The holiday season is upon us. You know how it goes. We start off with enthusiasm and excitement, but then our to-do lists explode, the extra activities wear on us, patience turns to frustration, and before we know it, we’re maxed out and ready to stop the insanity. The words holiday and simplicity almost seem to be opposites.
We may even go so far in our frustration that we ultimately quit our attempts to create fun and enjoyable memories during the holidays and drop the ball on the important and significant.
Can you relate to this?
If we aren’t mindful about the choices we make, we face the risk of burnout–from our time to our energy to our resources–and may never achieve that contentment we all desire during the holidays.
So what’s the answer? Is it possible to simplify our holidays and create the experience we envision?
Yes it is, but it takes planning and “presence” of mind (you all know I had to throw that pun in there). Since we’re talking about simplicity, let’s make it simple and just focus on one area where we can scale things back and really be intentional about our efforts in order to bring increased joy this holiday season.
What is that one thing? Our traditions.
We all know that family traditions are important. They build unity, create memories, and help us feel happiness and joy–just what we crave during the holiday season.
One year when my family was quite young, I had high hopes for Christmas and made a list of every tradition I thought we should be doing during December. I planned a different activity for every day starting at the end of November.
You don’t have to be a fortune-teller to predict where this led me. By the time we got to the middle of December after my child’s birthday, I was done. I hadn’t even done my Christmas shopping, but I was maxed out. During the time I could have been rejuvenated with the extra family time, I was overwhelmed and upset. I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. Why had I turned into the Christmas Grinch?
Well, the answer was that I hadn’t consciously planned or simplified my holiday traditions, and I didn’t include my family in the process either. I was trying to meet my perfect expectation of what I thought Christmas should look like.
It’s also important to understand that traditions fall into lots of subcategories. Let’s look at 3 of the major ones.
There are kid’s school programs and recitals along with work parties and usually a church gathering of some sort. There are the activities we do in our immediate families such as looking at lights, making gingerbread houses, or watching Christmas-themed movies together. Sit down with your family before December hits and ask them which traditions they enjoy and want to repeat this year or try for the first time. You may be surprised by their answers.
Be thoughtful about your schedule so you don’t overload your family with fun. Each of us only has so much time, energy, and resources. It is prudent to deliberately focus on what is the best use of our stewardship and time. We have all experienced that rushed, impatient, and frantic feeling we get when we’re overbooked. That’s when the Grinch visits Whoville people.
Food & Treats
Food is definitely connected with traditions. You may love to bake goodies and share them with everyone you know. The kitchen may be your trusted companion during the holidays or you may never even touch the oven. Either way, our families still need to eat, even if we are engrossed in multiple Christmas projects. It’s important to find simple ways to get dinner on the table. Taking care of yourself through healthy eating may be one of the best gifts you give yourself to reduce your stress at this time of year.
Maybe you decide to do big batch cooking and make 3 or 4 soups that freeze well for those really hectic nights. Perhaps the crock pot becomes your trusted friend allowing dinner prep time to happen in the morning when your days aren’t as rushed or you might even turn to those free grocery pickup services to save you time and prevent unnecessary purchases. Possibly you grab prepared meals from the grocery store like baked chicken, enchiladas, or salads. Do whatever you need to do to save your sanity, even if that means adding in a few extra dining out experiences for dinner.
This is another big one when it comes to our traditions. Once we start making our list of who gets what ranging from our children to our extended family to our neighbors to church members to teachers, friends, etc., it can induce panic. Just take a deep breath. Simplifying has everything to do with being intentional, and that usually means scaling back.
What if you sent an email greeting to your friends and family instead of physical Christmas cards? Perhaps you could give your neighbors and friends the same gift every year to eliminate decision fatigue. Homemade jam and bottled fruit that are prepared in the summer and fall work great for gifts (and help with food storage rotation too). Perhaps you decide to go caroling to your neighbors and express what you appreciate about them. Maybe they don’t even celebrate Christmas which can provide your family the rich opportunity to explore other beliefs and religions apart from Christianity.
Then there’s the never-ending debate about how much to give our children. For the last few years my children have only received 1 gift from “Santa” at Christmas. That’s it. We also do a special Christmas book and PJs (or robes, fuzzy socks, sweats–it seems to change each year). Add to that gifts from grandparents and trinkets in their stocking, and we feel it’s more than plenty. We may shake it up again as our children become teenagers (like taking a family trip or buying a gift everyone benefits from), but this is where we’re at for now.
It’s okay if it takes time to figure out what works for you and your family (and your budget), and most likely it will change a bit each year. Here are a few helpful questions you can ask yourself as you plan and review your traditions:
- Which holiday traditions are important to you?
- Which holiday traditions are important to your family? Why?
- If you could only do 3 activity traditions, which would they be?
- Do these traditions bring you and your family closer to Christ?
- Do these traditions create stress or peace? If they create stress, is the end result peace and contentment? Is it worth it to you to repeat this again?
- Which traditions in the past have created those “over” experiences? (overeating, overspending, overdoing, etc.) How can you change that in the future?
- Does your schedule allow ample down time so you can practice self-care and healthy habits?
There are so many other things we could add to our tradition subcategories like service, travel, and decorations, but the wonderful thing about the holiday season is that you can create what is beautiful and worthy of your time and energy–not your neighbor’s or your friend’s time and energy–but your own.
This may mean that your holiday looks different from everyone else, and that’s perfectly okay. The important thing is to be thoughtful and intentional about the what, how, and who this holiday season. As you examine your traditions and perhaps, most importantly, your relationship with Christ, you’ll be on a path to a simplified and special Christmas.
Do you have any great ideas for simplifying your traditions?