Before you go thinking I’m the neighbor with the pumpkins still sitting on her porch come December, let me assure you that in the end this autumn story relates to the season at hand.
My October baby turned five this fall just before the leaves started to get their color. And so, we scooted ourselves over to the pumpkin patch, hiked through a mini forest of evergreen and found a thing of fairy tales, a pumpkin carriage.
When I throw a birthday party, I like to do it the hard way, like I do most everything in life. I like to take themes or ideas, look at them from every possible angle, then turn them into an experience. Sometimes I call it being “creative,” “thorough” or “detail-oriented.” Other times I call it “out of my mind.” Our Cinderella Pumpkin Patch party was one of those times.
First, we planned a Cinderella Pumpkin Patch playdate for Farah and friends. (Our extended family is so big that it’s hard to find room for anyone else at our home-based parties.) The kiddos dressed in costumes, rode the pumpkin train and other rides, and gobbled down pumpkin cupcakes. This was the easy part.
After the playdate, Farah and I gathered supplies for making our own little pumpkin patch for the family party that weekend. We loaded the wagon so full of pumpkins that the mini van looked like a low-rider. Meanwhile, my mom (read: hero) graciously came to the rescue and swooped in to pick up Elliot from the bus stop.
Back at home, she gasped when she saw inside my garage. It had been taken over by refrigerator boxes, box cutters and trays of bright pink paint that I had tried way too hard to mix into a soft orange tone. She helped me measure the lengths of cardboard and told me when it looked like I was about to slice my fingertips off. She held the pieces up on end to zip-tie them, and pretty much helped keep the Cinderella castle dream alive.
If I had done just the castle, she said, I probably would have been able to keep my sanity. But the castle plus the carriage cake and the homemade pumpkin patch and the activities on top of getting the normal house chaos under control…it was all too much. We agreed through my misty eyes and half-laugh that the castle idea probably should have stayed an idea.
In the end, I had to cut scope on a lot of things.
1. I wanted to carve pumpkins in beautiful Cinderella themed designs. I ended up leaving them in one piece for our decor and providing markers for the kiddos to decorate their small pumpkins from the castle pumpkin patch.
2. I wanted to do a sewing activity where the kids could pull ribbon through buttonholes on a dress, just like the little tailor and seamstress mice that helped Cinderella out in the movie. I ended up putting my mom’s high school banquet gown on my friend’s dress form to serve as a prop.
3. I wanted to do a balloon game with mini mops and brooms. I ended up scratching that idea altogether as I couldn’t get to the toy store to buy the pretend cleaning supplies.
4. I wanted to have a dance off “royal ball” in the castle to the tune of the Cinderella soundtrack. I ended up playing the songs indoors and letting the knights have free reign of the castle as they picked up their shields and rode their invisible horses into battle again and again and again.
5. I wanted to bake and decorate the pumpkin carriage cake myself. I ended up making that happen by going for easy ready-made food in the form of a French cheese board.
The classic tale of Cinderella in my Children’s Anthology says that right before Christmas, “on the Twelfth Night there was to be a great Ball at the Palace, with such dancing and feasting and revelry as had never been known in that country before.”
Doesn’t that sound like some of us at Christmas, trying to outdo ourselves year to year in gifts and parties and decor?
My October fail is still ringing in my ears in December. While I built that castle in my own effort, the hours turned into days. This wasn’t coming together effortlessly and organically like last year’s build. It was becoming my part time job, leaving me with little energy to complete other tasks or even relax with my loved ones. Every time the kids were in bed or otherwise occupied, I was out in the garage splattering paint on my jeans and hair, gripping the dull box cutter until my hands cramped up. I was like Cinderella who “from morning to night…sat stitching and stitching till she could scarcely see out of her young eyes or hold her needle.”
But the one thing my striving can do is to show me my limits and the limits of those around me (whom I try to rope into my ideas). In short, my overboard projects humble me and show me my need for a hero.
After wearing myself out this fall (on the castle and other commitments), I’m looking for a more sustainable Christmas.
For our basic Advent routine, we like to set the Nativity figurines out one by one as the days and weeks go on. Every morning, we move the Baby Jesus figurine from cubby to cubby in our wooden Advent calendar to prepare our hearts to look for His coming. At night, we gather around the tree to read a selection from the Jesus Storybook Bible, which has twenty-four entries from Genesis to the story of Jesus birth, perfect for taking us all the way through Advent. Then we sing a Christmas carol and pray together to close out the night. It’s a simple yet powerful way to spend time as a family worshiping Emmanuel, God with us, during this special time of year.
On our first reading the other night, the text nudged me: “[The Bible shows] how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.”
Grace is not only for our salvation, it’s for our everyday living too. Our best work is like Cinderella’s rag dress in the light of God’s glory. He has better things to adorn us. For you and me this Christmas, I pray we would make time to focus, not on our own work, but on what God has already done, how He gave up His glory for that moment in history to come rescue us. And I pray we trust Him to point us to the tasks that work into His plan for us this season, even if that means limiting or letting go of our over-the-top projects.
Here’s to a sustainable Christmas.
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