Growing up, my mom did a great job with Christmas. My memories blur together a bit, but I remember pajama days, presents, special breakfasts, and lounging around with my siblings until it was time to go to the evening service at church. I always associate the holidays with feelings of warmth, togetherness, fun, and lots of love.
As an adult, I have to fight against the temptation to go ‘Christmas Crazy’. I love giving gifts, decorating, and traditions, and the holidays present a major opportunity to indulge myself. And let’s face it: between stores trying to sell you stuff and Pinterest giving you a thousand perfect examples of how to trim your tree, it is extremely easy for things to get out of hand. Before I know it, I’ve maxed out the budget, collapsed with backache from hanging decorations and baking all day, and spent the rest of my time arguing with my husband about his reluctance to establish any sort of tradition.
So much for remembering what Christmas is really about.
Fighting for a Simple Christmas
Since the boys have come along, I have become acutely aware that my choices around the holidays will establish their future expectations. I can either show them they can expect to have material gifts showered upon them, or that it is better to give than to receive. They might learn that family traditions must be upheld no matter the strain on our relationships, or that we appreciate, value and love our family regardless of our activity. I could teach them that perfectly arranged decorations and pristine home are what we show our friends, or that our house is a place to show hospitality, regardless of its state.
These are big things to teach our children. And so, in order to teach my children the best things, I actively make choices to stay grounded at this time of year. When the cry goes up to ‘spend’ and ‘do’ more and more, I fight to keep Christmas simple. Through my showing restraint, my kids are much more likely to grow up remembering Christmas as a time of warmth and togetherness, like I have, instead of remembering me stressing out and loosing my temper.
Planning a Simple Christmas
Christmas has a lot of facets to it, from decorations, to activities, to gifts, and so on. I will be covering those topics in turn, but since it’s only mid-October, I want to share how I am setting the stage now to have a stress-free, simple Christmas with my family in December.
- Budget to spread the cost over the year. Christmas can present a big expense at the end of the year. This has the potential to create so much stress. The best thing we do is decide how much we can, or want, to spend on Christmas each year, divide that number by 12, and put that amount of money to the side each month. £25 each month is much more manageable than trying to find £300 in your December paycheck.
- Draft gift ideas for Christmas and November/December birthdays. Around this time each year, I set up a simple spreadsheet in Google Drive that lists who we plan on buying for this year. As ideas come to me, I jot them down. I also include November/December birthdays to give me a better idea of what everyone might want or need. I don’t usually start buying gifts until late November, but aside from preventing decision-fatigue, it also means I can watch for deals and stretch our budget a bit further.
- Figure out when you and your partner will have time off work. I think it’s important to know what you are working with. Will you be on your own with the kids off school most of the time, or will your partner be around as well? You can plan more or less into the holidays depending on whether your spouse will be there to participate and help manage the kids. Do you actually need to plan your celebration for a day other than Christmas because one of you is working? Head into the season knowing, roughly, what to expect.
- Mull over the big picture. Do you want to come out of the holiday season with a sense of leisure, or sense of intensity? Think about how you want to feel on the second day of the new year. With a vision of simplicity and restfulness in mind, you can start putting plans in place and setting limits that will establish your defenses in place against materialism, chaos, and losing sight of the real meaning behind the season.
Why prepare for Christmas?
It seems counter-intuitive that putting so much advance thought into Christmas can actually keep it simple. However, I think we underestimate how easy it is to get caught up in the flurry of gifts, parties, and seeing family. Unless we’re willing to unplug the TV, cancel our home internet and our phone data plans, and stay at home, we are going to encounter, on the one hand, businesses that are strategically tempting you to forget your limits and indulge in spending, and, on the other hand, people who are carried away themselves and will gladly take you along with them. Short of seasonal hermitude, preparing and planning for this time of the year is the best way I know of to protect Christmas as a sacred, special and simple time of celebrating Jesus’ birth with my family.