Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How We Simplified Christmas!

Christmas was a great success this year! We actually managed to stay healthy for Christmas, which was a major accomplishment in itself - but just as importantly, we managed to enjoy the season without running ourselves ragged (like we did last year).

The last three or four days before Christmas were still pretty crammed. And by Christmas night, I was indeed so tired that I did - as I mentioned on my Facebook page - confuse the baby with a dishwasher. (Unfortunately, the baby doesn't have an "off" button like the dishwasher, but apparently my middle-of-the-night brain thought it should.)

But still, Christmas was great. The whole month was great. And while I am - yes, I admit it - thankful that it's all over and we can start to rebuild our shattered routines, habits, and forgotten dietary standards, it was a season to remember.

Here are some of the things we did to make it happen!

Planning for Christmas Break - Last year, a friend of mine posted about how she creates a yearly notebook to organize her family's summer break. I tried it this past year (see our summer notebook here), and it was a roaring success - such a success, indeed, that I decided to make a holiday notebook and try for another win! And it worked! I created a notebook that covered November, December, and January, and included monthly calendars, gift lists, thank-you lists, meal plans, and a detailed cooking and to-do list for the week before Christmas. I'll hopefully post more on that at a later date.

One of the best things about this notebook was being able to plan a daily family activity for each day of our Christmas break. In other words, each day had either an outing (park day, play date, field trip) or a craft for the children to do (or to watch me do - *ahem*). I have learned the hard way that sending the children off to play while I try to work results in only one thing - disaster. Disaster in the form of fighting, screaming, crying, and huge-gigantic-indescribably-horrible messes that children are inevitably incapable of cleaning up by themselves. They still get plenty of play time, but gathering everyone together for a daily activity reduces the mayhem - and they enjoy it, too!

Some of our activities this year were:
  • Paper snowflakes
  • Going on a walk to gather pinecones (intended for crafts that never happened, but the walk was still fun!)
  • Going on another walk to pick oranges from our neighbor's tree
  • Graham Cracker Gingerbread houses
  • Making Christmas cookie dough
  • Making Christmas cookies - one day for the neighbors, and one day for our annual sugar cookies
Some of our trips this year included:
  • Our MOMS Club cookie exchange
  • A Park Day with one of our homeschool groups
  • A Christmas potluck park day with our other homeschool group
  • Yet another Christmas party!

Make it a Month! - One recommendation I have seen consistently from homeschool mamas is to take a full month off at Christmas. This is our first year of trying that idea, and it's a keeper! I highly recommend it! After a long slog of school, two weeks off is not enough to be able to go back to work with any detectable level of enthusiasm. Now that we're at the end of our third week, I am starting to contemplate the beginning of school with re-awakening interest, and I know that I'll be ready after next week.

Choosing Priorities - I enjoy Elaine St. James's books on life simplification, and right now I'm re-reading her book, "Simplify Your Christmas." I can't get on board with the whole book - her level of simplification is so severe that I am left wondering if she has any Christmas left to celebrate - but I love her main point. Choose what you love, and do that. Here are the things that we have chosen to focus on:
  • Going out to see Christmas lights - That's one of our family's favorite things! We go out two to three times per week during December (and much of January). 
  • Decorations - Not my thing, but it's definitely a huge thing for the kids. Our level of decorating is still far below most families, but I'm doing my best to improve. We even added our first-ever outdoor lights this year!
  • Baking - One type of cookies for the neighbors, one type for us. With three young children, that's plenty of baking! We enjoy our yearly sugar-cookie decorating time very much - especially now that we're using all-natural homemade dyes that won't send the kids into fits of evil behavior. 
    • In looking up that link, I am struck by how much younger the kidlets looked back then! And how much younger I looked! (And thinner!) Moving on...
  • Christmas Music - Round the clock from Thanksgiving onward!
  • Easy Crafts - Paper snowflakes rock. So do graham cracker gingerbread houses. Anything easy that has good results with not-too-much effort. 
  • Candles - Lots of them!
  • Christmas Cards - This is one time-consuming project that I love and look forward to every year - both giving and receiving!
  • Advent - We love the wreath and the daily readings, though we usually only get through about Day 5 (of 25). 

And Purposely Neglecting Non-Priorities - Elaine St. James's book-end point in "Simplify Your Christmas" is the logical conclusion: "If it stresses you out, don't do it." Here are the things we're skipping:
  • Office Parties - Of course, it's easy to escape office parties when you're not employed! But the one massive corporate Christmas party that I attended (six years ago) was an exercise in extended misery, and I will (hopefully) avoid them in the future.
  • Our City's Christmas Parade - We had fun the one year we went. Seriously, who doesn't enjoy freezing to death in a driving rain storm while watching bedraggled parade participants struggle through their routines while they, too, are freezing to death? In all seriousness, it was fun - but the stress and the discomfort weren't worth it. 
  • Shopping - I am absolutely no good at buying gifts. Nor do we have the money to buy them - or the space to store lots of unneeded stuff. In fact, I spend a good deal of my free time trying to shovel excess stuff out of our house, so I certainly don't want to participate in bringing more in! See the next point...
Minimizing Gift Giving - This is a huge simplifying factor. 
  • We eliminate non-essential gift-giving. Doctor, dentist, anything outside of family, etc. - nope.
  • About five-or-so years ago, we made an agreement with half of our family (DH's side) that we wouldn't exchange gifts among adults. This has been an incredible blessing, both stress-wise and financially! Now to convince the other half of the family to follow suit (not happenin'). 
  • We don't give gifts to our kids. Yup, I can just taste the hate mail coming in from that one. But seriously, folks - why on earth would I spend money that I don't have, doing something that I dislike (shopping), in order to buy things that the kids don't need, when they are already in over their ears with gifts from grandparents and other family? To say that we ought to buy our children gifts just because that's how Americans do Christmas is beyond absurd, and we're not bending to the cultural pressure. (They get way too many gifts anyway!)
Planning for Christmas Dinner - Planning ahead, that is! Checklists and make-ahead dishes - love 'em.

