I love Christmas. I’m the lady who starts listening to Christmas carols on November 1st, and we’re putting up the tree Thanksgiving weekend. I love the season, the food, the music, the traditions. But none of that compares to experiencing the magic of Christmas through the eyes of my five-year-old son. Christmas as a parent is every bit as magical as the Christmases of my own childhood.
Since I love the holiday so much, I can get, how should I say, carried away. I want every moment to be infused with Christmas cheer, I expect each event to be a precious memory-making opportunity, and I’m constantly on the lookout for the perfect photo op for our Christmas card. By the time Christmas actually rolls around, I’m usually exhausted.
Not this year, people! This year I’m reining it in. I’m not breaking my own rule about buying junk toys that will immediately break. I’m not going to put pressure on myself to bake all the things on Pinterest. Nor will I expect the things I do bake to look anything like the pictures on Pinterest. I’m not going to gut my way through the busyness only to wonder in January, “What the hell just happened?”
This year I’m committed to simplifying Christmas. Here’s how I plan to do it.
Give experiences, not things
In Simplicity Parenting, author Kim John Payne talks about the follies of too many toys. When kids’ rooms are overflowing with toys, they can’t even find their favorites. Furthermore, when their primary toys are closed-ended, meaning they can only really be used for one function, children typically bore of them quickly.
I’ve found this to be true in my own house. My son and I cleaned out his room last week, and over and over he would exclaimed, “I’ve been wondering where this was!” He couldn’t see his favorite toys among all his many other toys.
Consider making the big ticket Christmas item an experience rather than yet another gadget with bells and whistles. A yearlong membership to the local children’s museum or tickets to a performance you know your child will love have the advantage of cutting down clutter while also providing your family the opportunity to make a new memory.
Pick the top activities and skip the rest
At Christmas, my first reaction is to do all the things. But inevitably trying to do it all means that we’re so busy, we hardly have any time to simply enjoy this time of year. Rather than trying to attend every parade, every performance of the Nutcracker, and every tree lighting, I’m picking our top two activities, and we’re skipping the rest. Festivities are to be enjoyed with family, not marked off the list.
Focus on the small traditions rather big events
Skipping the parade two towns over means we have more time for the small traditions, the ones we actually enjoy the most. Watching a favorite Christmas movie, snuggling by the fire with cocoa, pulling out the Christmas decorations and finding the best place for each one. These are the small activities that actually knit us closer together. Sledding trips followed by a stop at our favorite lodge for a treat, picking out which Christmas book to read before bed by the tree. The holidays are about the small moments, not the over the top events.
Do NOT try to see all the family
I don’t know how previous generations navigated family time at Christmas; maybe it was complicated for them, too. All I know is that the majority of my friends feel pressure to fit in time with both sides of the family, no matter how far apart they live. If there are any divorces in the family, things can get really interesting.
My friends all love their families, and yet the prospect of carting their kids hither and yon to see everyone is stressful and exhausting and very un-merry.
Before our son was born, my husband and I decided that we wanted to set the precedent of spending Christmas morning in our own home, with just our family. I’m sure plenty of family members were irritated with this decision, particularly since we’re the only ones who do it on either side of the family (Incidentally, we’re also the only ones with a child). It was important to us that we begin some of our own traditions, and that Christmas morning be a magical time for our son, not a time to be ushered from one house to the next.
Listen, even with a slower-paced Christmas, there will be meltdowns. I’m sure at some point my kid will probably seem ungrateful. He isn’t going to enjoy the things I’d hoped he would, and he’ll want to do things that don’t seem fun to the rest of us. It’s the way it is. Every moment won’t be fit for a Hallmark movie, where snow gently begins to fall right on cue.
Life with family is messy and sometimes annoying, but you already know that. Don’t expect things to be any different just because it’s the holidays. Family is still family. Take the pressure off of yourself to makes perfect cookies or find the perfect tree, and take the pressure off your family to make perfect memories.
Simplifying Christmas means less stress, less stuff, and more time with my favorite people. I’m looking forward to a quieter season that I can actually enjoy in real time rather than focusing on how we’ll all remember it two months or two years from now.
Of course, I still started listening to Christmas carols at the beginning of November. Some things never change.