Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season
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Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season

Baker Books / 2017 / Paperback

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Stock No: WW075360

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Product Description

Following the formula of her popular Loving My Actual Life, Alexandra Kuykendall shares her own personal experiment to be completely present in her life as it is during the holiday season. Reflecting on hope, love, joy, peace, and relishing the season, she shares practical advice on common Christmas stressors such as finances, schedules, and extended family. With her signature candor, Kuykendall encourages you to go easy on yourself, remember what truly matters, and find joy in your own imperfect Christmas. Paperback.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 144
Vendor: Baker Books
Publication Date: 2017
Dimensions: 8.50 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 080107536X
ISBN-13: 9780801075360

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Publisher's Description

The Christmas season is a particularly difficult time for women to slow down and relish what's right in front of them. An annual marker for many, it is a holiday that can often remind us how life is not going as we'd planned. Our family relationships remain strained, our finances stretched, and our schedules stuffed with too much to do in too little time.

Following the formula of her successful Loving My Actual Life, Alexandra Kuykendall shares with readers her own personal experiment to be completely present in her life as it is during the holiday season. Addressing the themes of Advent and Christmas, she reflects on hope, love, joy, peace, and relishing the season, with practical pullouts on common Christmas stressors, such as finances, schedules, and extended family. Kuykendall's signature candor helps women go easy on themselves, remember what truly matters, and find joy in their imperfect Christmases.

Author Bio

Alexandra Kuykendall is the author of Loving My Actual Life and The Artist's Daughter, and the cohost The Open Door Sisterhood Podcast. A popular writer and speaker for moms around the country, she is a regular contributor to MOPS International's blog, conference, and curriculum. Alexandra has been featured on Good Morning America and Focus on the Family's daily broadcast. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, Derek, and their four daughters.

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  1. Terry
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Where has this book been all my life?!?
    January 7, 2018
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra Kuykendall is the book I never knew I always needed! As I read through this book just a few days before Christmas, my only complaint is that I hadn't picked it up sooner. Alexandra uses an experimental style to determine those things that she feels are her absolute priorities during the Christmas season and then establishes her weeks leading up to Christmas around those priorities and nothing else. In this way, her goal is to "love her actual Christmas."

    As I read this book, I considered that there were certainly ways I could adapt what I learned from Loving My Actual Christmas to my everyday life, and then I noticed that Loving My Actual Christmas is a "spin-off" of Alexandra's earlier book, Loving My Actual Life. An unexpected result of reading Loving My Actual Christmas is that I am now very interested in reading Loving My Actual Life. Until I do, I have taken some of the basic premises in this book and applied them to my goals for the new year. I also plan to re-read this book in November, to help plan for a Christmas that is focused around hope, love, joy, and peace throughout the Advent season, and avoids stress, obligations, exhaustion, and stretched finances!

    I highly encourage everyone to journey with Alexandra Kuykendall through her experiment next Christmas, and learn how to relish the Season better!

    I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers Program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
  2. Michele Morin
    Warren, Maine
    Age: 45-54
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Loving My Mid-Life Christmas
    December 19, 2017
    Michele Morin
    Warren, Maine
    Age: 45-54
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    For the past several years, change has been the only constant in our Christmas celebration. Grown up sons marry, pack up their collection of treasured ornaments, and hang them on their own trees. College guys come home when they can and join in the fun on an intermittent schedule. Teens branching into individualized creativity grab an ax, stride manfully into the woods, and return bearing a Charlie Brown tree for their bedroom which they will festoon with enough lights to interfere with normal sleep patterns. Christmas gatherings have become a moving target with a schedule that requires both flexibility and diplomacy, but I'm learning to appreciate the Christmas that is and to let Christmas past be past -- fondly remembered but not slaying my enjoyment of the here and now.

    Alexandra Kuykendall, author of Loving My Actual Christmas, struggled with loving Christmas present as well. Visions of Pinterest perfection left her exhausted and so done with Christmas that she finished the season by stripping the decorations off the tree and stuffing them into their boxes, not caring if she ever saw them again. Norman Rockwell gatherings around a flawless feast didnt match the reality of the recent loss of her father and the empty chair at the table.

