I mentioned in my last blog post
that I would be trying
again this year to capture the true meaning and spirit of Christmas for my
family this Advent season, resisting the world’s best efforts to catch me up in
the whirlwind of materialism, consumerism, and holiday stress.
I’ve been jotting down tips, ideas, and strategies from all
sort of resources that I’ve run across over the past month or so, and I thought
I would share what I consider the top 5 ideas for keeping the holidays simple.
For me, simplicity feels like the key to
keeping my focus on Christ this Christmas.
My top 5 Ideas for Keeping the Holidays Simple
Whenever I try to do something new, it
makes sense for me to start with prayer. I can talk to God about what I'm working on, and ask for His blessing, strength, and guidance to see me through.
During Advent, I am looking for
God-honoring ways to participate in the season. I want to prioritize the
activities and experiences that will allow me and my family to enjoy the hope,
peace, love, and joy of Christmas. For me, especially, I am looking for a sense
- I intend to participate in the shopping and the wrapping and the
gift-exchanging, but I don’t want that to become the sum-total of my Christmas efforts
- I take my children to activities like Breakfast with Santa at
their school, but I want them to understand the spiritual meaning of the
holiday without getting bogged down by the secular trappings.
- I am decorating,
and volunteering, and baking, and traveling, but I want to do these things for
the joy they bring to me and my family, and not out of a rushed sense of
I can bring all of these things to God in prayer; He knows my
heart, and I believe without reservation that when I bring these kinds of
God-honoring concerns before Him, He blesses me with His grace.
When Jesus explains to his disciples that
they will receive the Holy Spirit after he is no longer living among them, he
tells them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you
as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”
(John 14: 27). This is one of the promises I am happy to claim this Advent
I don’t know where I read this, but I
love it: “Don’t try to be some kind of Christmas superhero.”
I’m not as prone to this
temptation as some people are: I’m not a big holiday entertainer; we don’t go “all-out”
on the outdoor Christmas lights and lawn decorations; I don’t worry about
whether my gifts cost as much as what anyone else has spent. Overall, I don’t
see myself as a big “keeping up with the Joneses” type. But I think it’s a very real problem for a lot
We do well to limit ourselves—not
doing things just because we think we “should,” just because someone else tried
it on Pinterest, or everyone else seems to have a picture of it posted on
Facebook. If we do the things that truly
bring ourselves and our family joy, then we will hit the mark this holiday
season. As soon as we try to be someone we are not, we are likely to miss that
mark every time.
Here’s another aspect of reality checks: I
think sometimes we indulge in unrealistic expectations about the holidays. We
want it to be a magical time of year. We try to ensure that every moment will
be a lasting memory of unspeakable delight for our children. We think that THIS will be the year
the extended family will get together without arguing.
But this isn’t our first rodeo. The lights short out, the cookies burn, the
kids put each other in a headlock, our great uncle gets drunk and tells lewd
jokes. I don’t know what it will be for you...I just know it is likely to be
Hope springs eternal, but we do well to adjust our expectations and
seek the realistic blessings of our personal homes, families, and situations. We
just can’t wear ourselves out trying to make something unrealistic happen this
3. Basic health and wellness tips
If you read most any magazine that covers
topics of health and wellness, then this list of ideas will look very familiar.
The challenge is putting the ideas into practice! These strategies are probably
more helpful at the holidays than any other time of the year:
- Get enough sleep! We know what we as individuals need, and we
can tell when we aren’t getting it.
Sometimes an afternoon power nap of about 20 minutes will do a world of
good if we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to take one!
- Drink a lot of water.
- Don't forget to breathe! Most of us aren't breathing in nearly deeply enough.
- Be careful about drinking too much alcohol. The holidays can be a time when we start a little
earlier than usual, pay less attention to how much we are drinking, and/or
drink a little extra to ease the holiday stress. We are much healthier when we
pay attention to what we are doing, and exercise good judgment and limits.
- Balance holiday indulgences with healthy snacks.
- Take time to exercise, or at least stretch
- Get outside for some fresh air. At least look out the window once in a while!
