Now that the weather’s getting colder, some of us are thinking about breaking out the eggnog and putting up decorations. Or if you happen to be a big-box retailer, you put up your decorations sometime before Halloween — but either way, we’re all on the same page now. The holiday season has arrived.
We’re going to ease into it at my house.
A few years ago, after our sixth kiddo was born, I realized something had to give in our family’s holiday celebrating.
We would celebrate by doing the kinds of things I had grown up doing, plus the things my husband had grown up doing, plus a bunch of other holiday traditions we’d picked up over the years.
On top of that, there were church events and kid parties and family gatherings, cookie exchanges and gift exchanges (and, inevitably, store returns and exchanges). Between the wish lists and gift lists and to-do lists, we would end up needing a holiday to recover from our holiday.
It was just too much holiday.
But I was still afraid to cut anything out because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I felt guilty about saying no to family members. I felt awful declining invitations. And how could I justify depriving my kids of any potential holiday magic?
I had to convince myself that “disappoint as few people as possible” was not my ultimate holiday goal. It’s beside the point, really.
When we started setting boundaries for ourselves, we found time for the things that should have been the main event all along, things like peace and joy. We didn’t miss out on holiday magic, either, because when we just stopped rushing around, we could enjoy everything more.
So we decided to keep some things, and let others slide. We have a quiet family advent observance, we send silly family Christmas cards, and we drive around the neighborhood admiring all the lights at least once or twice. But we don’t spend the month running around trying to get things done, and we don’t have back-to-back-to-back events that leave us exhausted before we even get to the real celebration.
Maybe you’re ready to shake things up, too. You may have been celebrating in the same way for years, but I bet you aren’t the same person you always were. You’ve changed over time, and the ways you want to celebrate may have changed, too.
Give yourself permission to slow down, to simplify your celebration, and to do things differently. Here are five ways you can calm your holiday this year.
1. Give something up.
If gearing up to celebrate as usual has you hyperventilating already, stop and step back. What feels overwhelming? What aren’t you looking forward to? What feels like too much? Try celebrating without it this year. If you miss it, you can always add it back in. The holidays always come around again.
2. Start something new.
You don’t have to do things the way you always have. If a tradition has lost its meaning for you, choose something new to try instead. What means the most to you or will create the memories you want to share? Do that, and let go of the rest.
3. Rethink the gifts.
Holidays are a time of celebration and reverence. So what are we celebrating when we spend too much on things we don’t need and won’t appreciate? What are we giving our time and money to? And what messages are we sending our kids?
There are plenty of alternatives to frenzied holiday shopping.
- Offer just one well-made gift instead of a pile of disposable trinkets.
- Make gifts, whether that means knitting scarves, making soup, or redesigning a friend’s website. You don’t have to be Pinterest-crafty, just use skills you already have to create unique gifts for the people you love.
- Give experiences rather than things. Would someone on your list appreciate a class, a meal at a new restaurant, or museum passes? In years past, our kids have enjoyed gifts of junior theater tickets, a horseback ride, acting lessons, or up-close animal encounters. The possibilities are pretty much endless.
- Instead of exchanging gifts with loved ones, together give to a cause you all want to support.
4. Quiet the calendar.
Instead of trying to hit all the parties, all the dinners, all the relatives’ houses, all the school functions, and all the church festivities: choose just one. Or choose one event per weekend, or one per week, or whatever fits your family best. You aren’t missing out, you’re creating space for your family to fully engage with whatever is happening right now.
5. Conquer the holiday sale mentality.
Whether we’re talking Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or last-minute sales, set boundaries for yourself ahead of time and then stick to your plan. Maybe your boundary is “I don’t shop those sales,” or maybe you’ll only check prices on certain items you already plan to buy.
A bargain on something you don’t need isn’t actually a good deal, after all. If you decide ahead of time, you’re less likely to buy things you never meant to own.
The Simple (Holiday) Five
If you’re ready to make changes this holiday, here’s where to start. This is the question I’ll be asking myself — and my kids — before we start planning our season.
Super simple ideas for anticipating Christmas, instead of letting the holiday frenzy take over.
Sowing down and examining your expectations will keep disappointment away throughout the holidays.
Twinkle lights and greenery are not actually required for your space to offer rest, conversation, and connection over the holidays. Thank goodness.
Taking time to reflect on what you do want this holiday season — and what you don’t — can help you keep your celebrations simple and heartfelt.