By Cassie Johnston
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I’ve been accused a time or two of going overboard when it comes to Christmas. It can be really hard to help it, because I just love Christmas so much. Christmas is my jam! And sometimes (read: most of the time), that love of this holiday season means I overcommit, overschedule, and over-craft my way into a big, tinsel-covered stress ball. By the time mid-December comes around, I am so over it. And that’s just not fun for me or anyone around me!
So for the past few years, I’ve been actively working on simplifying my Christmas to-dos. It’s meant I’ve had to determine what traditions are non-negotiables (like cutting a fresh Christmas tree on Black Friday) and what are not as important to me and my family (like sending Christmas cards—it happens about every other year).
And I have to say, the more I simplify Christmas, the more I enjoy it. Here’s how I’m tackling simplifying this year.
Surprise, nieces and nephews, you’re getting gift cards. We have double-digit niece and nephew numbers, and I’ve just accepted that gift cards or cash are a totally acceptable gift to save Aunt Cass and Uncle Craig’s sanity. Plus, the vast majority of the kids on our Christmas list are pre-teens, teenagers, or full-blown young adults—and let’s be honest here, I’m old and out-of-touch—they’ll do a much better job picking out some hip and/or with it gizmo than I will.
This one was a struggle for me, because I had a very all-or-nothing approach to holiday traditions—if we don’t watch Christmas Vacation as a family then what’s the point of a family Christmas celebration at all? But here’s the deal—the holiday season is maybe 30 days long? And the vast majority of those days are filled with, you know, life. There just isn’t time to get every single tradition in every year. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen next year. And it doesn’t mean my holidays are any less special.
Last year I had a bit of an epiphany—something being a tradition is not, in-and-of-itself, a good enough reason to keep doing it. It also has to bring me joy, or at the very least, not tax me emotionally, physically, financially, or otherwise. It’s been a huge weight off my shoulders to have given myself the permission to skip the traditions that no longer add merriment to our holiday season. It doesn’t mean they won’t again at some point in the future, but traditions have to grow and morph as we do!
This was a hard decision to make—especially considering half of our family lives in another country—but we actively decided when Juniper was born that doing a lot of holiday traveling was out of the picture. I know for some families, packing up and making the trek to visit family is fun and festive (and considering our Canadian family live in a gorgeous winter wonderland, it’s double festive doing Christmas up there). But that’s not our family. We love our house at Christmas (not to brag, but it’s literally the perfect Christmas house). We love being at home in front of our fireplace and our Christmas tree and in our beds when St. Nick comes down the chimney. We’ve set a limit to only traveling one weekend between Thanksgiving and New Years, and some years, we don’t even cash that coupon in.
I’m a big believer that the vast majority of us have too much stuff. So instead of getting my loved ones another tchotchke they don’t need or want, I tend to focus on consumables like jams, jellies, salsas, homemade candy, snack mixes, seasoned nuts, teas, and breads (and we planted extra garlic for next year—I want to gift garlic braids!).
It’s thoughtful, people get to enjoy it, and then, like magic, it’s gone. No clutter. It’s also way easier for me, because (a) everyone loves consumables, so you really can’t mess it up and (b) it’s super easy to gather the gifts throughout the year. Of course, there is some work involved to can up four dozen jars of strawberry jam, but when you spread that work out over a year, it doesn’t clog up December like non-consumable gifts do.
Okay, Christmas cookies. It’s a thing. And it’s a thing I participate in. But, I’ve scaled wayyyyy back over the years. If baking 37 different kinds of Christmas cookies brings you joy? Rock it out, sister. If, like me, you really just want to make one or two kinds of cookies (this one and this one, thankyouverymuch), and the other cookies are “obligation” cookies. FORGET IT. Trust me, people are so overloaded on sweets, they aren’t going to miss the extra cookies.
On the surface, this one sounds like the opposite of simplifying, but bear with me. I know that I personally get so wrapped up in everyone else during the holiday season that I can neglect the relationships with those closest to me—my husband, my friends, my kid, even myself. And my solution to that is simple—carve out one night of the holiday season and make it the perfect holiday date for whoever is “your person” (and “your person” can totally be you, by the way). Pamper that relationship with all the same joy, passion, and excitement that you afford to the random person from high school that you still manage to send a Christmas card to. There is beauty in the simplicity of celebrating the person who walks beside you through your day-to-day life.
(In case you were wondering, the hubs and I already had our holiday date! We had box seats to see Straight No Chaser!)
Yup. Just shut. it. down. I say “no” a lot more than I agree to things during the holiday season—it’s a self-preservation thing (shout out to Love Actually). This, importantly, also includes saying “no” to myself frequently. Can I bake four dozen cookies for work? No. Can I sew new Christmas throw pillows? No. Can I go to this holiday party of someone I barely know? No. What I can do? Write a list of important, non-negotiable to-dos and focus on those (and make sure to include things like “get to the gym three times a week” and “get 8 hours of sleep”), and refer to the list whenever a new obligation is trying to weasel it’s way onto my holiday calendar.