    Alexandra wanted to make some changes that would bring joy back into her celebration of Jesus' birthday. She conducted an experiment that she hoped would help her to capture the essence of the season, and Loving My Actual Christmas is her lab report. She longed to set her family up for success by lowering expectations, lightening their load, and limiting their activity level. To accomplish this, she introduced her family to the celebration of Advent, a slow, methodical re-calibration of their approach to marking the holiday.

    We've observed Advent every year with our own family and have found that extending the celebration of the season over the entire month of December takes the pressure off parents who want to more intentionally consider the theological implications of the Christmas story. An Advent celebration means the Baby Jesus does not have to compete with the shiny new LEGO set on the morning of December 25th.

    With a teen, a pre-teen, and two elementary age children to consider, Alexandra and her husband entered into their experiment with high hopes for "contentment set apart from spending and busy" and a "way to savor what the season is truly about." Each of the four weeks of Advent and the lighting of each of the four candles represents a theme, so the Kuykendalls implemented those themes as the framework for their actual Christmas. Instead of Christmas with all its busyness being an event they would resent, it would happen right in the midst of their actual life circumstances. Who among us doesn't appreciate a little more Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in our celebration of Jesus?


    Formulating honest wishes and realistic hopes for our Christmas season set the foundation for enjoying one's actual Christmas. Right-sizing our expectations and then communicating well, creating a budget early on, and staying in touch with the transforming truth of the Christmas story are a few ways to realize those hopes.

    My budding teen musician participates in four bands, each with at least one December gig. With that in mind, I said a few well-placed nos to other opportunities, and while I have missed singing in the community Christmas choir, Im actually thankful for a years respite and will enjoy being an audience member this year for my sons performances.


    God's love for His children is not connected (either positively or negatively) to our to-do list. Focusing on God's unconditional love, shown by His gift of the Baby in the manger, makes the holiday hoopla more meaningful and emphasizes the truth that Christmas is all about people.

    Alexandra made a resolution for the season:

    "When given the choice between getting something done and enjoying the moment, I will take the moment."

    Capturing the moments as they come up is a form of active love that takes place in the midst of a busy season in which -- face it -- the do-list will expand to fill the available time. So when my college wise guys who journey from afar come to the door bearing gifts of laundry, I will seize the opportunity to ask questions and really listen to their answers. Rearranging my schedule, delaying the response to a message ping, letting some aspect of my much-beloved efficiency slide so that I can drink a second cup of coffee with a boy who is taller than I remembered him will be my loving Christmas gift to myself.


    If, as C.S. Lewis has said, "Joy is the serious business of heaven," it behooves us to take it more seriously here on planet Earth. Dealing with grief over the loss of her father, Alexandra wondered if joy could grow in the context of her deep sadness. She discovered that complaining was a joy slayer, that joy can be "quiet and steady," and that by inviting others into her home, she turned the spotlight of her attention away from herself and focused instead on how she could serve and encourage her guests.

    This is our familys first Christmas following the death of my mum. Also, last summer, a beloved friend passed away with whom we had shared Christmas traditions for as long as my kids can remember. Moving past loss and into joy is a slow process, one Kuykendall describes as part tactical execution, part heart work. Im expecting some weighty conversations and bracing myself for a few tears.


    In the fourth week of Advent, stress can demolish not only peace, but also love, joy, and hope if panic leads to blowing the budget, losing our temper, and resorting to sugar-fueled, all-nighters of wrapping gifts and addressing Christmas cards. This is the moment for flexibility: modifying or eliminating whatever won't work; hanging on to those realistic expectations set up in week one; and sticking close to the story that featured a manger, a fairly awkward set of circumstances, and all the messiness and chaos that surround a new birth.

    As my family and I celebrate Christ's birth once again this year, we will do it with the uniqueness of a Morin Christmas. It will be different from yours--no better, no worse. The goal is to celebrate the birth of our Savior in the language my family understands. This year, only one son will be home full-time for our Advent celebration. The others will come and go as college schedules, work responsibilities, in-law expectations, and their own growing independence dictates.

