Over our twenty-plus years of marriage and birth of five children, we have developed a certain philosophy on holidays, in general, and Christmases, in particular. What we started with as newlyweds doesn’t much resemble where we are now. That’s how life happens. Along the way, we found ways to avoid Christmas stress.
We have evolved from rather involved traditions with our first child to winging it with lots of littles. What it finally boiled down to is making memories with our children. With that in mind, we have jettisoned most of the formality of decorating and the stress of gifting everyone we know and the bustle of parties. Everyone says they remember few gifts from year to year but always remember the special times spent with family. I have to say, I agree.
So, in no particular order, here is a list of seven activities to avoid Christmas stress:
1. We love to bake all year long, but between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we put the oven through its paces, making trays and bags of goodies for special friends and my clients. Some of our favorites are toffee, Linzer cookies, pumpkin spice trail mix (better known as “trash” in the South), homemade chai tea and hot chocolate mixes, and gingerbread cookies. Now that I have a few good helpers, this job has become a fun time together. We have a decorating day and make sugar cookies in basic shapes to decorate with homemade icing and sprinkles. Gingerbread houses are also fun to decorate. It is, um, interesting.
2. We liked to decorate but didn’t start out with many decorations. So, we began buying a family tree ornament and one for each child each year. That sounds so neat and collectible, until you start realizing how many unique ornaments you have to track down each year. And purchase. And hang. And pack away. And store. Well, we still do this, but I’ve gotten a little more creative. We might make salt dough ornaments or paint ceramic ornaments or get something representing a trip or event of the year. I label each ornament with the year and who it belongs to if it’s one of the girls.
3. When we moved out of our house with the attic storage I pared down the Christmas decorations by several large boxes. I kept our collectible ornaments, some of my parents’ decorations that I inherited, and a few other things. In the interest of minimizing/simplifying, we won’t be hanging something on every square inch of space. And since we want to make the best use possible, we evaluate our decorations on what means something to us and what is honoring to God. We choose not to use much Santa Claus stuff. Our girls know he’s a game, not a peeping tom who breaks into our house to leave junk and eat our food. That’s just us.
We have several different nativity sets, including a large ceramic one that belonged to my mom. From a distance, it’s beautiful. Up close, you can see the cow is missing her horns, and the angel’s wings have been glued on a time or two. Poor Joseph is just lucky to still be standing.
4. When I was very ill during Christmas several years ago, we didn’t decorate at all. Our girls instead drew a Christmas tree on butcher paper and stuck it to the wall. We kind of liked this, and it has become a tradition. It’s like a memorial to the Christmas when God proved His faithfulness to us during a very dark time.
5. We like to share the Christmas spirit. We invite a bunch of friends to a nursing home or assisted living center and sing Christmas carols. This is the highlight of our holiday. We seriously feel like rock stars because the residents are always thrilled to hear every single off key note.
6. Changing how we gift has been one of the biggest factors in how we avoid Christmas stress. We keep our gifts simple and practical or we go in for one big gift. Instead of everyone buying a gift for each person in the family, we choose group gifts or activities. One year we booked a few days at a cabin during Christmas. We lived in an apartment at the time, so a getaway was a special treat. The girls each choose a gift card, movie, game, or activity to share with her sisters. That way, there are only five gifts to buy instead of 20. So. Much. Easier. Some of our past years’ choices have been gift cards to Cici’s Pizza or Maggie Moo’s (ice cream), a tie-dye kit and t-shirts, and popcorn for movie night.
7. We read Advent stories. Our favorites are Jotham’s Journey, Tabitha’s Travels, Bartholomew’s Passage and Ishtar’s Odyssey. (These are affiliate links with Amazon, and I will earn a few cents if you buy from my link.) We never want to forget the true meaning of Christmas. We might sprinkle a little 21st century here and there, like trolling neighborhoods for Christmas lights, but we always turn our focus back to the birth of Christ and why he came to Earth as a baby.
The great thing about traditions is that they’re specific to the people involved. They often are a combination of religious, cultural, and personal preference. For Christmas, in particular, we want to avoid Christmas stress while having fun and instilling a respect and gratitude for Christ and his plan for salvation.
How do you celebrate Christmas? How did your traditions evolve?