How to stay in the saddle from Thanksgiving through the New Year.

We celebrate Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and keep on celebrating through New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The time from the fourth Thursday in November through January 2 seems to be a social merry-go-round for many of us. It’s a whirl of visiting, entertaining, eating and drinking, more eating and drinking, giving, and getting gifts. Extravagant spending, abnormal busyness, high-level excitement, overindulgence, too little sleep—that is the holiday season for a typical American family. And when New Year’s Day is over, the Elijah reaction often sets in.

On Mount Carmel, that prophet had dramatically defeated the priests of Baal. What conflict! What tension! What a miraculous victory! And immediately afterward, what a letdown! God’s exhausted champion cowered in a cave so fearful and exhausted that he wanted to die. That is the Elijah reaction: the toboggan slide from an emotional high into a weary depression lower than a pit in Death Valley. How can you avoid it?

For one thing, don’t indulge in extravagant spending. Don’t waste money on costly presents that are not needed. Don’t serve meats and sweets that are too rich for both wallet and waistline. Resolutely forgo the usual gift exchange and calorie-crammed meals. Make this season different: write a sacrificial check to provide some of life’s barest essentials for hungry human beings nearby or far away.

For another thing, avoid abnormal busyness. Don’t get caught up in a dizzy round of socializing and entertaining. By all means throw the door of your home wide open to family and friends, not forgetting the lonely and unwanted. But once and forever renounce the notion that hectic activity, parties with a long guest list, and suppers that are an opportunity for gluttonous excess all add up to Christian celebration. Deliberately program the holidays for leisurely fellowship with simple food. Write into your schedule hours of quiet meditation. Get adequate sleep. And don’t neglect your own Bible reading and prayer. In fact, the holiday season may be precisely the time to begin a routine of private devotion. Celebrate recreationally.

Above all, while blessing God for the greatness of his mercy in material provisions, focus on the spiritual values of the holiday season. Make Thanksgiving a day of praise, not a day of God-forgetting feast. Keep Christ front and center in Christmas through the music you listen to, the conversations you carry on, the activities you engage in. Use New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (watch TV, of course—the Rose Parade and football games) for introspective review of the days that lie behind and prayerful planning for the days that lie ahead. If possible, don’t carry on a subvocal monologue by yourself; get your family members talking together about the past and the future. And remember that God is the silent Listener to what is being said.

Do these things, and on January 2 you won’t have a low mood compounded of fatigue, headache, nausea, self-condemnation, and guilty regret. Do these things, and holidays will be changed from hectic days of selfish reveling into holy days of happy rejoicing that are not followed by the Elijah reaction.

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