    If my heart can receive My Actual Christmas with hope, love, joy and peace, the gift will come in the form of a bit more quiet; a slower disappearance of the Christmas cookies; a less-frenzied, more contemplative celebration of Advent Truth; and time spent with my good husband over cups of Christmas tea.

    We both remember enjoying holidays alone together before children arrived; we can enjoy it again someday if the occasion arises. In the meantime, when the nativity scene gets packed away after Christmas, I will find myself taking special care with the figures of Mary and Joseph. I'll wrap them carefully and place them side by side in the box for the long dark of another year in the attic. I'm glad they have each other, and I wonder what Christmas will look like next year when they see daylight again.


    This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
  3. JK Turner
    3 Stars Out Of 5
    Can be a helpful book.
    December 6, 2017
    JK Turner
    Quality: 4
    Value: 3
    Meets Expectations: 4
    My Rating -If you are looking for something

    Level -Short, easy book


    I think the best summary of this book comes from the subtitle of the intro chapter - A Recalibrating of the Season. That would be the Christmas and Advent seasons, both the secular and Christian aspects. Her goal in writing this is to help people get past the over commercialized, hectic and stressful parts of the American Christmas season. She advocates doing an Advent devotional/study to help ground you in the Christian aspect.

    So much so, that the majority of the book is her going through the four weeks of advent, what she did that week in actual life and what she did as far as reading, studying, and being thankful.

    She finishes up the book with a conclusion that is about half as long as the entire book, because there are so many sub parts - scheduling, finances, relationships, and logistics. This is where the book takes a turn from reflection to more practical tips.

    My Thoughts

    I wasn't really a fan of this book, not because it is poorly written or has a bad message or anything of that nature. The main issue - I'm quite far from the target audience. She is one of these busy Christian women with four or five kids that is heavily involved with a number of things and is constantly stressed. I'm a father of one, and overall pretty chill guy. I don't really relate to the pressure and stress of mom bloggers with multiple active kids.

    If that is you, then this will probably be a great book to help ground you for the holidays. Another thing I didn't know when I requested this book, it is a spin off of her other book - Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What's Right in Front of Me. So, to be fair to the author, had I known about this book, I would have known more about her writing and audience and likely wouldn't have requested this book. However, judging by the other reviews, had you read that book and enjoyed it, then you will also like this book.

    I thought her reflections on the Advent devotional were interesting, and more importantly, it will help introduce some people to the concept of Advent. Most American Evangelical churches do not use a liturgical calendar, which can be very helpful in keeping your mind focused on Christ throughout the year. So if nothing else, if readers decide to start an advent devotion for themselves or a tradition with the whole family from reading this book, then it will have been a great success.

    Finally, her concluding thoughts were very practical and useful. If you are the target audience, they are also probably pretty helpful in reminding you not to go to wild and over-schedule yourself too much, both time-wise and financially. Overall, if you fit in this category and are looking for something on the topic of handling the season, this is probably a good book for you.

    *I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
  4. ADFehl
    Arden, NC
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: female
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    Rediscovering the magic of the holiday season within the parameters of real life
    November 5, 2017
    Arden, NC
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    It all started with Alexandra Kuykendall's previous release, Loving My Actual Life, in which for an entire year she challenged herself to slow down a bit and take in the actual life she was living rather than the one she was obsessively trying to achieve through insane schedules, a go-go-go lifestyle and maybe a touch of subconsciously trying to compete with friends and neighbors for a mythical "best life" award. Using the format of that experiment, Kuykendall challenges herself once again, this time tackling the seemingly inevitable stress that comes with each year's impending holiday season -- the days packed with endless holiday festivities, the decorating, the blown out holiday budget that depresses her come January. She explains that her inspiration this time around was the realization that she did not want her daughters to grow up and have their dominant holiday memories be of stressed out, edgy and resentful parents. Instead, she wanted to put the need for perfection aside and just try to be present and authentically capture the true magic of Christmas for her girls. This year, Kuykendall wants to put the focus back on true family togetherness, charity, kindness, all those warm fuzzy emotions we ALL desperately need a good dose of right about now.

