Making Christmas Merry | It’s ok to have an “imperfect” Christmas. And it’s ok to say no.

Making Christmas Merry

Last time, we talked about making a priority list.

But we didn’t really talk about resisting the temptation to have a perfect Christmas (as defined by other people, not you and your priorities), and I wanted to talk a little bit about that today.

Here’s the thing. So many of us go through the Christmas season doing things because they are expected of us, or because it’s tradition, or because we want to be like the mom who has it all together, or because we think we can create a Norman Rockwell Christmas.

But you know what?

You don’t HAVE to operate that way.

There are no federal laws about this sort of thing, and it’s not like God came down from heaven with a decree about how we should celebrate Christmas (it wasn’t even His idea to make it a holiday anyway!)

So, consider yourself officially freed, ok? Go celebrate Christmas in a way that reflects your priorities, not the priorities of “everyone”.

(You know that everyone, don’t you? As in “everyone” does it this way. The phrase, “We’ve always done it this way.” is his cousin. You can ignore him too.)

Maybe your Christmas won’t meet the textbook definition of perfect, but if you operate in line with your priorities, your Christmas will be be way more fun and joyous than any “perfect” celebration.

You don’t have to bake a bazillion kinds of cookies.

You don’t have to have multiple Christmas trees.

You don’t have to go to a farm and chop down your own tree.

You don’t have to make your own Christmas cards.

(You don’t even have to send out Christmas cards, actually. I haven’t for lots of years now and I don’t think anyone has been offended.)

You don’t have to go to the office party.

You don’t have to buy gifts for everyone, even though the magazines say you should hand out tips and gifts to pretty much everyone you hired throughout the year.

You don’t have to make homemade quilted stockings for your whole family.

You don’t have to buy everything your children want. (Really. It’ll probably be good for them if you don’t.)

You don’t have to see all of your relatives.

You don’t have to see everyone on Christmas day.

You don’t have to have a traditional Christmas dinner.

You don’t have to have immaculately groomed children on Christmas Day.

You don’t have to have a perfectly clean, perfectly decorated house.

If the things you do at Christmastime serve the people around you, bring you joy, and reflect your priorities, then great! Carry on.

But if you feel like your past Christmases have left you and your bank account exhausted, then change something.

Maybe someone will be a little put out with you at first, but honestly, you might be surprised at how much of the Christmas pressure you feel is self-induced.

And when that’s the case, the world really will not end if you simplify things.


Do you find yourself doing things at Christmas because you feel like you have not, not because you really want to?

Or have you experienced an “Aha!” moment, where you realized you had the freedom to not do something at Christmas?


Next post in this series: 3 ways to lower children’s Christmas present expectations

Previous posts in this series:


Think more about serving and less about impressing.

Make a priority list.


Joshua’s 365 post: Lisey bought something musical (but it’s not a guitar).


  1. says

    Oh, yes, I’ve done this for years and years and had a growing number of people here at my house for an elaborate dinner, in the name of tradition and because of expectations. After Christmas 2011, I relized how miserable (and unhealthy) it is to be stressed all Christmas long and what propelled me to find a solution is that my children had a hard time enjoying it too. I think I managed to break the news that I wouldn’t be having Christmas here without putting anyone out too much. Offering ideas for an alternative helped, I think, and that took some thought and much prayer before I even approached the subject many months later.

  2. says

    The one year that we went to the Christmas tree farm to cut down a tree when I was a kid, my dad ended up in hospital having surgery on his back due to lifting it, and then a few days later we discovered a nest full of dead baby birds in the branches which had been stinking up the house. It was totally not worth it and we never did it again!

    I never send out Christmas cards either :)

  3. says

    I think the realization that my husband and I could have our own Christmas and do things our way came because we got married on Dec 21 and were still on our honeymoon on Christmas… but it really sunk in during grad school – we lived 20 hours by car from either of our parents and were 6 months pregnant so we decided to have our own little Christmas again and I loved the simplicity of doing that (we both aren’t really into traveling)! We had such a relaxing Christmas that year (and I didn’t really do a lot of holiday extras due to pregnancy hip pain!) I’m glad that it happened so early in our marriage so we now don’t feel pressured to do what others want us to do.

