As I’ve shared over the past few days, we’ve had a pretty low-key December as I’ve been in the midst of significant morning sickness, and there are many things we did not do this holiday season.
And yet, we’ve truly had a lovely December, we enjoyed a super-simple Advent season with our kids, and we celebrated a pleasant Christmas holiday with our extended family.
In hindsight, I’ve been thinking through some things that helped us this month.
I did not plan ahead for this month, but if we were hoping to have another super-simple holiday season, particularly one where I knew it would be extra-crazy, here’s some things I’d consider.
I hope that if you are looking ahead to a “survival mode” Christmas – maybe you’re anticipating a move, have a job that means the holidays are extra-busy, face sickness, or are expecting a new baby – these tips might help you, too.
How to Enjoy a Simple Holiday Season (especially in survival mode)
1. Identify what is #1 most important to you and your family members/loved ones.
Sit down and ask each person what is truly the #1 only thing that is most important.
For me, it would be singing lots of Christmas carols. For my 3 year old, she wouldn’t have been able to articulate this, but it’s been “decorating” (in her own way) by placing ornaments on the tree and also “decorating” our presents with ribbons. For the baby, it’s having not-stressed out parents. 🙂
Whatever the case, figure out what’s most important, and put those at the top of your list.
2. Similarly, identify what is not important to you or what is a big stressor.
Is there a holiday event you always go to, and it never ends well? The kids stay up too late, or you feel stressed out, or you have to provide expensive gifts for an exchange, or whatever? Consider skipping it (or just sending the people who actually enjoy it!)
For us, it’s sending Christmas cards. Growing up, my parents wrote the most clever Christmas letters each year, and it was a highlight of our celebration. Likewise, I’ve always loved reading Christmas letters/cards.
However, we now work for an aid organization where we already send out a monthly email update to most of our loved ones, and it seems that each year, sending even a simple family photo ends up taking hours as we try to take a nice photo and then stuff and stamp envelopes.
So this year, we finally opted not to send them out, at least not until the new year when life calms down a bit.
3. Pray and ask God to direct your plans to honor Him.
I don’t think everything on your December calendar needs to be religious in nature, but we do want to honor Him with all that we do, particularly as we celebrate the birth of Christ.
Is there anything on your list to remove?
4. Set yourself up for success.
Remember that list of #1 most important things?
- Put any specific dates into the calendar (like, “attend church choir concert on December 10 at 2:00 pm”).
- Make a list of other items that can happen anytime (like, “make cocoa and watch a Christmas movie”) and stick on your phone, refrigerator, or somewhere obvious, so that when you have a spare moment, you can make it happen.
- Set a deadline for certain items, especially the “maybes.” Though we knew it’s stressful, we actually did intend to still send out some simple Christmas postcards… until, the week before Christmas, we crossed the threshold of “even if we do them now, they won’t arrive before Christmas” so I took it off my list. If you have something you might want to do, set a deadline for it: “If we haven’t made homemade gifts by December 15, we’ll just go buy storebought.”
5. Identify what is easy and set yourself up for impromptu fun.
This has been key in our family’s Christmas celebration. We already had a few Christmas craft kits and activity books, so I threw those in an empty drawer and my 3 year old has been doing a few over the past few weeks.
Because we’ve had a pretty open schedule (I’ve just felt horrible in the midst of it), we’ve had the freedom to turn on a Christmas movie on Netflix or bake super simple cookies. I gathered up a small basket of Christmas books from our bookshelves and the library, and we’ve been reading them periodically.
None of these activities were planned more than five minutes before we began doing them! But I’ve tried to stay open to a few simple activities.
Some other ideas for facilitating impromptu fun are:
- make a list of holiday events in your community, and refer to it if you find yourself with a free evening/weekend.
- if your kids are looking for something to do, glance at a Christmas Pinterest board for simple crafts or ideas.
6. Delegate and ask for help!!!
So many of the things we did this Christmas happened as a result of other gracious people in our lives.
Family members provided tickets to two holiday shows and arranged all of the food/activities for our Christmas celebrations.
My sister baked cookies, made icing, and invited us over to decorate them, with zero effort on my part (except enjoying the finished product!) 🙂
Even participating in Christmas Eve church was the result of the hard work of the pastors, choir members, and worship leaders! It’s been easier for us to attend events that others have arranged, rather than trying to put it together ourselves.
What We HAVE Done This Christmas Season – some simple ideas
Despite all that we’ve skipped, here are the things we have done, perfect for our current situation, that have resulted in a meaningful December nonetheless. You’ll notice that many of these happened as the result of delegation/other people helping us, or as the result of impromptu, spur-of-the-moment fun.
- We have done evening Advent wreath devotions at the dinner table about half the nights in December. This has been the #1 most meaningful thing this year. It requires virtually no preparation, other than having an Advent wreath with four candles. Most nights, we turn off the lights, light the appropriate candle(s), read one Bible verse related to the Christmas story, and then sing a verse (a capella) of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Often since we already have the hymnal out, we sing a few more carols – usually just the first verse of each one. Then we blow out the candles. That’s it! It usually takes about 5 minutes, and to be honest, several nights I’ve just stayed on the couch and hollered the songs from across the living room to my family at the table. 🙂 But it’s been so special to hear our daughter start to learn these songs, and I love singing as a family. (We have no future as the Von Trapp Family Singers. We’re often off-key and I inevitably start “Away in a Manger” too low so halfway through I can’t get the notes out. But it’s still fun, and I hope worships the Lord.)
- We spread out all our Christmas ornaments on a table and let my 3 year-old decorate and redecorate our little two-foot (fake) Christmas tree. So far we’ve only broken one ornament!
- We dumped all our kid-friendly nativity scenes into one tub together so the kids could pull out pieces and play with them.
- My mom purchased a chocolate-filled Peanuts countdown calendar, and most days, we’ve pulled out a chocolate for our daughter.
- We went to see the Nutcracker and Disney Frozen on Ice, thanks to extended family members who got tickets and made all the arrangements.
- We strolled around a Christmas tree festival (where they decorate trees in different themes and people purchase them for charity).
- Whenever Christmas comes up in conversation, we try to tie in Jesus as much as possible. We talk about how Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, and how some of the characters on the Christmas shows we watch don’t know Jesus yet.
- I threw our children’s Christmas books into a box and have read them sporadically.
- We purchased and wrapped gifts for our extended family members (about 10 people) + a gift to my daughter’s eye specialist and our apartment complex managers. Those are the only people we gave anything to, but this still felt like the most time-consuming part of our holiday season, especially since we opted not to buy gift cards but instead do pretty personal gifts. (But it ended up being fun to do this and feel a little accomplished. 🙂
- I read a biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which was not Christmasy, but did help me focus on Christ throughout this season.
- We have watched pretty much every Christmas cartoon on Netflix. 🙂 (Seriously!) We’ve also enjoyed watching White Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
- My husband and daughter made super-simple chocolate chip cookies in Christmas shapes.
- We attended church on Christmas Eve.
- We went to my parents’ house for the entire week of Christmas, where we were spoiled with food, cable television, presents, and child care. My parents and sister planned and provided all the food/merriment for our actual Christmas celebrations.
In the end, we’ve ended up with a nice Christmas season, where we were able to spend time together and celebrate and remember Jesus’ birth.
And it’s not over yet! There are still a few more of the 12 Days of Christmas left… I’m hoping we still might get out to look at some lights or sing a few more carols before the season officially ends. 🙂