- Give yourself a grown-up time-out. Many of
the ideas here are good for our time-outs: a brief walk, some deep breaths, a
cup of tea, a stretch, a little music.
- Take time out for a laugh—a joke with a
friend, a stand-up routine on TV, or a silly meme or YouTube video.
- Enjoy the moment you are in. We don’t need
to borrow trouble worrying too much about what comes next. “Each day has enough
trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
4. Honest Assessments
When we think about the things that occupy
our holiday season, and ask ourselves some honest questions, we can make important
decisions that can return the spirit and meaning of the season to our
For example, I realize that every
year, the one thing that causes me Christmas stress is trying to get a good
family photo, create a card to order online, and then get it sent out to the
people on my Christmas list. So I am
trying something new this year: I am not sending any Christmas cards at
all. I have let myself off the hook from
the one Christmas task that makes me feel anxious. As I noted in a Facebook status: If the earth
doesn’t shift on its axis and I don’t bring about the end of the world by my
negligence, then I will decide next year if I will resume the tradition or
decide that dropping cards was the best decision I’ve ever made.
hurt to try something new to see what we think about it, either by adding a new
tradition or shedding one that doesn’t seem to improve our holiday experience.
In the same vein, we can ask ourselves:
- Do I have to attend (or host!) so many
- Do I have to buy so many gifts for so many
- Do I have to make so many appetizers? So many
side dishes? So many desserts?
- Do I have to make sure my wrapping paper is
themed or color-coordinated?
- Do I have to put up ALL of the decorations
from all 3 (or 5 or 15) tubs in the attic?
What would happen if we said “no” to some
holiday invitations or commitments? Could we have each family member pick one
favorite tradition or activity, and only do those few things this year? Could
we try to do something new with gift-giving so we don’t all feel rushed/
baffled by what to buy/ worried about our finances?
I’ll take gift-giving as an example to go
into in more detail. I have read so many options for handling gift-giving in new ways to alleviate some of the
stress it tends to cause. Check out all of these options, and see if there
might not be something fun that your family or friends could try new this year
to determine how you like it, and if you want it to “stick”:
- Rather than everyone buying gifts for
everyone, adults could buy gifts for children only.
- Your family could organize a Secret Santa
exchange so that each person gets a gift for one other person.
- Your family could play a fun holiday
gift-giving game where everyone brings a wrapped present that cost a certain
modest amount of money to place at the center of the room. Then everyone draws
a number and waits for their number to be called to select a gift. You’ve
probably played a version of this at White Elephant parties; I’m sure a more
comprehensive set of instructions can be found online!
- Reduce/ reuse/ recycle. Have a book swap. Or a decoration swap. Or a
- Set up an exchange where everyone hand-makes
a gift, or has a dollar-store gift exchange, or purchases something that
supports local farmers or artisans, or creates a food-related gift in a
reusable container (like a casserole dish from a thrift shop), including the
- Consider giving experiences rather than
things: trips or memberships to the zoo or a local museum, classes in hobbies
of interest, car washes, restaurant vouchers, massage gift certificates, movie
tickets, bowling passes.
- Create “coupon” gifts promising to complete
chores around the house or helpful errands.
These are often created by children for their parents, but I can think
of plenty of chore coupons I would love for my husband to give me so that I
could redeem them through the year!
If we talk to our extended families about
some of these idea, we may discover that they welcome a change of tradition,
especially when it simplifies this aspect of the holidays for everyone
5. Free and Inexpensive Experiences
I’ll devote my next blog post to developing
this idea…stay tuned!
This topic is probably like so many other topics: we know what we want to do, and even what we probably ought to do, but getting around to doing it is another matter. Feeling stressed at the holidays is almost a habit...for some people, I think it's some sort of badge of honor!
But there is nothing in feelings of stress or anxiety, in worries about budgets and debts, in concerns about materialism and consumerism that helps us prepare our hearts for a celebration of Christ's coming into our world, for remembering and honoring God's amazing act of mercy and grace on our behalf, for experiencing and sharing the hope, peace, joy, and love of the season with our families and our wider communities.
If you could do ONE THING to ease the stress and anxiety of the season and to simplify the holidays for you and your family, what would that one thing be?