  4. says

    And may I add that just because your mother in law guilt trips everyone else into giving her “a special Christmas just for me” does NOT mean your family has to go too. Be different. Say no.

  5. says

    I love the idea of having a beautiful spread of presents under the tree, building up over the course of December. However, my younger children are too little to have the self-control not to dig in (as we discovered when my middle kid opened all his birthday presents last year before his birthday). Someday there will be a big pile. For now, it stays in the closet until about 10pm on Christmas Eve!

  6. Lisa says

    Wow, this was a great post! It actually helped me prioritize even more than the last one! I realized the one thing I really *do* want at Christmastime is an immaculately(ish) clean and decorated house! Our house is often chaotically messy and unpeaceful, that doesn’t lead to cheerfulness! I am thankful to my parents who long ago set a precedent of staying home as a family on Christmas, no visiting! This year we are also limiting gifts to our 2 kids (5 and 9) to one book, one toy, one outfit, plus something from Santa. We are really focusing on the real love behind Christmas, not just cookies and presents.

  7. says

    Last year my mom (the official Christmas hostess) and I (the official helper of all things holiday kitchen-related) made the life-altering decision to not serve turkey, ham, and all the sides and serve baked ziti, salad, and garlic bread.

    I say life altering because you would have thought that the world was ending when we told the rest of the family. Even when it was explained that it was simply too stressful to prepare and serve food for that many people, everyone was super unhappy. That is, until Christmas Day, when the food was ready on time, cleanup was a breeze, and everyone got to take home awesome leftovers. Then everyone was happy, especially my mom who didn’t cry at some point during the day – something that had happened every year that I can remember.

    Change is good. Now we’re looking for even more things to simplify to make Christmas less about panic and stress, and more about (who would have thought?!) Christ and spending time with family.

    • WilliamB says

      Did the family members who complained, also offer to do the work themselves? If my family complained but didn’t offer to help, I’d ignore them forthwith!

      • Jen says

        Bingo! My husband’s family has an apt saying: “No bitchin’ if you’re not pitchin’ in!” Cuts out a lot of whining and makes people think about what is important to them or if they’re just whining out of habit.

        • Kris says

          My kid’s preschool teacher had a saying, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit”–and I use it on the adults in my life, too! I read Elizabeth’s post and thought, how selfish of her family to stress out her mom to the point of tears! Not only is it good for kids not to get everything they want–sometimes it’s good for adults, too.

          • says

            And my mom used to say “you get what you get and you’ll be happy to get it”. I had the same reaction to the family members who were unhappy about the changes. But I’ve seen it happen in my own circle –adults being complete babies when celebration of the holidays aren’t to their liking!

          • Candice says

            “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” I say that in my head all the time when things aren’t working out the way I expected. It helps me remember that most of my problems aren’t real problems.

  8. says

    I really want to say that first, your blog is one of the best. Seriously. :)
    Secondly, this blog is really hitting home this morning. I often get wayyy too bogged down trying to complete *every* Christmas tradition ever, and get gifts for *every* person I have smiled at during the course of the year…last year I ended up happy but exhausted. This year I am shooting for happy without the exhausted part! :)

  9. Stephanie says

    Great post and wise words. I actually sent this post to my best friend. I think we all can get caught up in the frenzy and it’s so nice to give yourself permission to say no to a lot of it. Last year’s Christmas was unexpectedly only the four of us and extremely low key and it was truly one of the nicest holidays that I think I’ve ever had as an adult.

  10. Tina Ray says

    My husband and I stay in our pajamas on Christmas Day…the whole day. I cook dinner for us and if our grown children want to come over, that is fine. If they don’t, that is fine. We watch television and relax the whole day. I love it!

  11. says

    Love this! I’ve decided to do away with the pressure to accomplish many things on your list:

    *I don’t bake a bazillion kinds of cookies. In fact, I generally make exactly one kind of cookie (frosted sugar cookies, of course; they’re the most fun for the kids!) Last year I decided to experiment by making shortbread, and this year I think I’ll try a different “new” kind, but only if it sounds like fun and not an obligation.

    *We have never gone to a farm and chopped down a tree. For years I felt bad about that, and like I “should” be, but frankly with five kids it’s always sounded like torture.

    *I send cards only some years, and even then my list of recipients is EXTREMELY pared down.