Christmas Baking EARLY - Last year I learned the hard way that if I want to have time for Christmas baking - and furthermore, actually enjoy the process (and not bite my family's heads off with stress in the process), it needs to be done super-early. As in mid-August. Well, I didn't quite make it that early, but I did manage to get our baking done (and cookies handed out to neighbors) a full week before Christmas. It's the only way to go!

Making Something Easy for the Neighbors! - Last year we gave hand-decorated sugar cookies to all of the neighbors. Big mistake - what a huge workload that was! This year, instead, I made a small batch of decorated sugar cookies just for our family, and then made an easier recipe (monster cookies!) for the neighbors. Since we give cookies to our entire neighborhood, an easy project was a must.

Simple Stockings - I have no patience with stocking stuffers. They are pricey, especially when there are multiple stocking stuffers for each stocking, and they're usually in either the "extremely pricey" category (tickets to the theatre! jewelery!) or the "cheap plastic junk that's going to clutter up our house before I secretly sneak it to the trash" category. No money for one, no patience for the other - and again, I'm not fond of shopping. Thus, we do stockings the old English way! Each stocking holds the exact same things - one small bag of candy, one small bag of nuts, and an orange. Et voila! No one needs any more, and they enjoy their snacks. Being that we're all spoiled Arizonans who are used to an abundance of citrus, no one actually eats his orange, but I gather them up and make orange juice out of them later. Simple stockings are a life-saver! (And I love the vintage-feeling of doing Christmas the old English way! Have I mentioned yet that I love England?)

Cutting When Needed - This year I read an awesome blog post in which the author realized that for her sanity, and that of her family, she had to make massive cuts to her Christmas season schedule - and she did so, with great success. I would love to share the article, but unfortunately I cannot recall where I read it - if anyone knows the one to which I refer, let me know and I'll link!

However, I have tried to keep that blog post in mind this season. If I'm so stressed that I'm near tears or snappy all the time, or if I'm waking up early already stressed, or if I can't sleep because I have so many things on my to-do list and am already stressing over them... then I need to cut. "You must be ruthless!" It's a lovely philosophy for the Christmas season.

Bit-by-Bit Gift Wrapping! - I didn't have many gifts to wrap (see above!), but for the wrapping that I did have to do, I did a little bit each morning - in our closet, as a matter of fact! I simply stowed the paper and needed accessories in our walk-in closet, and each morning after getting dressed and having my devotion time, I wrapped a package or two. Definitely a big improvement over having to lock the door on a bunch of rambunctious children while I try to cram in an hour or two of frenzied gift-wrapping on Christmas Eve (like I did last year). Much more peaceful!

Simplified Wrapping - As I learned last year... Every gift does not need to be fully wrapped in the traditional way. Gift bags are great. So are stick-on bows. I'll probably never use wrap-around ribbon again. Simple is good, and the kids really don't care one way or the other!

Wait Till EIGHT! - Before we had older children, I had no idea how early a normally late-sleeping child could wake up! YIKES! Last year we set a "don't get up till 7:00 a.m." rule, and that was a big improvement over the previous year, but it was still too frantic - trying to shove coffee cake in the oven, wake up sleepy house-guests, set out last-minute things, etc. Way too frantic. This year I read of one mom who says, "Don't get up till the clock looks like a snowman!" - i.e. until 8:00 a.m. I immediately adopted that plan, and it was wonderful. Our house guests had time to get up and get a quick breakfast, I had time to get the coffee cake and hot chocolate started, along with turning on some Christmas music, lights, and candles, and time to get the babies up and dressed and ready. It was a huge improvement, and a definite keeper.

Make-Ahead Christmas Breakfast - We make our Make-ahead Christmas Coffee Cake that is prepared the day before and slipped into the oven on Christmas morning, and it's always a huge hit! This year I also added Creamy Crock-Pot Hot Chocolate (made with regular milk rather than a vegan version), mixing the dry ingredients earlier in the week so that it was ready to go. It was one of the best hot chocolate recipes we've ever tried - and since I only had enough milk to mix up half of it, we're having the other half tonight for New Year's Eve!

I still have much work to do to simplify the holidays. Though I think the days of the WAAYYY-overdone American holidays are past, we mamas still try to do too much. For my family's well-being, I need constant reevaluation of what is blessing our family and what is just bogging us down (or actively harming our well-being).

 But this year was a great start!

I would love to hear the ways that you have simplified the holidays, dear readers! Please let me know!

And since I'm a wee bit late for Christmas, I'll just say a big Happy New Year! 

Love to you all!


  1. Great idea to have a plan for the run up to xmas. Copying that straight away. Thank you from Sweden

  2. Linda - Thanks for your kind words, and for visiting!! :)



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