Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
As all church musicians know, Christmas starts in June or July when you begin planning and choosing music and doesn’t end until December 25 (or December 26 this year, since Christmas falls on a Sunday).
The to-do lists never end and no matter how hard you try to get ahead, December always seems to bring a few surprises and a bit more stress than desired (your lead Tenor has laryngitis the day before his “O Holy Night” solo and the cellist you had for Christmas Eve is double-booked!).
There are Christmas cards to write, holiday parties to attend, gifts to wrap, extra rehearsals, instrumentalists to coordinate, descants to modify, and endless bulletins to proof.
And as I sit here thinking about my Christmas last year, I wonder if maybe we’re missing the point. Are we so busy trying to recreate the magic of the holiday season that we miss the miracle? Is the simplicity of the Story lost in all the spectacle and hype?
Christmas is a journey—through darkness with the promise of light. It’s a story about hope and unwavering faith, peace in the midst of fear, redemption in the midst of disgrace. It’s about the greatest gift ever given, wrapped in humility and love.
How can we capture this in our Advent and Christmas services? How can we keep from getting overwhelmed or caught up in the hustle this season?
Here are a few strategies that might help:
Don’t save everything until the week before Christmas!
Spend some time this month thinking about what’s ahead and what you need to do to prepare. Make a list of things that can be done in advance (church-related and personal) and schedule them in an order that makes sense to you for weeks throughout November and December. Things like Christmas shopping, cookie-baking, music planning, gift-wrapping, and even outlining Advent and Christmas services can all be done weeks in advance.
In scheduling these things further out, you’ll create space for the extra things that will come up at the last minute or need to be done during those busy few weeks before Christmas, like extra rehearsals, bulletin-proofing, and family traditions.
Be careful about over-committing to things during the month of December, too. Say no to extras and anything that will wear you down or add unnecessary stress to your days. Remember, you can’t be all things to all people all the time—choose wisely where you will invest your time and energy, especially during the holiday season.
“Make it simple, but significant”—one of my favorite quotes. It’s easy to let things get cluttered and complicated in an effort to make it spectacular or amazing. But often, it’s the simple things that end up being the most significant.
How can you apply this to your ministry this season?
Focus on the simplicity of the Story in your service and program-planning. Don’t over-fill your services or try to make every element special (e.g. handbell prelude, big choir anthem, children’s play, and a flute soloist for the offertory—all on the same day). Create opportunities for meaningful participation and plan ahead so you have different elements that are special in each service throughout the Advent and Christmas season.
Keep Healthy Habits
Set yourself up for success this season by creating healthy habits and sticking to them.
Take a walk at lunch (and leave your phone on your desk). I find taking a walk often helps me clear my head and work through decisions. It gives me a fresh perspective and getting up from my desk and moving a little bit gives me a jumpstart for the afternoon, helping me be more productive.
Eat well. Bring your lunch from home so you’re not tempted to eat out and watch out for those extra Christmas sweets! Christmas cookies ≠ lunch. (Talking to myself here.)
Go to bed on time. I know. There are presents to wrap and cards to write and there’s a new Christmas movie on the Hallmark channel, but a good night’s rest will do wonders for your work the next day. Set an evening routine and stick to it (and record the Hallmark movie for later).
Take Time to Rest
This is vital to ministry at all times, but perhaps especially during the holidays.
So often, it’s go-go-go from Thanksgiving to Christmas, but taking time to rest will not only help you stay well, it will help you feel refreshed, renewed, and inspired. As leaders, this is so important. You pour so much of yourself and your heart into what you do – planning services, leading worship, directing the choir and ensembles, investing in the people that are part of your ministry; make sure you take time to be refilled in between.
Set aside a few hours during the week, part of the day on Saturday, or Sunday afternoon and do something restful: read, bake, take a walk, spend meaningful time with family or friends.
Have yourself a merry (low-stress) little Christmas, friends.
We’d love to hear—what are your secrets for surviving Christmas as a church musician?
About the author: Ashley Danyew is a pianist, church musician, teacher, and blogger. She received a B.A. in Music from the University of Georgia and completed an M.M. and Ph.D. in Music Education at the Eastman School of Music. Currently, Ashley works as a church musician and teacher in Rochester, NY. She shares resources and inspiration for church musicians, creatives, teachers, and freelancers on her blog at www.ashleydanyew.com.