Hi, food is my life. So when it comes to prepping a holiday meal, I tend to um, go a little bit overboard. My rule of thumb whenever I’m planning a holiday menu—make the full menu of everything I want to make. And then immediately slash two items off the list. Yup. Just cut them off. Don’t replace them. Don’t stress over them. Just let it gooooooo, let it gooooooooooooo, can’t hold it back anymore. Trust me, no one is going to notice if I didn’t make Mini Christmas Quiche this year (and if they do, well, guess what, if they missed it that much, maybe they can make it them damn selves next year).
This really should be the first one on the list because, I don’t know about you, but the #1 way to get myself out the stress bubble of my own consumerist, abundant, privileged Christmas lifestyle is to help out some folks who are struggling a bit. Seem like the end of the world that my gingerbread house won’t stay up? Well, guess what, this family over here doesn’t have heat and can’t afford any gifts for their kids, so, um, hellloooooo perspective (and remember: perspective is different than guilt—keep your emotions in perspective, but never have guilt for feeling the way you do). Gratitude is the perfect antidote for holiday stress. And gratitude is doled out in abundance to charitable people.
The SuperMom complex is real, kids (and I don’t think it just happens to mothers), and I know for me, it churns underneath the surface all the time, but really rages during the holiday season. I want to be everything for everyone and make the holidays just plain magical. Talk about pressure! But guess what? There are plenty of capable, competent, exceptional people in my life who are ready and willing to help me make the magic. I just have to ask! And control freaks, just remember this: someone using a different method than you would to complete a task doesn’t automatically disqualify their results.
We do Juniper’s Christmas gifts by this little rhyme—want, need, wear, read—and it’s been just the best for us. Four gifts is really a very good Christmas morning (plus, Santa brings an additional gift, and there are stockings). The rhyme helps keep us parents in check, because hello, only child. And I think it helps teach Juniper that there is value and joy to be had from non-toy items like a new winter coat (her “wear” for this year—shhh, don’t tell her).
Believe it or not, we’ve wayyyyyy scaled back our holiday decorations over the past few years. No longer do I make my own fresh greenery garlands to swag up the staircase. I don’t put out every single Christmas knick-knack and tchotchke we own. We’ve realized that as much as we love holiday decorations, we love having a clean, crisp house for January 1st almost as much—so anything we can do to make the disassembly easier is a win. Again, this is one of those things where if going ALL OUT brings you a ton of joy? Keep on keepin’ on. But if it’s obligation driving you to deck ALL THE HALLS? Release the obligation.
And there you have it, the ways we’re working to scale back our Christmas. I’d love to hear your ideas for what you do to keep Christmas simple and joyful instead of stressful. Happy holidays!
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This is a great blog post. And boy, do I need this good advice. I am scaling back as well and it feels really good. I want to be able to be fully present in the moment of this season. Thanks for the encouragement.
i am soooo into all of these ideas to simplify your holidays!!!
I love this post! Yes to all of it. I have a 9 month old and my husband and I decided to do the exact same Christmas gift giving as you are. My son plays with whisks and Tupperware more than toys anyway! Also, I’m glad to see you’re taking care of yourself. You’ve been through so much these last several months. Thanks for sharing your struggles with us! (But sorry you have to go through it!)
We’ve simplified gifting with most our family members by doing Secret Santa name draws. We do one with my siblings, one with his siblings on his dad’s side, and one with his mom’s entire side of the family (aunts, uncles, cousins.) We do still buy gifts for each of our parents and our niece and 2 nephews, but it’s still a lot less than all 10 siblings and then some!
We actually just cut out gifts all together for the adults on my side a few years back. I have mixed feelings about it, honestly, because, on one hand it definitely simplifies life, but on the other hand, I miss giving to the people I love most.
I agree. But it does simpllfy matters–and being on a limited retirement budget, it helps in that way, too.
In my family we give everyone the same little gift. This year i’m giving a salt bowl and a fun salt. But my best friend’s family stuffs each other’s stockings. So you’re buying a little something for your loved ones, but it doesn’t break the bank.
Well said ! Very helpful information ! I plan to keep these tips in mind going forward this Christmas season .
Um, that Back Home Again In Indiana print? Homemade? Bought? If so, link?
Isn’t it ahhhh-mazing? My husband got it for me for my birthday a few years back. From Etsy: http://etsy.me/2izRZFp
Yep, we finally stopped getting a tree!
We realized that we had accumulated various decorations to display throughout the house. We cluster like type/color ornaments in the dining room, den, bathroom…. which leaves more room for guests to navigate during holiday gatherings.
I’m not sure we could ever give up the tree, but I think it’s SO awesome that you made the decision to cut out something that wasn’t adding to your joy. Woooohoooo!
