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.
Gifting Gifts Cards and Cash
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.
Being Okay with Not Hitting Every Tradition Every Year
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.
Releasing the Traditions that Don’t Bring Us Joy
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!
Only Traveling One Weekend
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.
Not Baking Every Damn Cookie Recipe Ever
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.
Plan A Perfect Holiday Date
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!)
Saying “No” To Almost Everything
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.
Being Reasonable with Our Holiday Meals
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.
Asking For Help
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.
Want, Need, Wear, Read
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).
Not putting up ALL THE DECORATIONS
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!