    *What’s with the tipping and gifting everyone in sight? Seriously, I’d go broke if I gave everybody I’ve worked with, or who’s done anything for me, a gift. On that note, I also don’t stress out over teacher gifts. Sometimes we’ll do something fun and homemade and fairly involved (like the year we made all the teachers vanilla extract), other years it’s a lot simpler (a card or a jar of preserves) and some years it’s nothing at all (but I make sure to write a thank-you note at the end of the year.)

    *We make a point of not leaving the house at all on Christmas Day, and in fact, generally stay in our pajamas as long as possible. We do “Christmas” with my husband’s family the week before, and spend New Year’s with my family.

    I could go on, but you’re so right! It just makes so much more sense to focus on doing the things that are important to you, and give you pleasure, rather than following some culturally-imposed list of “shoulds.”

    • Kris says

      Our elementary school has a policy of no gift-giving to teachers at Christmas–instead, they encourage you to donate to Toys For Tots, an organization which distributes donated (newly purchased, still in packaging) toys to children in the area whose families can’t afford Christmas gifts. I LOVE this policy (I usually try to send a thank-you note to the teacher, however, as they need to know they are appreciated). The teachers aren’t stuck with eleventy-bazillion coffee mugs with “best teacher ever” emblazoned on them, but people who COULD use a little financial help receive some. Win-win.

      And I so much agree about tipping and gifting! Enough already! Sometimes I feel like I’m Scrooge, so it’s good to see that others feel the same way.

      • says

        Kris, my mother-in-law is a retired schoolteacher, and has always been a “saver.” Guess what we encountered last year when we went to help her clean out her basement? Yep: boxes and boxes of “World’s Best Teacher” mugs, pins, banners, etc.

        I have a lot of friends who are teachers, and all they want is recognition for the part they play in kids’ lives. Not more stuff! (Or often, even, more cookies, since they say the break rooms are full of them throughout December.)

          • says

            I’m a teacher and I love, love, love getting notes from my kids. They’re worth so much more than anything a family can buy or make. I have a box where I keep notes like these and I reread them when I’m having a rough week.

            If a family wants to buy something, I would appreciate classroom basics that our school doesn’t provide- tissues, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and the like.

      • Lisa says

        I really like this idea! As an elementary teacher, I often receive a lot of gifts at Christmas. While I appreciate people’s thoughtfulness, it is sometimes difficult to know what to do with the gifts. It would be so much nicer if people would donate to people in need instead! I often wish parents knew how much more I appreciate a sincerely written card with something specific their child has enjoyed about my classroom than an expensive gift. It could save everyone a lot of money. However, I never know how to say this as it seems tacky to ask for anything at all, even a card!

        • Lisa says

          Okay, I meant to say that it seems tacky to bring up the subject of gifts at all. By saying I prefer a card, it feels like I’m fishing for compliments or gratitude, rather than simply trying to receive less “stuff” that I have to find a use for.

          • Kris says

            I knew what you meant! Could you talk w/the principal of your school and suggest an idea similar to what our school does? I’m guessing that most teachers feel the way you do, and I know many parents would be relieved to purchase one less gift. You could do a food drive or a cash donation to a women’s shelter … there are so many people out there who legitimately need help.

  12. Jennifer says

    You inspire me so much! This will be the 3rd year that we have a debt-free Christmas- all thanks to you. I spend a lot of time making gifts and shopping for bargains. I love that this gives me a chance to really reflect and think about all of the things I love about each of those individuals. I think that makes their gifts much more personal.

    This year will be especially hectic. I have family visiting from out of town, including my young nieces. We’re doing some traveling with them, hosting a 35 year anniversary party for my in-laws, and hosting our family’s New Year’s Eve party- all in the week between Christmas and New Years Day! I will try to keep the message of your post as a mantra in my head. Hopefully it will help me refocus and prevent me from getting too overwhelmed!

    I’d also like to point out that while there are many traditions that I still insist on doing, I think that doing them every year makes my holidays a little easier. Decorating the house, cooking up a single batch or 2 of my favorite cookies, addressing Christmas cards after dinner with a friend, hosting a holiday party for friends, and even house hopping on Christmas Eve/Day gets easier every year that I do them. It helps me stick with those decisions I’ve already made in years past about what to do and what not to. For instance, I know that my girlfriend and I will make time to chat and address cards together so I won’t stress over them or bother doing them until after Thanksgiving. I also know that while my parents may have company over on Christmas Eve, we commit ourselves to my in-laws that day. And likewise, Christmas Day is spent at my parents’ house regardless of the activities that my in-laws are sure to host since family will be in town (everyone including my in-laws go to my parents’ house for Christmas dinner anyway).

