All around my town, the shops started hanging up wreaths and tinsel the week after Halloween. They were ready to celebrate, and they wanted us to know.
I love holiday decorations, but when you start putting up evergreens while there are still pumpkins on the doorsteps, you send the message that this holiday season is going to be a marathon. A marathon requires stamina. It takes planning and training and lots of water and, I imagine, sweat. A marathon, in other words, is an endurance sport.
That feels like a fair comparison. With all the pressure to get things right over the holidays, with all the possibilities for relationship awkwardness, and with the sheer volume of things to do and ways things can go wrong, it can definitely feel like we’re enduring the holidays. But is that what we really want?
What do you really want this holiday season?
I want us not just to ENDURE the holidays, but to ENJOY the holidays. I want us to anticipate our celebrations with hope, not with dread. I want us to be people who bring joy and peace wherever we go throughout the season.
This is why I bother to design a simple holiday and why I design a simple life.
I want to make room for the joy, and the truth, and the beauty to shine through. I want to make room for what really matters. I don’t know about you, but over the holidays in particular, I have to be relentless about choosing less of what doesn’t matter to make space for what does.
If you’ve been reading here long, you probably already have some ideas about how to keep the holidays simple and mindful. Maybe you’re already thinking about what you will and won’t buy, or how you’ll quiet your calendar, or how you’ll celebrate in meaningful ways.
That is all good, and that is all helpful, and I hope we will continue to remind each other about buying less and experiencing more. But I wonder—could we take our simplifying one step further?
You’ve simplified the details of your life on the outside. This is the year to simplify things in your heart.
1. Let go of your expectations.
The holidays in particular are packed with expectations. Some are spoken, some are implied, but when they aren’t met, we aren’t happy.
You might have expectations about what gifts you’ll get, or what invitations will come your way. You might have expectations about how your holiday should look. Maybe you have expectations about how someone will react, or about what they’ll say, or about how you’ll feel.
Or maybe you’re exhausted from trying to meet everyone else’s expectations. Either way—whether you’re holding expectations or meeting them—letting go of expectations is freeing.
When we set down our expectations, we set everyone else free to celebrate in the ways that are right for them. We set ourselves free ourselves to do what makes sense for us. We can be present and find joy in what is, without being frustrated by what doesn’t meet expectations.
2. Forget about “should” and “have to.”
If you hear yourself groaning and thinking about how you wish you didn’t “have to” do something this season, stop. Ask yourself why you’re doing this thing. Why do you have to? If you really don’t have to, and it’s not a joyful experience: don’t.
If you decide you do “have to,” be clear about why. Are you doing this to show kindness or love? Are you doing it because you think it’s important? Are you doing something you’d rather not, because this lets you do other things you do want to do?
Name your “why.” Remember that you’re not doing things because you “should,” you’re doing them because you have your own good reasons.
3. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
This is important all year long, but especially over the holidays: tell the truth. Don’t say you want to do “fun” holiday things if you don’t. Don’t buy things you can’t afford. Don’t agree to activities you don’t have time and energy for. Don’t pretend to be thrilled with the status quo if you want to make a change.
When you respect someone, you tell them the truth. You don’t fake-smile and run yourself ragged trying to meet unrealistic expectations. People who love you don’t want that from you, and they don’t want that for you.
So say what you mean. Say what you need. Say what you believe. And then once you’ve said it, let your “yes” mean “yes,” and let your “no” be “no.” Don’t let your “yes” mean “I’d rather not, but I don’t want to rock the boat, so I guess I will say yes and be resentful.” Speak kindly, respectfully, with love and with grace—and tell your truth.
4. No more comparisons.
Whether you’re comparing this holiday to holidays from your past, or to someone else’s holiday, or to your ideal holiday, or to an imaginary holiday you saw one time on Instagram, none of that is going to make you happy. Comparison steals your joy. Instead, let this holiday be what it is.
Once you’ve done what you can to design a simple season, let go and appreciate what’s right in front of you, here and now. If the details aren’t ideal, well, holidays always come around again. That’s how it works. You can always reflect later and do things differently next time.
But don’t let comparisons pull you away from the wonder that’s possible right in front of you.
5. It’s not about enduring.
Endurance is a wonderful trait, but the holidays are not an endurance sport. This is the time for hopeful anticipation, for staying present, and for being people of peace and joy.
I like to think I keep the holidays simple for my kids, because I want them to see what matters most in the ways we celebrate. But the truth is, I need to see those things, too. I need to be reminded of truth and beauty and hope and awe.
There’s enough busyness and confusion going on in the world outside every year. But true celebration can start here on the inside, as we turn toward truth and joy and acceptance.
One Question to Reset Your Holiday
Wondering what to keep and what to let go of in your holiday celebrations? This is the question you need to ask to figure it out.
We all have moments of feeling overwhelmed over the holidays, even if we’ve committed to celebrating simply. When you find yourself in that place this holiday season, this is where to turn.
There’s a shift in your heart and mind that comes from hopeful anticipation. If you wonder whether Advent has a place in your simple holiday celebrations, this can help you decide.
10 True Things About Blessings
If you feel less “blessed,” and more “exhausted” this season, this article is for you. Simple living helps us focus on our blessings—but you have to be able to see them before you can count them.
When You Want to Live Without Regrets
Here’s help for choosing what’s most important this holiday season (or any season). Don’t plan your holiday around a fear of missing out. Do this instead.