How to Simplify the Holidays

I am embarrassed to say that many years, after the gifts were unwrapped and the kids were happily playing with their toys, I looked around and thought, “I forgot about Jesus. I forgot to invite the most important person to the party.”


I have a feeling I’m not the only one.


From Thanksgiving to New Year’s we run a sprint to the finish line trying fit in all the traditions:

  • decorating the cookies
  • singing the carols
  • exchanging the gifts
  • attending the parties
  • smoking the turkeys
  • hanging the lights
  • decorating the house


It’s enough stress to make even the merriest of elves cry, “Bah hum bug!”

If you want to forego the chaos of Christmas and focus on the King, here are a few tips to keep your holiday merry and bright:


1.Remember that Christmas is Jesus’s birthday. In the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, class parties, and visiting distant relatives, we forget the simple truth that it all revolves around our Savior’s birth.


2. Streamline your traditions. A few years ago I considered at all the traditions we had collected from my side of the family and my husband’s side of the family. I thought about the ones that brought us joy and the ones that seemed daunting. We asked our children what tradition was their favorite, and then I chose three that we incorporate every year:

  • Polar Express – We put the kids in PJ’s, give them a ticket, and they hop aboard the Polar Express (our minivan, or this year our 12-passenger van) which takes them on a ride to look at Christmas lights. In the van we serve hot chocolate, popcorn, and candy canes.
  • Family movie night – We always make a pallet on the floor, watch Elf or Home Alone, and eat pizza and popcorn in our PJ’s.
  • Christmas Eve gift – On Christmas Eve the kids get to open one gift, and it’s always a new ornament for the tree that is in their bedroom. When they grow up and start a family of their own they will have a collection of ornaments to take with them.


3. Know what brings you joy. Whether it’s decorations, traditions, or the five parties you’re invited to, know what things bring you joy and what weighs you down. Are you cooking your Great Aunt Mildred’s chess pie because that’s what is expected at Thanksgiving? Maybe bake that new chocolate pecan pie recipe you’ve wanted to try this year instead. If you really don’t want to go to your second cousin’s New Year’s Eve party because it’s five hours away and you have to find childcare for your three little ones, it’s O.K. to politely decline. Know what brings you joy: simple décor or decorating your home like Neiman Marcus. Attending every holiday party or only your favorite one. Baking like the Pioneer Woman or ordering pizza and spending more time with those you love. Know yourself and what brings you bliss, then live within those boundaries . . . and make no apologies for it.


4. Reject Pinterest Perfection. The other day my daughter was stressing (over what, I can’t remember because when you’re raising a tween, these defcon 5 moments happen hourly). I calmly replied, “Clarey, nothing in life has to be perfect.” To which she responded rather forcefully, “Everything in life has to be perfect!” Ugh. We have a lot of rough years ahead of us. Pinterest is great for inspiration; but not so great for our self-esteem at times. If you are craftastic, awesome! A wizard in the kitchen? Fabulous! I am neither of these. But I know where I excel and where I don’t, so I save my talents for areas I enjoy and don’t beat myself up over the rest. Let’s promise ourselves to enjoy Pinterest for what it is: great ideas. And reject the temptation to achieve the illusion of perfection.


5. Limit Gift Giving. Our family chooses to follow the “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” model of gift giving. I also have friends who give their kids three gifts because Jesus received three gifts. Setting boundaries on gift-giving is a healthy practice for many reasons:

  • It reminds kids that Christmas is about Jesus’s birthday, not about the latest Xbox.
  • It keeps our budgets in check.
  • It helps parents reign ourselves in if gifts is our love-language.
  • It helps us focus on quality time vs. quantity of stuff.


6. Take a deep breath. Amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, take a few moments to read a good book. Go to a yoga class. Grab coffee with a friend. Don’t let this month fly by without feeling like a normal version of yourself.


Let’s us not spend this advent season focusing on doing or buying; rather let our hearts cry out:

O Come Let Us Adore Him!

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