Jennifer Dukes Lee - PreApproved Christmas -

In our early years as a family, I transformed our house into a winter wonderland every Christmas.

I set up tiny ceramic villages on fake snow. I baked (and burnt) dozens of cookies, mailed an avalanche of Christmas cards, purchased far too many gifts, and decked the halls to the point of exhaustion.

If the weary world rejoiced on Christmas morning, I was too weary to notice.

ceramic christmas tree

It went on like that for years, despite my best intention to make Christ the center of our Christmas.

Then, one year, it seemed like everyone I knew was talking about a simplified Christmas. They were cutting back, to keep the focus rightly on Jesus. Suddenly, I felt as if I had been doing Christmas all wrong.

I resolved to make big changes. Most of the decorations stayed in boxes that year. I didn’t send a single card, or bake/burn a single cookie. The whole house felt unusually quiet—too quiet. When Christmas morning arrived, I wasn’t weary. But I felt like I had missed something. And I was right. In my well-intentioned effort to celebrate the “Reason for the Season,” I had excised important pieces of our family’s celebration. And once again, I felt as if I did Christmas all wrong.

I needed to find balance, and the next year I did. We began to celebrate Christmas in a way that spotlighted the Star of the story, but didn’t cut out the fun parts we all enjoyed.

You might be reading this today thinking that you’re doing Christmas all wrong. You’re wondering if you’ve over-done it—or under-done it.

Maybe you are the woman who is a decorator at heart. You love to deck the halls, Pinterest-style—but your friends roll their eyes and call you “over-the-top.” You’re left second-guessing your Christmas.

Or, maybe you’re the woman who forgot to bring the juice to the third-grade Christmas party and had to wrap all the family presents in leftover gift bags from the baby shower. Your Christmas lights are always tangled up, and so are your insides.

Come Christmas morning, we can all feel a little bit weary—like we missed it. We believe falsely that “we’ve done it all wrong.”

Friend, lean in close, and listen. Let this Christmas be a new kind of Christmas. Let’s be done with the high expectations and self-accusations. Let’s make a declaration: To live a Guilt-Free, PreApproved Christmas.

Truth is, you have nothing to prove to anyone, because you are already approved in Christ. You are PreApproved! And since this is His birthday, we are free to live out that truth.

advent wreath
advent ornament
preapproved, letterpress blocks

Six Steps Toward a PreApproved Christmas

 1 – Set one “guiding principle” for your Christmas season. Write it down in one sentence.

Your guiding principle might be as straightforward as this: “I want to celebrate Christ’s birth in ways that honor Him and bring delight to my loved ones.” Or, maybe you suffered great loss this year. Your guiding principle might read like an honest confession: “I just need Jesus to help me survive this holiday without the one I love at our table.” Set your guiding principle, and then let your principle guide you with all of your Christmas decisions. 

2 – Banish the “shoulds.” You now have a guiding principle. That eliminates the pressure of “I should probably bake cookies.” Or, “I should buy one more gift.” All the parts of your Christmas—your Bible reading, your gift lists, your greeting cards, your Griswold-esque decorating techniques—can be viewed through the prism of your guiding principle. If sending out Christmas cards to everyone you know fits under your guiding principle—and doesn’t stress you out—by all means, start stamping envelopes. But if you hear yourself say “I should,” that’s a red flag.

3 – Do what you do with great love. God made you as you are for a reason. We need you. We need your creative gift-wrapping ideas, your ridiculously fun games at the office party, your trumpet in the church’s brass choir, your candle in the sanctuary, your famous fruit cake, and your quiet prayers that no one else hears. Your kids love your Elf on the Shelf shenanigans, and the neighbor lady wouldn’t get that “blessing basket” if it weren’t for you. Listen to the desires of your heart, and hear how they’re guiding you into a celebration that reflects your passions while honoring our Savior.

4 – Banish comparison. Your girlfriends’ Christmas is going to look different from yours. Celebrate the fact that she’s PreApproved, too. That means she might bring a bag of Doritos to the fancy Christmas party. Be cool with it. Or it might mean that her Pinterest-perfect house isn’t an attempt to intimidate you, but an honest effort to celebrate Him.

5 – Banish guilt. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So many women feel guilty for doing too much, or too little. Ask yourself: Am I feeling conviction, or condemnation? There’s a difference. If we carry guilt into our Christmas, we’re forgetting that Christ came to release us from it.

6 –  Remember the Reason. This is Jesus’ party. And Christmas is Jesus, saying His unflinching yes over you—for PreApproved you! No matter how you decorate the mantle, He is always the Life of the party. And He has come to give life to all the people at the party.

