. How do you transition readers into preparing for the new year ahead?
The last 10 devotions revolve around rest and preparation for a new year. It is during times of rest when we can reflect on what we want to do differently in the future. These devotions cover topics such as balance, finding new strength and preparing to remember God’s gift of Christ throughout the year ahead.