Tips for A Slower Christmas
It is officially Christmas season! It is the weekend after Thanksgiving and we have spent the last two days decorating our house for the holidays. This is actually something we do twice a year as we have a family tradition of “Christmas in July,” when K., P., and I decorate the house for Christmas (fake tree and all!) when it’s too hot to go outside. I love Christmas. The baking, the decorating, the family, the music. Sometimes it seems like most of my special family childhood memories are either from Christmases or our annual beach vacations.
What I don’t love? The cost and stress associated with Christmas that is sometimes seen as mandatory rather than self-inflicted. While I am not immune to life speeding up (see my recent post…), J. and I are trying to again keep Christmas simple. Here are our go-to methods for a Slower Christmas.
1) Abandon Traditions That No Longer Work. This can be SO hard. I have tons of memories of childhood Christmas traditions and there is a lot of pressure (both internal and external) to continue these traditions into adulthood. When J. and I first married it was so easy to try to fall back on those old traditions rather than deciding what WE wanted for our new little family. This has become even more important since having kids. Some things we have cut out over the years: gifts exchange between J. and me, Christmas church services, traveling (even in-town!) Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, buying wrapping paper, filling stockings, outdoor Christmas lights. This year we had planned to not travel at all but following some family emergencies, we will be hosting at our house and then traveling a few days after Christmas. In the future it’s my goal to stay in one place for the holidays.
2) Don’t Add Unnecessary New Tasks or Traditions: Just because “everyone else” is doing that creepy (in my opinion) Elf on the Shelf, does not mean you have to. Also feel free to skip The Polar Express train ride, the neighborhood cookie exchange, your Book Club’s “Favorite Things” party, or anything else that doesn’t make you excited when you see it on your calendar.
3) Keep What You Love. Love buying gifts? Keep doing it! Love decking your entire house in twinkling lights? Keep doing it! Slowing down Christmas isn’t about erasing all of the magic, it’s about only keeping that which you absolutely enjoy. Traditions we love and have kept? Baking Christmas cookies (my FAVORITE activity, we bake literally HUNDREDS and it’s all fun for me!), decorating inside the house, listening to Christmas music, looking at Christmas lights, sending Christmas cards (although this is a tradition/cost we have wavered on this year….decision to be determined!).
We have also altered certain traditions to make them more manageable. We have limited decorations to trees (we have a pre-lit indoor tree, a homemade pre-lit wooden pallet tree, and this year we bought a lights-only real tree for outside) and non-usable surfaces (i.e., window sills, a strange useless living room alcove, and our unused fireplace). This keeps our house feeling festive but not as cluttered. We also no longer buy new Christmas decorations and I have gotten rid of any decorations I didn’t love. We have also pared down our Christmas menus to keep them as simple as possible . We also don’t buy wrapping paper but instead put to use our leftover packing paper. I will wrap and write the “To/From” in Sharpie and then the kids can draw, sticker, or decorate as desired. Eco friendly and free!
4) Limit Both Who You Buy For and What You Buy. As J. and I have tried to pare down, I began to have more problems with the amount of money and especially the amount of “stuff” adults (and kids!) in our families were exchanging. It basically amounted to an exchange of $40-50 between individuals which seemed silly. A few years ago we gave donations to charities that were important to various family members and then last year I took a big step: I emailed both of our families and suggested we draw names for adults AND kids. Meaning, each adult would buy for one other adult and each kid for one other kid. I also suggested cost limits of $30-50. This was intimidating. I was basically admitting that J. and I both didn't want and, to some extent, could not afford to continue to buy for everyone. I was not sure how the suggestion would be received.
Thankfully, the suggestion was received positively and it went well! While we had a few people who did not follow the agreed upon restrictions (this, admittedly, was frustrating), I felt really good about the change! This year, I suggested it again and while grandparents opted out, another family member suggested we even stop exchanging between adults! One small step created another! Yay!
Beyond family, we buy no gifts for friends and I buy small gift cards and have the kids make homemade cards for teachers. J. and I also do not buy gifts for each other and I don’t miss it at all! Sometimes we do an “experience,” a trip or show around the holiday season, and other times we simply get a babysitter and have a nice dinner alone together.
5) Recognize YOU Have Power in Setting Kids’ Expectations. For the first three years of our girls’ lives, J. and I got them NOTHING for Christmas. And they still could not even open everything! Last year we got them each two present and this year each child will receive a book and a toy. The kids will also receive a “joint” gift of educational posters for their playroom. As stated earlier, we also request family members limit the amount they spend per child to $50 and the number of gifts to two each max. If the number of gifts still seems overwhelming, we will often save gifts for their late winter birthdays.
6) Don’t Request “Christmas Lists” from Your Kids. Our girls are four and are just getting to the age where friends are talking about their “lists.” However, we do not talk about “lists” for gifts and instead I have asked occasionally if they have 1-2 things they may want for Christmas. This year they each wanted a Disney Princess costume, which grandparents will provide. Last year no specific gifts were suggested. J. and I have discussed doing the popular “Want, Read, Need, Wear” gift giving method. We will likely do this in the future but currently we do not feel the need to even provide four gifts from us as they receive gifts from family as well.
7) Remember to Give Back. I try to remember that minimizing is a privilege. We can choose to reduce our Christmas gifts and activities because we have everything we need and can buy more if needed or desired throughout the year. As such, J. and I try to give back during the season and to include the kids in these acts. For the past two years we have tried to buy the vast majority of all gifts from companies that give back. For example, we have bought from St. Jude’s, Preemptive Love, Uncommon Goods, and other companies which either employ low-income persons from around the world or donate part of their proceeds to charities. We also provide presents for a child in need. Last year, we included the girls in selecting presents for a child from Operation ShoeBox and this year we are buying presents for a local foster child. Remember, if possible, to save money to give back this time of year!