    It's a tough year for Kuykendall, as it's the year her stepfather passed away, a man she had come to rely on as a loving, reliable male figure in her life (for more on the difficult relationship Kuykendall has with her birth father, check out her memoir, The Artist's Daughter). Hard as it will be to tackle a season of family gatherings without this important man there for her, Kuykendall works hard not to let the sadness tarnish the warm memories she wants to cultivate for her family.

    In Loving My Actual Christmas, Kuykendall admits from the very beginning that this round will be slightly different because she is not working within the luxury of an entire year. We are talking about a season. So she gets the ball rolling in November, jumping right into family gatherings and activities around Thanksgiving, Christmas right around the corner. After moving passed Christmas, the book closes out a few days past the New Year (this past January 2017, as she notes that she started writing this book during 2016 holiday season).

    Though she may not have a full year to work through, to give herself some sense of structure to this experiment, Kuykendall plots out the time frame of the experiment using the window of Advent (the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas Day) as well as Christmastide (more commonly known as the Twelve Days of Christmas), carrying through to just after New Year's celebrations. This book has the same diary-like layout as Loving My Actual Life. From day one, Kuykendall makes entries for every day of every week, giving readers a rundown of what the day's activities looked like, what she hopes to accomplish with that day, what she comes away with (lesson-wise) at day's end, and what Scripture she used that day to ponder on as she worked through each day's schedule. The entries are divided by Advent week and for each week she gives herself an overall theme to focus on:

    Week 1 = HOPE

    Week 2 = LOVE

    Week 3 = JOY

    Week 4 = PEACE

    * and then a section that does an overview on her Christmastide experience

    Each chapter closes on "Questions for Reflection", questions that help guide readers on their own journey of better appreciating the season. She also offers relevant scripture, so this book (as well as her previous experiment book) have potential to be used as devotional supplements. Kuykendall is quick to address that a lot of the issues / stressors she tackles in this book will likely come of as #firstworldproblems, but as she points out -- the experiments are called MY ACTUAL LIFE and MY ACTUAL CHRISTMAS... it might seem first world, but it is the life SHE is personally living, so we gotta let her do her thing.

    What I love about these experiments of hers is that Kuykendall gives it to her readers honestly, warts and all. She fully admits to being human, starting with the best intentions and then getting in the moment and seriously wanting to throw in the towel instead. Immediately from Day 1 of her Christmas experiment she hits a wall. Not a good start, but a humorous and relatable one! She talks of facing the living room mantel, realizing she has to take down all the "harvest" decor to set up the Nativity scene... and she's honestly just not feelin' it, y'all! Who hasn't been there!

    Also on this day she's hit with the first wave of holiday family travel plans (orchestrating all that) as well as trying to find time to sit down to do the obligatory Christmas cards. Those Christmas cards haunt her through many of the days, leading her to tell a story of when she just decided to NOT do cards one year, and guess what? There was a little guilt involved on her part, but no one died and no one disowned her. This spoke to my soul as it's exactly where I was last Christmas, and frankly I don't know that I'm feeling much for the cards this year, so it was nice to get a sense of camaraderie from that. Kuykendall encourages readers to still do cards, but do them for the right reason. Do it because you honestly love and miss these people and WANT to connect, don't just make it a chore to scratch off because you don't want things to get awkward later.

    No big surprise, but one of Kuykendall's big takeaways from this project is that the best gift is really just giving someone time / attention / respect / love. If you love the act of bestowing physical gifts, just make sure that the gifts show you LISTEN TO THEM. Don't get caught up in getting what everyone else seems to be buying -- unless, I guess, your people have expressed that's truly what they want with all their hearts. But in general, it's nice to give gifts that give a nod to something said in passing that shows you were listening even when they thought you weren't! ;-)

    Other main points:

    * Decide on a holiday budget and STICK TO IT. Also, it might help to make an inventory of all expected costs for the season -- what you anticipate to spend on holiday meals, outings, travel, holiday clothing, etc. Factor that into the overall "holiday budget" at the beginning of the season and you probably won't have quite as much sticker shock come January.

