“What if Christmas,” the Grinch thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” -Dr. Seuss
Take a moment and think back to the Christmas when you were 5 years old. Do you remember what gifts you received? What about when you were 10? Or 15? No?
If you have any children, ask them what they got for Christmas last year. Do they remember? It’s okay, neither do mine.
Christmas is my second favorite holiday next to Easter. It’s the time of year when we (Christians) celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Christmas season presents the opportunity for us to count our blessings one by one.
Christmas is an occasion for us to get together with family and friends near and far and enjoy each other’s company. It is the season to give joyfully to those in need.
Or at least, it’s supposed to be.
Through the years, Christmas has become more and more about mass consumerism, mass consumption, and massive debt. Christmas has become less about giving and more about receiving. It has turned into a stress-inducing holiday for many because of all of the activities we try to cram into our holiday schedules. Christmas has come to be a time of tense interactions between family members who don’t always agree. Just another item on our already full to-do lists. As a result, Christmas has become far from simple.
I don’t know about you, but I think we can do better. I think crafting a simple Christmas is possible; it can be savored, celebrated, even enjoyed.
How to Have a Simple Christmas
Start with simple Christmas traditions.
It’s never too late to change the way you do things. Whether you are a newlywed family trying to start your own holiday traditions or a large family with children of multiple ages; if a particular holiday tradition has become too burdensome or expensive: stop doing it. It’s as simple as that. When we were (much) younger and had only one son, my husband and I would bounce around from one holiday activity to the next because we wanted Christmas to be “special” for our first-born. Later, when we had our second and then third sons, it became much more difficult and cost prohibitive to continue these traditions. So, what did we do? We simplified our traditions to be more in line with our growing family. Now that our children are older (10, 14, & 18), we have settled into the traditions that work for our family, such as:
- each child picks out a new ornament each year
- reading Luke chapter 2 as a family
- setting up the tree on Black Friday
- inviting friends over
- attending our town’s Christmas Parade
- having a family game night one night per week
- on Christmas Eve, we make sugar cookies, eat Chinese take-out, and attend a Candlelight service
Practice simple acts of kindness.
This doesn’t mean just smiling at the check-out clerk (although that’s a start). It means going out of your way/comfort zone for others. I will admit, as an introvert, I struggle with this. I keep pushing myself, though, in the hopes, it will one day become second nature to me. You can:
- shovel your neighbor’s walkway
- pay for the next person in the drive-thru
- serve at a soup kitchen
- bake cookies for your neighbors and law enforcement
- make cards for those who are serving in the military
- visit a nursing home
- collect food for your local food bank
- be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army
The options are endless.
The more acts of kindness we bestow on others, the happier we are. It’s a scientific fact. Just make sure you are not the only person in your family practicing simple acts of kindness. Get everyone involved and make it a lasting year-round tradition.
Practicing simple kindness also pertains to those dreaded family gatherings. While you can’t change how other people behave (or don’t behave), you can control your reactions to them. Be as graceful as possible to the most difficult of people. Show love and kindness even if they don’t deserve it. Who knows, it may be contagious.
Enjoy simple Christmas celebrations.
How many Christmas parties and events do you attend each year? Are you comfortable with that number? If not, see if you can politely decline some of the invitations. Maybe you can reschedule for after the New Year. For example, if you decline an acquaintance’s invitation to a Christmas party, offer to get together for lunch after Christmas instead. That way, you still get to socialize and the host doesn’t feel rejected. Win, win. One thing my husband and I do is skip the annual office party. Let’s face it, most office Christmas parties result in a bunch of intoxicated people dancing on tables.
If, on the other hand, you are the one throwing the Christmas party, try to think of ways you can simplify things so you can actually enjoy the festivities. Do you usually go all out with special foods, fine china, and extravagant decorations? While typically appreciated by guests, I’d imagine they would show up even if you put out microwave finger foods, Dixie cups, and a few candles. People attend holiday celebrations for the company and conversation; not for the perfectly laid out table.
Reduce your load with a simple Christmas schedule.
Between the parties, plays, concerts, dance and music recitals, church functions, service projects, parades, tree lightings, etc. if we are not careful, our holiday schedules can end up becoming as bloated as Uncle (insert-name-here) after his third helping on Thanksgiving. No one can do it all. Even if you enjoy being on-the-go, there is a limit to what you can accomplish in a day. Give yourself permission to say “no” when it all becomes too much. Instead, send the kids to bed, or cuddle up with them, pour yourself a glass of wine/tea, put on your favorite Christmas movie (I’m partial to White Christmas), and enjoy the simple moments of the season.
Deck the halls with simple Christmas décor.
Remember this house from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? Would you prefer your home look like this…
Here’s an even better one:
Or, do you prefer something like this?
Consider giving simple Christmas gifts
Scrutinize your spending this year. Refuse to go into or add onto credit card debt this holiday season. If you do use credit cards, treat them like cash and make sure you have the money on hand to pay them off the following month. Set a spending limit and stick to it. I am speaking to you as a reformed credit card addict. Seriously, I haven’t touched a credit card in over a year. This year, because our kids are older, we told them our budget. Their Christmas lists had to reflect our set dollar amount.
To ease the strain on your wallet, be as frugal as possible. If you have a talent, you can put it to good use and make homemade gifts. Shop sales, use rebates and buy quality secondhand items. Go ahead and shop on Black Friday, as long as doing so doesn’t add stress to your holiday. Full disclosure: for the last two years my husband and I have gone shopping at a big-box store after dinner on Thanksgiving. I know, gasp! We have the kid’s lists ahead of time, and if anything they request happens to be on sale on Thanksgiving, we try to purchase it. In order to prevent impulse shopping, I go in with a list as well as a set amount of cash. This year, by shopping in-store and online sales, as well as buying used, I have not paid full price for a single gift I’ve purchased.
In lieu of gifts, give experiences.
By purchasing gift cards for restaurants and movies, or memberships to museums or zoos, you not only make sure you stay within your budget, you also don’t add clutter to the recipient. Better yet, give the gift of your time. Offer to mow someone’s lawn for the summer, or clean their home, or take over childcare for an evening so young parents can go out for a date night.
Keep simple Christmas expectations
My oldest son always presents us with a modest Christmas list. He figures the less he asks for, the greater his chance of getting it. My middle son, on the other hand, dreams big. Really big. He’s the, “I want a pony,” son. I do my best to lower his expectations before the big day, and he is always thankful for what he receives. Getting my youngest son to write a list is like pulling teeth. Since he has inherited his older brothers’ toys, he wants very little.
The key to pulling off a simple Christmas is to be content with who you are, your season in life, and with what you have. Choose to opt-out of the chaos, bickering and rampant consumerism that has become synonymous with the holiday season. Instead, choose to perform acts of kindness, simplify your family’s traditions, celebrations, décor, schedules, and gifts.
And you will…