  13. says

    Our first Christmas together, my husband (fiance at the time) and I made seven stops at various relatives’ houses in less than 36 hours, generally seeing the same folks both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in various configurations. We were exhausted and not at all in the holiday spirit. When we got married, we decided that Christmas Day was our day. There would be no running around. Now we make two stops on Christmas Eve, which means we still see most of the family with much less stress. On Christmas Day, we have an open house for those who wish to come over but it is casual and relaxed. We enjoy Christmas again. We have been doing this for ten years and I don’t see us changing it anytime soon!

  14. Kris says

    I’m having a crazy amount of comments on this post! Here’s an unorthodox suggestion–you don’t have to celebrate Christmas on December 25! Our extended family lives far away from us so it actually works out great for my family to celebrate on that day–we don’t have to be anywhere else–but if you find that you are expected to be in 3 different locations on the 25th, well, personally, I’d find another day to celebrate with my OWN family. I wouldn’t tell anyone outside of my immediate family, either. Why open up that can of worms of “but you can’t do it that way!”?

    • MelissaZ says

      We’ve been doing this since I was little. Christmas day (and a day or two before or after) was & still is always spent at grandma’s house with aunts & uncles & cousins, so we always do a private/immediate family Christmas celebration a weekend or two beforehand.

      It’s getting a little more interesting now that both my siblings are married with children, and I’m expecting one soon. Traditions might have to change a little- but I can’t imagine not going to grandma’s.

  15. Heidi says

    I have made some strides in making my family’s Christmas simpler and more meaningful, but I still have work to do. My kids help with decorating the house, so it’s not my job alone. All 4 of us help prepare a nice meal for Christmas dinner. I stopped sending out cards many years ago, which was very liberating for me (not to mention saving me a pile of money on cards and postage). I’ve cut back somewhat on gifts, and I get more “family” gifts like a game (Settlers of Cataan this year, just ordered it!) and a big tub of fancy popcorn.

    Things I still need to work on: Christmas Eve ALWAYS belongs to my mother-in-law, and this drives me nuts. It means sitting in traffic late into the night for us, heading home. Something needs to change there.

  16. Jennifer says

    When my brother and I were little, my dad had a rule: Kids stay home for Christmas. If the grandparents want to see us, they can come visit. So I’ve lived by that rule since our son was born (which is funny because my dad is always asking us to come visit on Christmas). We generally do Christmas with my dad and his family the weekend before Christmas and we’ll do Christmas Eve (or Christmas dinner, depending) with my mom’s family. The restaurant my husband works at does not close on Christmas (they’re only open for dinner), so often he’ll work both days. My husband’s family lives far away, so they’re not really in the equation. Since both my husband and I have divorced families, we had to learn a long time ago how to minimize visits and celebrate holidays on different days. Being flexible is really important to making the holidays a happy time. If everything must be your way (or “their” way), everyone involved will just be miserable.

  17. Kathleen says

    Thank You !!
    My husband’s grandmother gives us grief ever year (for the last 11 years) because we don’t go to her house for Christmas day. Mind you, we live 2 hours away and everyone else lives in the same county. I don’t like to be rushed on Christmas day, I want to enjoy the day with my husband and kids and thankfully, my husband feels the same way. We can’t and won’t try to visit everyone on Christmas day….we can’t please everyone and if we try we end up miserable.

  18. says

    my husband and I decided early on to just say no. His family is all sorts of broken with step-this and step-that and every little division has their own Christmas…. the first year we were together, we tried to keep up and just ended up exhausted and stressed.

    The second year, we were 3 days from becoming parents for the first time and just decided that if people wanted to see us, they could come to us or arrange something some other time. There was a LOT of whining and complaining and declarations that I am “a bad influence on him” because it was clearly me holding him hostage from his family (oy!) but we are so thrilled with our decision to just make it about our immediate family…. people will either get over it or they won’t. We aren’t responsible for how other people react to a harmless decision.