    * As Kuykendall's husband kept telling her throughout this process: "No bad-mouthing Christmas!" Your season might still have an element of stress no matter what you do but don't blame the season, just find your zen again and remember the real "reason for the season".

    * Learn to say "no" sometimes and be okay with it. Much of the stress of the season comes from us allowing ourselves to be roped into doing every little thing to ensure everyone else has the perfect season. Once in awhile, stop and say no. And then go let yourself have some you time so YOU can enjoy the season.

    At the back of the book, Kuykendall also offers supplemental guides such as "Practical Tips and Strategies" where she outlines just how exactly she pulled off this experiment and how you can try it yourself. Within the guides she also encourages readers to engage in some moments of contemplation: evaluate family holiday traditions, WHY you still do them and should you continue with them or are you merely doing it out of habit? (Think: are the kids too old for it? Are there enough people that still enjoy the tradition or are you just forcing them through?). She gives you a really handy guide on ways to be more economical during the season as well as a pep talk on the power of "no thank you".

    She closes with the plea to readers that while they go through this process (should they choose to, that is), in all things always strive to continually be kind, gracious and compassionate.

    Near the end of the experiment, Kuykendall points out that throughout this process it is important to keep in mind that you can't (or at the very least, shouldn't) gloss over the hurts and struggles of the year with a simple dusting of tinsel, a few rounds of carols and a nice mug of eggnog (if eggnog is your thing). Kuykendall advises readers to remember the Nativity story: all the struggles that were going on in that time in history, how so many people craved a positive change for peace... and what happened? A star suddenly appeared in the night sky shining a light so bright as to leave any observer awe-struck, so bright as to be able to guide three wise men to a random manger. A light in the darkness. The darkness doesn't go away for good, but having your heart in the right place helps keeps the hardships at bay. That's the idea here. Acknowledge the struggles but embrace the joy and grace found behind them. We will likely always be trying to fight off one evil or another in the world, but Kuykendall encourages you, when faced with dark times, to allow yourself to still be in awe of the marvels & beauties in the world, because if you keep yourself open enough, they will remind you that they are still out there. As she says, "This is a year to celebrate the good news within the context of our actual lives."

    FTC Disclaimer: Baker Books kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.
  5. AmyL
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    I'm going to love Christmas this year!
    October 9, 2017
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 4
    But it doesn't have to be that way. InLoving My Actual Christmas, Alexandra Kuykendall reminds us that we can relish the season despite all of the chaos and busyness culture pushes us towards. In this book, she takes us on a journey through Advent and how to apply thehope, love, joy, and peace through the season. Each chapter introduces the need, how Kuykendall plans to live out the specific aspect of Advent, a glimpse into her day to day through the week, and some questions for reflection.

    At first, I thought it may be too early to begin thinking about Christmas. But as I continued to readLoving My Actual Christmas,I realized planning ahead is most definitely the only way to thrive through the season rather than merely surviving.

    Reading the pages of this book had me dreaming about new ideas for how to handle the Christmas season. Especially since Sarabeth is still little, I've tried to really think through the traditions we want to begin for our family. It's easy to plan broad and grand plans, but then, when it comes to actually living them out, it's not so easy.Now, I've got several questions that will help me think through whether or not the ideas and plans I've had will bring joy or stress.

    I loved that Kuykendall added a chapter on Christmastide. As I've thought a little bit about the liturgical calendar, I've seen Christmastide as part of the season. And having a grandpa who was born in Canada, I've known about Boxing Day but never really understood what it is for. I love that Kuykendall unpacked all of this a little more. Now, rather than rushing to be done with Christmas before New Year's, I want to be able to enjoy the season a little longer, and use that time to celebrate a little bit more!

    I can't wait for this Christmas season. Now that Sarabeth is old enough to really understand what is going on, we'll be able to engage in some fun family traditions that we can keep through the years.

    I received a copy of this book from Baker Books. This review is my own, honest opinion.
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