Simplifying Christmas

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I love being warm and cozy inside under an afghan with a cup of tea while the snow is falling outside. And I love any holiday that brings family together to eat. But Christmas time brings with it it’s own set of frustrations and stress, especially in light of my journey into simplicity. There’s the stress of finding a gift for everyone on your list. There’s the stress of dividing your time between families. There’s the financial stress of everything that goes into Christmas: the gifts, the decorations, the tree, charity, etc. There’s some stress in juggling the traditions you grew up with as a child with the ones your spouse did, and the new ones you want to institute in your young family. All of this works together to make a joyful holiday somewhat complex, and that’s the opposite of what I’m striving for.

We are not a religious family, and as such we do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. This in itself both simplifies some things and complicates others. Most of my family celebrates Christmas as the Christian holiday and birth of Jesus, and when we celebrate with our family we join in their traditions. Although my children are still young, this does open up the door for some deep conversations on why we believe what we believe, and why it’s different than what Grandma and Grandpa believe. The flip side of that coin is the secular, industry driven consumption fest that masquerades as a holiday for much of America. This is something I strive to avoid at all costs as it goes against everything I believe in and am trying to accomplish in my family.

So how does one keep Christmas meaningful without religion or buying into the consumer driven holiday? Brad and I have talked a lot about how we want to handle Christmas in our family, what it means to us, and what we want it to mean to our children. We’re working hard to instill some traditions that are in line with our beliefs both spiritually and environmentally. We stress Christmas as a time to celebrate family, be thankful for what the previous year has been, give back where you can and to cherish the people you love. We’re having fun creating our own family traditions. Brad is learning Christmas carols on his guitar to sing as a family. Every year we’ve gone as a family to pick out a live tree and wreath for our door, and decorate it as a family. This year Owen had a blast “helping” me make a gingerbread house. (If you’ve seen that post, I admit I didn’t let him help very much. Maybe next year.) And as the kids get older we would like to start volunteering over the Christmas holiday. My first thought goes to a soup kitchen, but it would be fun to let the kids choose a charity to give their time to also.

We’ve gone the fairly simple route with decorations this year. We do always get a live tree and wreath. I love the energy of having live plants indoors. I love the scent of pine every time we walk in or out of the house, or come down the stairs. We do minimal holiday lights. We do have lights on the tree, but even when we own a house I don’t think we’ll do a whole lot of landscape lights. They require electricity to run, many of them contain led, and they’re expensive to maintain as they often need to be at least partially replaced each year. Also we don’t buy themed ornaments for the tree. Our tree is very eclectic, with ornaments from my childhood, our first married Christmas, and gifts from friends and family over the years. I like that you can tell the story of past Christmas’s at our home by the ornaments on our tree. Every one is special, and I know where each one came from. I remember as a child how much fun it was to unwrap the ornaments at Christmas and we would talk about when we got them as we put them on the tree. That’s something I want for my children. This year I had my heart set on a rosemary tree for the kitchen table. I was going to decorate it with popcorn and cranberry strands and tiny salt dough snowflakes. But I’ve had the hardest time finding one, all the nurseries I’ve checked (well OK the one nursery I checked) and both Whole Foods here in town are sold out. I’ve decided it’s not something to stress about. I’ll start earlier next year and get one before they’re gone. Then provided I don’t manage to kill it, we’ll have fresh rosemary all year, and a little tree to decorate the following Christmas too.

Another way we’re trying to simplify this year is with gifts. Brad and I got each other one large thing apiece that we’ve been wanting. We’ve gotten a few small things for each of the boys, and one larger gift for them to share. I got many of their gifts used. They’re young and won’t care yet, and buying used keeps things out of the landfills as well as decreases the demand for new production and all of the environmental hazards that go along with it. I’ve also made a lot of my gifts for family, either on my sewing machine or in my kitchen. This year my dad, who is an accomplished carpenter, has undertaken to make gifts for everyone. I have never been more excited for a Christmas gift. I’ve been given a hint as to what the boys are getting, and it’s everything I want for toys for them. Hand made, quality, open ended, imaginative play. Now there are so many people that love my boys, and you can never have too many people who love your children, that it stands to reason they will probably receive some gifts that I would not have purchased for them. We have a small apartment, and really don’t have a lot of room for extra “stuff”. So what to do when well meaning people bestow upon you the gift of clutter? If it’s something for the boys and they truly love it, it stays regardless of whether I would have chosen it or not. For anything else that just doesn’t work for our family, I feel fine donating it to a charity like Good Will. I believe that the people in our lives truly give out of love, and would be sad if I allowed a gift that we couldn’t use to remain in the house causing stress just to make them feel good. I know that if I give a gift that didn’t work for the recipient I would rather they pass it on to someone who could use it than to keep it and wish they hadn’t.

I’d love to hear more ideas. What have you done this year to keep Christmas simple? What are your favorite traditions?

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