The holiday season is arguably one of the most stressful periods of the year. It has its delights, sure, but I’m willing to bet that most people have found themselves overwhelmed at the thought of: cooking, cleaning, decorating, splitting time between loved ones, shopping, crowded stores, financial strain, bad weather, increased traffic, tense family dynamics, that one light bulb that makes the whole tree go dark, and on and on.
In order to try to maintain my love of Christmas and not let the aforementioned things get to me, I’ve been making a conscious effort for the last several years to simplify Christmas. Everything from decorations and gifts to how I choose to spend my time during this season has undergone some changes.
This is going to sound really cheesy, but I think it all started to shift for me when my niece was born December 1st three years ago. All of a sudden, she became the greatest gift anyone in my family could have ever wanted for the holidays. By the time Christmas rolled around, I didn’t even care about what my parents had bought me that year (sorry Mom & Dad) – I just wanted to hold my sweet baby niece and spend time with her. And then three days after Christmas, we lost my great Aunt Mary.
Having to spend the “best time of the year” burying someone that you love really put a lot of things into perspective for my family. We started moving away from the consumerism of Christmas, and instead just enjoyed the gift of time together. First it was “handmade gifts only” (which was actually really fun but very time consuming) and have since moved to scarcely having gifts at all. I say scarcely because there are still sometimes things that we want or need that we enjoy getting for each other. For example, every single morning after the alarm would go off I’d hear Jacob say, “It’s so chilly in here!” as he got out of bed to start our morning routine (I’m not exaggerating: he said this every. single. morning.). So this year I got him a big comfy robe as an early Christmas present. I love to give gifts when they are thoughtful and intentional, but not just useless junk for the sake of giving something.
A big focus has been the gift of experiences or time, rather than items. Last year, just before Christmas we planned an impromptu trip to San Francisco to just spend a few days together before the holiday craziness set it. It was perfect, and so we’ll be continuing the tradition this year in New York! It combines our love of travel with spending quality time together, and then we consider that our Christmas gift to each other. Again, we might get a few small things here and there if there is a call for it, but mostly we just want to give each other the gift of undivided attention and making amazing memories.
Similarly, with our families we tend to invest in experiences. For my niece’s third birthday, I told my sister I would like to take her to Build-a-Bear Workshop. Yes, she’ll get a toy from it in the end (she is a kid, after all!), but instead of just buying her a stuffed animal that was already made, we’ll get the experience of spending that time to pick out the details and create it together. With any luck when she’s older, she’ll remember that experience instead of just saying “Oh yeah, I think my aunt bought me this.”
One of my favorite traditions since I was little has been decorating, but I’ve found as the years have gone on that my mindset has become more, “Ugh, I have to do this…” than, “Yay, decorating!” So I’ve tried to simplify my decorating to get to a point where it still remains enjoyable. We pared back the outside decorations to just white icicle lights, and I love the simplicity of how it looks. Inside, I added a few garlands, one on the TV stand one on the piano. Then a red runner on the dining room table and a few tiny accents throughout the rest of the kitchen. That’s it, just some simple changes that make it feel festive but aren’t overwhelming.
But the tree is always my favorite part! For as long as I can remember, on any trip my family has purchased an ornament and then we write the location and date on the back. In doing this, decorating the tree has become a time to reminisce on our memories together, and it’s a really special tradition that I hope to continue for years to come!
Cutting back on the Christmas craziness has meant more time for the things I truly love around the holidays – curling up with tea and watching Love Actually (if you don’t cry when “God Only Knows” plays during the airport scene, are you even human?!), baking homemade treats for my coworkers & friends, and truly being able to relish the extra time off with loved ones. We leave for New York next week, and I can’t wait to have a few days to enjoy with J before we come back to celebrate with family – and with any luck, we might even see some snow!