These are great. Thanks for sharing them, they ring soooo true.
Yes, yes, yes! We do the “want, need, wear, read” for my son and it really makes things simple and enjoyable. My husband and I are doing a nice date instead of gifts- we’re going all out and I’m so excited!!!
Question- is that framed tree Juniper’s art? SUCH a cute idea!
Yes! We had to fingerpaint a big piece of paper, and then I cut out the tree shape and framed it. It’s one of my favorite pieces of holiday decoration.
I am a mother of one daughter, married to a wonderful man. I am a grandmother of 3 kids (6, almost 5 and 3). I live alone!
I love getting my tree up and decorated. I love making things to give to others. But here is my thing – I really have to be in the mood to get in my craft room. If I am not in the mood to sew/craft, it all goes wrong. I have learned this over the years. But when I am in the mood, look out – I really go to town.
My biggest problem as to gifting my daughter and her family is that they are minimalists. So I have to have her “Yes” for anything I make for the kids. That can be pretty trying at times.
The things I have given up for the holidays: A) candy making. I am always trying to lose weight as it is and most of the people I know and would give a gift to are diabetic so they cannot have candy anyway. B) Never liked to bake cookies so didn’t have to give that up!! C) I gave up stringing lights up around my windows and porch. A lot of the time I forgot to turn them on anyway. D) I gave up sending cards for a few reasons: cost of the cards, cost of the postage, and length of the list. E) I gave up cooking holiday meals when my daughter got married. She now hosts and I just bring a little something for the table.
It is a way less stressful holiday for me.
I do travel for one week during December. I go to visit my siblings. We started a tradition of having a sibling Christmas celebration. The stress of the gathering has gone away as we used to exchange gifts and we decided to just donate money for a gift card for a needy family. YAY!!
Have a blessed Christmas.
Thanks for the reminder! I have just had our annual vacation to New Zealand and now have a work trip to Canberra for a week. So my Christmas prep time is pretty limited –
I’m only home in December from the 10th (except for 24 hours), so some downsizing and prioritising is important. It’s our first year of my husband and I having a tree though and I just taught myself to make soy candles for presents!
Yasssss! To all of this! So good. So many great tips! I love Christmas so much, yet the past two years I’ve been in a funk and didn’t do much in terms of decorating. Why? I expected too much of myself and if I didn’t get.it.all.put.up then why bother. Not the way to go! So this year, since we were gone for Thanksgiving, we’re putting up decorations this weekend….and I’m actuallyy excited and want to do it. Also, your house looks adorable and cozy for the holiday season!
Amen to that! We have seriously simplified in our home as well. Last year I bought Christmas jammies when they were on clearance the end of December so I wouldn’t have to sew them this year. We cleared out half of our decorations and Christmas ‘stuff’ over the summer and we are making fewer treats and doing so earlier in the year. We also opted to buy a tree this year instead of cutting one down ourselves Traditions will evolve and change as my children grow and sometimes I feel guilty but I try to remind myself that everything has a season and right now I am not in the ‘sew 5 kids PJ’s’ season!
Great post! I love your lifestyle-themed posts.
Really nice post. I can definitely relate to going overboard and then just pooping out. Thanks for putting things in perspective ?
A few thoughts…
Cards and Cash – I’m almost there. I limited it to 2 gifts per person and only immediate family. I have a list and follow it but honestly it’s still overwhelming!
Homemade Gifts – I love making them but I’ve fallen short big time since having a baby. I would like to do this again. My idea this year was to do homemade vanilla extract or something like that but I totally didn’t plan ahead and it’s not happening now.
Being OK with not putting every ornament up on the tree. Totally happened when I had my baby. I think we had like 15 ornaments on there and my husband put most of them up. Ha!
tchotchke – I think this is totally an Indiana word. The only time I heard it was at my workplace in Fort Wayne and now here on your blog!
Hello, Jewish person chiming in here! Tchotchke is definitely a Jew thang haha. My family spoke some Yiddish growing up and I totally thought everyone knew it lol. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tchotchke
Anyways, despite my jewishness I relate to this post so much. My downsizing is more in the form of saying no to holiday gatherings. My introvert self gets so unnecessarily anxious this time of year. #justsayno Also am going the gift card route! Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!
Cassie, I love this! Christmas, more than any holiday, tends to demand more, more, more of us every year. Your tips to slow down and actually enjoy the holiday season ring true. This is my husband and my second Christmas together, and we’ve had a number of setbacks this year. Because of it and our resulting financial situation, we told our families that we’re opting out of gifts this year. We expressed that we’d prefer to be present with each other and enjoy time with our loved ones rather than go into debt over gift giving. So for us, that’s one way we’re simplifying the holidays!
I love the way you think! I completely agree with you. I have learned to simplify as well and am feeling so much more joy. Letting go is allowing ourselves to be free and appreciate what the Christmas season is truly about.
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