Look now. See how the Life of the party holds out this gift: Himself.

And the gift tag? It has your name on it.

 “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” ~ Isaiah 49:16


This post features Dayspring’s Letterpress Blocks. Create your own word here. 

  • Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God

    Oh Jennifer,
    I have to smile because my “Christmas pendulum” has swung to and fro over the years. I’ve been the weary Christmas over-achiever wrapping last minute gifts in my closet, to the bare bones it’s just going to be about Jesus at all costs gal. I wholehearted agree that we each need to find our own personal balance that allows us to open our hearts and receive the wonder of Christ at Christmas. Guilt has no place in Christmas and needs to be thrown out with the “shoulds”. I love the line, “If we carry guilt into Christmas, we’re forgetting that Christ came to release us from it.” Amen!! And each year, depending on our circumstances, our balance may shift and that’s ok. Thank you for a wonderfully encouraging post this morning!!

    • jdukeslee

      I’m so glad this encouraged you, Bev. I know some women who love to go “all out” for Christmas, and who assume that they’re doing it wrong because their mantle is festive and their houses are all lit up. But we know from Scripture that God created each of us with unique gifts and desires, and our celebrations are going to look different from our neighbors. I think the main thing is, that we keep Christ at the heart. If we did all the decorating and forget the reason for the season, it’s rather pointless. But if we stripped it all away, simply for the sake of “should”, we’re not really getting the point either. I’m praying that we can all find the balance — reflecting our unique desires while honoring the birth of our Savior.

  • Karen

    YES to this! A few weeks ago, I was feeling Christmas angst…trying to figure out the balance with grown kids is still hard. BUT, I decided to just lean in and do the “work of each day”, starting with time with God. I don’t have it all figured out, but I have peace and joy today….and it will hopefully still be there next week! :-)

    • jdukeslee

      Karen, It sounds like you’ve found a great balance this season — starting each day in the right place: with God.

      Have a wonderful season celebrating our Savior’s Birth.

  • ro elliott

    Oh Oh… that swinging pendulum… when I was a young mom… living crazy to make too many memories for my kids… living the Christmas crazy… I started out just wanting to trim the excesses… and because back in my youth I had an all or nothing personality… I ended up hacking it to death… and in the process lost the art of celebration. But God is merciful… and Kids are very forgiving… and God is a great Redeemer. My married kids are getting a clean start… they are finding their own way with out dragging family traditions from their childhood into their family… and as a ever growing family we are creating new traditions as we go…

    I love how you, Ann and so many others are encouraging mom’s to live in freedom… especially at these holidays times… blessings to you Jennifer!!!

    • jdukeslee

      Hi Ro! It sounds like we’ve had similar pendulum swings.

      I rather surprised myself this Christmas. We just returned from Haiti, and Christmas prep was already in full swing among all our friends and family by the time we got back. So this weekend, I pulled out the Christmas decorations on Saturday afternoon, and piped some Christmas music through the house. I figured I’d only set out a few decorations, but lo and behold, I kept on going and going all afternoon long. I was enjoying making the house so festive, and it felt like a celebration — not a burden. That one word — PreApproved — sat on my mantle and reminded me as I decorated that I was free to stop at any time, but I was also free to continue. Around 6 p.m. on Saturday night, I sat in the glow of the Christmas tree, and felt a bit like Mary — treasuring things up in my heart, and downright grateful for a Savior who came to Earth.

  • Jenni DeWitt

    I love how you got us all pumped up to live this pre-approved Christmas and then you gave us clear, actionable steps and reminders of ways to do that! So much wisdom. This season is a celebration AND it’s about Jesus. My pendulum likes to swing, but it’s reminders like this that help it slow down and settle in the middle.

    • jdukeslee

      May you find the just-right, PreApproved middle — God-designed just for you, Jenni!

  • Jeanne Takenaka

    Jennifer, I love your post! Yes, I’ve been there (Still get trapped there in my thoughts sometimes)–feeling like I’m not doing enough to make Christmas—Christmas. As I read your words, it got me thinking. How often have I “done” Christmas rather than just been there for Jesus’ party? I get so busy doing—lots of them those “should” you talked about—that I leave no time for just BEING with Jesus in my celebrating of Him.

    You’ve got me thinking….I love the idea of setting one guiding principle. I need to do that. And I loved what you shared, “Listen to the desires of your heart, and hear how they’re guiding you into a celebration that reflects your passions while honoring our Savior.”

    Thank you. I needed this post today.

