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Simple Christmas


As this season marches forward, I can vascillate between two of my favorite characters from the greatest Christmas movie of all time. One day I embrace the childlike joy of Buddy the Elf. The next, I’m more like his somewhat cynical love interest as the realities of my to-do list, schedule, and financial limitations crash in on me like the tree when Buddy tries to slam dunk the star on top.

Who would I prefer to be? It’s a bit of a mix, with a heavy leaning toward the elf. I want to embrace the meaning and the fun of Christmas, without driving people up the wall with my giddiness. How do I make this my reality? It lies in one word…SIMPLIFY!

After 44 Christmases, I’ve finally come to grips with this truth: More stuff equals more stress. Every. Time. More to buy. More to bake. More to do. More places to go. More decorations to dig out of the garage. “More” always leads to a feeling of banging my head against a wall of cheer. So, if more = less sanity, less MUST equal more peace. [At least that sounds like something I should have learned in High School Physics…if I’d taken that class.]

If you feel this way, here are three areas to trim this year that I believe will bring you more joy, more peace, and LESS stress:


No, thanks! Two simple words…SO difficult to say. Every time you turn around someone’s asking you to add something. A donation for this charity? Volunteer at this Holiday event? Come to this Christmas-Tree-Rockin’ party?

Two years ago I made a promise to my husband to add absolutely nothing to our schedule for the month of December. We were already overloaded with both of us working full time, church involvement, and school concerts to attend. To my hubs, who seriously needs white space on the calendar, the thought of adding even one additional commitment was enough to send him over the edge. So, I turned down party invitations and other requests that I would usually accept {and then regret later as we rush around trying to get to everything}.

It felt odd at first, but as the month unfolded I saw the benefit of “NO”. NO leaves room for YES when friends text with a spur of the moment invite to go see the Christmas lights. NO leaves room for YES when our daughter wants to snuggle on the couch for hot chocolate and a movie. NO leaves room for YES when God knocks on our hearts with an opportunity to show love in a tangible way. If every moment is spoken for, there’s no time or energy for any of these things.

Too weird for you? Try eliminating just one or two things you’d usually say yes to this time of year. Then, resist the urge to fill up that empty space with more commitments.

A few years back, my brother called a sibling meeting to suggest we stop buying gifts for each other and focus on the kids and our parents. He thought we could save time and use the money for our individual families. Inwardly, I breathed a sigh of relief. Working in ministry, Jeremy and I will never make the same income our incredibly talented siblings will see in their chosen careers, and that’s OK with us. But, it can mean getting creative with the whole gift-giving thing. Needless to say, I was very glad to hear my brother’s suggestion. This immediately took seven people off our shopping list! That quickly became nine after Jeremy made the same suggestion to his brother and sister-in-law, who were also super keen on the idea. Now we buy for our daughter, each of our parents, and our nephews. So much easier. So much cheaper. SO less stressful!

Too weird for you? What about a gift-exchange drawing? Everyone buys for one person and everyone gets a gift. Another idea is to limit the number of presents per child in your home. From the beginning, we’ve always given our daughter just three gifts: something to wear, something to play with, and something to read. We heard this idea from our smart friend Karen Ehman, and it has been wonderful.

WHAT? Christmas is all about traditions! No, Christmas is all about the Light of the world entering the darkness to offer us the hope of heaven. But, traditions are nice. They bond our family in special ways. HOWEVER…do we really need to deck our halls, sit on Santa’s lap…at 10 different places, bake dozens of cookies, decorate those cookies, go caroling, hide that Elf, watch every cantata, and visit the reindeer at the local petting zoo? These are good things, but too many good things will burn us out quicker than a faulty string of lights!

Author Brenda Garrison helped me rethink the traditions I feel we HAVE to honor. She once asked her daughters what family traditions have meant the most to them and was surprised by their answers. Realizing there were very few things that had really stayed with them, she let go of many of the traditions she’d insisted on year after year and focused on what truly warms the hearts of her girls.

We put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas special, let’s at least not stress ourselves in vain. What does my daughter really love? She loves to see Santa (once). She loves cutting down our tree and decorating it. She loves candy canes and baking chocolate chip cookies for our mail lady and garbage man. And, she loves putting a little ornament on our ceramic tree each night after an advent devotion. Can I make these things happen? Sure. Do I have to do EVERYTHING else? No. She doesn’t care if we have a ham and all the trimmings on Christmas day, but she will insist that we read the story of Jesus’ birth before ripping into the presents. So, cinammon rolls from a can it is!

Too weird for you? Ask each of your kids for the two or three Christmas traditions they look forward to most and compare their lists with yours. Is your list way too long? Cut out a few things and see if anyone really notices. Maybe they’re building that gingerbread house because they’re afraid you’ll be sad if it doesn’t happen.

The real trick is to find the things at Christmas that mean the most to your family and designing your Holidays around those things. In the end, your definition of a simple Christmas will be the merriest of all.