Have Yourself a Simple Christmas

Do you feel overwhelmed with the excess of the holiday season? Too many gifts, too many expectations, too many social events and performances? Too much travel, too many recitals, costumes to make, teacher gifts to come up with?


Yeah. Me, too.

For several years I’ve been ratcheting back. I do less, I give less, yet I’ve found that in less, I get to celebrate more. Simple holidays are my thing. I write and teach about how to create them. But like many things in our life, my daughter and I approach things differently.


Stella is the child who comes out dressed in head to toe sequins and glitter and says, “Look, mama, I match! I’m wearing everything with sparkles!” For her, more is better.


We were barely into December when she asked me about putting our shoes outside on St. Nickolas Day, which is something we’d never done before. She’s been learning about holiday traditions in kindergarten and was excited about one she’d never heard of before.


Stella loves celebrations. All of them.

This is partly my fault. We celebrate a lot in our house, from losing teeth to getting to Friday to honoring the turning of the seasons. So to her, more celebrations = more joy. While to me, more celebrations in December = more stress and more exhaustion. She wants to celebrate Solstice AND light a menorah. She wants to go to Christmas in the Park AND the holiday lights extravaganza. She wants an advent calendar, the Elf on the Shelf AND to make gifts for every member of our large extended family.


The excess of celebrations are great from her perspective - she just gets to enjoy them. But I’m the one making them happen, doing the shlepping and behind-the-scenes magic making. There’s a tipping point for me between enjoying the holiday to really hating it, and this year I’m falling over it.

The bottom line is that I want to enjoy the holidays, too, and if I don’t enjoy them when I’m overwhelmed with the schlepping. I need to replace her ANDs with a quite a few ORs.


When you are rushing around trying to create experiences you miss the ones unfolding right in front of you.


I find the smallest moments are the most magical. Like Stella’s mouth hanging open while watching acrobats at the one performance I bought tickets to this year.  The way me and my guy have figured out the rhythm of wrapping lights around the tree. Slowly stitching together a special gift in front of the fire while watching Netflix. That time we ran into Santa in the parking lot at the doctor's office last year and he "Ho ho ho'ed" Stella right back into believing in him.


Here is I want to remind you about creating magical holidays: You get to choose how much you let in. If you want simple holidays, you have to set some boundaries. As a result, you will have more time and attention for those small, magical moments.


It is easy to forget that when things come at us at rapid fire and they all sound fun. But more fun things do not add up to more fun past a certain point. You get to choose that point.


Your kids might want to do and have all the things, but you get to say, “In this family, this is how we most love to celebrate.” By all means, ask their input. But just like you don’t let your kid eat all the Halloween candy just because it tastes good, you also get to say how many activities and how many gifts are enough.


When you start with simpler expectations, you end up with room for surprises. Like St. Nickolas Day. Stella’s joy in celebration is magical, too. So when she asked about putting our shoes on the porch, I asked her what she thought St. Nickolas would bring. “Coins, maybe,” she said. “And chocolate, maybe.” I thought maybe I could swing that, so we gathered up three pairs of shoes, even though Daddy wasn’t home that night. In the morning she found some quarters and some leftover Halloween candy in her tennis shoe. She was delighted and I was delighted by her delight.


If you are reading this too late to simplify much this year, all is not lost. Right now, right now in your overwhelm, is the best place to make notes about how you want to do this differently next year. What were the best moments? Which were the most stressful? What do you want your holiday to feel like next year, and what could you shift to make that happen?


Write some notes to your future self and save them where you will find them (in with the holiday decor, maybe, or saved as a draft email). Next year, before the momentum of all the stuff sets in, go over your list and decide on the few most important things and which things you will let go.

Set yourself up for a more simple holiday. One where you can joyfully welcome in a brand new tradition on a random Monday night because you left some room for spontaneity.