While I certainly haven't been perfect—we've definitely had our crazy holiday moments since then—I will say that I have been much better. The first step to simplifying the holidays is to recognize that things have gotten a little too overstuffed and reevaluate your priorities.
What is the most important thing about Christmas for you and your family?
For me, it's that my family is together, that we're happy, and that we are focusing on the birth of Christ and all that entails. Hopefully everything we choose to do during this season will accomplish those three things. If something detracts from those goals, it's now much easier for me to cut it out of our schedule without feeling too bad.
The following four ideas have helped me greatly to focus on what my Christmas priorities are:
1. Schedule downtime
Do not give in to the idea that you must be super busy and running around everywhere during the holidays. You may have a long list of things to accomplish, but make sure that downtime is on that list.
During that downtime you can do things like:
— Listen to uplifting Christmas music (for suggestions, click here: Our Favorite Christmas Albums).
— Watch a favorite Christmas movie.
— Read a Christmas book, either by yourself or with your family (for suggestions click here: 24 Christmas Books or here: 11 More Christmas Books).
— Sleep! Renewing your energy will help you get more done later.
I'm sure you can think of plenty of other relaxing activities that will help you keep the spirit of the season with you. Don't let a long list of activities deter you from resting, filling your own vessel, and keeping your joy.
2. Stop doing it all
I am a huge fan of holiday traditions. I love every tradition we have ever established. But sometimes, it is overwhelming to try to do all of them, even if they do support my priorities for the season.
If your list is getting too long, try asking each family member what their favorite tradition is. Make those things a priority, and fit in the rest if you can. Let the lesser traditions go if necessary.
This year, I asked my family that very question and the answers I got will help me to make the best decisions this month.
The Maestro's favorite tradition is watching Elf on December 22, A Christmas Carol on Christmas Adam (December 23), and listening to Amahl and the Night Visitors on Christmas Eve. He said those three things cannot be separated for him, so I guess we won't separate them! The great thing is that each of them is an activity that we do together and makes us each happy, as well as helping us remember Christ.
Bria's favorite tradition is baking Christmas cookies together and giving them to the neighbors.
Chloe's favorite tradition is listening to Amahl and the Night Visitors on Christmas Eve. Amahl is an opera about a young, crippled shepherd boy and his meeting with the three wise men on their way to visit the Christ child. Just before bed on Christmas Eve, we turn off all of the lights and listen to the entire opera (about 55 minutes) by the light of the Christmas tree.
Sophia's favorite tradition is going sledding.
As for me? It's probably Amahl, which is obviously a beloved tradition in our house. Luckily, it requires almost no planning or effort! So I'll pick my second favorite tradition, which is reading Christmas books together as often as we can during the month of December. It brings such a sweet spirit into our home, and while it isn't always feasible to do it every single night, I love the nights we are able to cuddle up together and read inspiring stories of Christmas magic.
3. Plan ahead
By planning ahead—and I mean WAY ahead, like September ahead—you will free up a lot of time during December for enjoying the season instead of running around like a crazy person.
Things I try to plan ahead:
— Christmas cards. I try to have the photo picked out before school starts and have them ordered before Thanksgiving. For more information on how I deal with Christmas cards (which can cause a TON of stress during the holidays), click here: A Stress-free Guide to Sending Christmas Cards.
— Stocking stuffers. It's easy to pick up little things here and there while shopping. Before I know it, I have a nice assortment for stockings and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet.
—The big gift. For the past few years, that has been a trip of some sort instead of an actual gift. Either way, though, it's nice to have decided what it will be before December rolls around. This way, you know which sales to watch for and you are less swayed by other things just because they are a good deal.
—Food. Whether it's what we will bake for our holiday neighbor gifts, or what we will make for our own traditional meals, I try to think way ahead on that and have all the ingredients on hand before December 1.
—Christmas dresses. I always buy my girls new Christmas dresses to wear to church at Christmas. I used to always get them in October with coupons I would get for Bria's birthday, but now that she is a teenager that's a bit more difficult. This year I have Bria's and Sophia's dresses already, but haven't found a good one for Chloe yet. Because I wasn't planning ahead enough with this—it's been harder now that I try to match them without matching exactly.
There are plenty of other things you can plan ahead, depending on your own traditions and schedule. It's good to make some goals for the holidays sometime in September and do a one or two things each week so that you are totally prepared. I include Halloween and Thanksgiving in this planning, too. It's a busy time of year!
4. Simplify your gift giving
I used to go completely over the top and over budget every year for Christmas. This was no good for several reasons, but the main one was that I was spending too much time dealing with gifts and not enough time with my family creating memories.
Nowadays, I have my children fill out their wish lists in four categories: Something I want, Something I need, Something to wear, and Something to read.
To get a printable download of the list, click here: Christmas List Printable
Not only does this help me and The Maestro to focus on what's important during Christmas time (not to mention save some money!), it helps the girls to also focus on what's important. They know they will only have four gifts under the tree from us. Actually, three. The "something I want" is usually from Santa Claus, though I have also downplayed Santa a LOT in the past few years.
Other ways to simplify gift giving:
— Have your family members keep a Pinterest board or an Amazon wish list throughout the year so you can get great ideas early.
— Buy up an assortment of things like lotions or candles during the year so that you have gifts on hands for friends and acquaintances.
— Consider gifting experiences instead of things. We are doing this more and more and I LOVE it.
Now that December 1 is creeping up on me quickly, I am ready. I'm ready to relax, to enjoy my family, and to focus on the things that matter most and why we really celebrate this season. My list is still long, as it always is, but I am kinder to myself about getting it all done.
Don't be overwhelmed this holiday season! Simplify.
What's your best trick for simplifying the holidays?
PS The Nativity photos throughout this post were all taken back in 2008 when I was featuring some of our Christmas traditions. Read those posts here, here, and here.
See the linky parties I link up to here.