    • jdukeslee

      Hi Jeanne!

      Oh … yes. I’ve been a Christmas do-er. God is saying to us, “I am Emmanuel, God with you. You don’t have to try so hard to make Christmas happen. I’m right here! Do you see?”

      I pray that your guiding principle guides you well this year, Jeanne.

  • Megan Willome

    I love your No. 3! Last night our once-a-month couples Bible study/dinner group met at our place. I decided what would be the most fun would be to serve breakfast. I made my best friend’s Christmas morning breakfast casserole, and everyone brought fun sides, including champagne and orange juice for mimosas. It was such a fun evening, and when people were tearing off paper towels because I forgot to buy napkins and opening my fridge because I forgot to set out milk for the decaf, well, I was just glad they felt at home.

    • jdukeslee

      This is really good … the paper towels, the breakfast for dinner, the idea of sitting across a table from YOU! :)

  • Lynn Morrissey

    This really spoke to me, Jennifer, because I recall a Christimas where we didnt’ *do* anything, and it felt like so much was missing. I think my Christmases are disappointing when I get caught up in losing my focus on Christ. There is really a part of me that wishes there were no gift-giving because it tends to make me focus on trappings and expectations. I understand completely how giving presents came from the idea of the Wise Men bringing gifts to the Christ child, and being generous with others is not a bad thing. But in our secular world we’ve morphed it into frenzy and Black Friday and frenetic bargain hunting. I would love Christmas totally separated from all of that. I’m just rambling and thinking aloud to myself here and not trying to impose these thoughts on anyone else by any means. Maybe I will be brave enough to do that next year–no gift-giving on Christmas itself….maybe Boxing Day like the British do, or maybe sharing gifts at Ephiphany, or maybe not at all and giving all the $ we would have spent on each other on those in need…….I don’t know. But I know that for me personally I would like to celebrate Christmas, focusing on Christ alone. One way I do that is through music. This is the one time of year (even more than Easter) when one can attend so many beautiful sacred Christmas concerts. I will do that this year in one in which I am singing next Sunday (all Bach, all Scripture in German), Handel’s Messiah (all Scripture in Englsih) on 12/23 at our symphony hall), and on Christmas Eve at church, where we will sing many carols by candlelight. I so love God’s gift of music, all glorifying Him, at Christmastime. I love your idea of a pre-approved Christmas. God is not requiring perfection of us in how we celebrate. He alone is perfection, and He gives us the gift of Himself, if we will only receive it. Sorry for such a rambling response, but you have me thinking about what would really be meaningful for me and my family. I can leave all those expectations behind.

    • jdukeslee

      My guiding principle has really helped me keep Christ-focused. This year’s guiding principle is built around loving my neighbor. That means my neighbors right here in Iowa, but also in Haiti. Many of our gifts were purchased from fair-trade organizations so we can support a sustainable economy in Haiti and other countries. But ultimately, it all comes down to the heart of the matter … the heart of each of us. If I’m not careful, I could even get caught up in fair-trade shopping! It really is all about Jesus. All.

      • lynndmorrissey

        Jennifer, I love your focus–Jesus–and how He guides you to give to your neighbors here and abroad. I love this idea. I have an annual theme to guide me (Biblical), and that’s what you are saying about your guiding principle (and Principal). Love this. Thank you for this idea.

  • Michele Morin

    This post is good news of great joy, because you’re urging us to keep our eyes on the real “Good News of great joy for all people,” and we lose that in all the distractions. Thank you.

    • jdukeslee

      You are so welcome, Michele. May you have a merry, balanced, Christ-focused, PreApproved Christmas this year, and always.

  • Kristin Taylor

    Love, love, love. So much of this has been on my heart and you put it into words beautifully! Thanks for sharing that preapproved message in ways my heart needs to hear.

    • jdukeslee

      I’m so glad the message connected with you, Kristin. xo

  • Jennifer Adams

    I’ve struggled with the “weight” of Christmas this year. I want desperately to do the Christmas thing- decorating the house, baking Christmas goodies, watching movies, and listening to Christmas tunes. I love those things and I’m also stressed by them. I think the stress comes when I try to compare what I love with what everyone is doing.

    I love that you have written about being preapproved this Christmas. I need the reminder. ALL THE TIME.

  • lavender-sky

    A beautifully written piece. I receive it boldly. My perspective regarding the season has shifted for the better. I have been struggling with symptoms stemming from anxious thoughts. I am thankful to God that i am in recovery. I am grateful for you for sharing your reflection. I am thankful for the tools i received today sent by God to strengthen me. Keep writing. l-s