  19. says

    We’re going through a similar thing with having to say “no” for Thanksgiving plans. We have family 2 hours to the north of us and 3 hours to the south of us, and both want our family to come for Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, we having standing Thanksgiving plans with some people from our church family. We host all those who don’t have local family every Thanksgiving. We’ve been asked, “can’t you get out of it?” in regards to our hosting our church family. We probably could, but frankly we don’t want to.

    We will work in some sort of visit to both the north and south family at a time that fits our schedule better. I have to admit, though, there is stress in saying “no”, too.

    I confess, I do have multiple Christmas trees — they’re all fake, and all but one are small tabletop trees (and the small ones stay decorated while in storage).

    • Kris says

      How wonderful! When I was a young adult, there were 2 different occasions in which church family members invited me to share Thanksgiving with them. My family lived too far away for me to return home for the holiday. I was made to feel so welcome and had a great day. I have always remembered their kindness and have tried to include “waifs and strays” in my own Thanskgiving celebration when possible.

      It IS hard to say “no”–I’ve experienced it and I feel for you!

      Perhaps it is those of us who are most accommodating to the needs of others who feel the most stress?

    • Elaine in Ark says

      My church has a Thanksgiving dinner at noon for anyone who wants to come. Most people around here are not from around here, and don’t have family close by. We went there once (maybe twice) because our other sister & brother-in-law went to visit their kids. It was great – the church provided the turkeys, a few couples cooked them and organized everything, and everyone brought a dish to pass. We played games and just had a great time. I’d like to do that again, but sis & b-i-l stay here for Thanksgiving now and we have dinner with them.

  20. Ruth says

    One thing I did to simplify last year is to hire high schoolers from my church to wrap Christmas gifts. It is not a part of Christmas that I enjoy (although I think it’s fun to shop for the gifts!), and the money I paid the kids went toward their summer church trips. It was SO worth it to not be wrapping on Dec. 23! Also, my husband made the smart recommendation that we are to always be at home on Christmas. We’ve invited people to be with us, but it sure takes away the added stress of planning where to be and traveling there.

  21. Keesha says

    Last year for the first time in our 18 year marriage, my husband I celebrated a holiday without worrying about what our extended families wanted, expected, etc. For Thanksgiving we used a groupon to take our three kids to an indoor water park, ordered pizza, and got a pecan pie from a bakery. There was nothing to clean up, no travel, and everyone had an awesome time. It was quite possibly the best holiday ever! Maybe we’ll get brave enough to do Christmas this year. :)

  22. shannonc says

    shoosh. thanks for saying all that. I now feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders!! To make my life less stressful for the month of Dec, I get all my shopping done by the first week because I have two birthdays mid month, then I can relax the last two weeks of Dec. It is much more enjoyable. (hint: I start shopping in Oct)

  23. Lenni says

    I think this is wonderful to really define what you and your family want and need but I also feel some consideration for the extended family is good too. I have heard some people talk about opting out of the extended family portion of the holidays and loving it. One year a huge snowstorm forced our whole town to do that. And that was a stress free year for us, not having to go see my family on Christmas eve and getting home really late and worrying about our children being grumpy on Christmas. But just four weeks after that Christmas my stepmom died unexpectedly and my dad quickly followed. I miss those Christmas Eve parties and would give anything to have a stressful holiday in trade. We are all so busy and it is hard to fit everything in but these people will not be around forever and we need to cherish them every moment that we can. I feel there is a balance and creatively coming up with a solution is possible.

    • Claire says

      Thanks you, Lenni. I was just going to say that it kind of makes me sad how many people associate spending time with their families with stress.

      Growing up, my relatively small extended family gathered at my grandparents home for Christmas. It was usually the only time throughout the year that all 11 of us would be together. Sure, a lot of work went into that holiday, but I’d like to think we all pitched in to help. Basically, Christmas was absolutely magical growing up.

      The past several years, my grandparents have been in poor health and lived in a nursing home. So, our extended family pulled out the big-guns and brought Christmas to them. We hauled in the in their fine china, basic decorations, and all of the special holiday foods (my grandparents were immigrants, so we had a traditional meal every year). We reserved one of the party rooms at the nursing home and made it our own for the evening. Needless to say, it was a TON of work, but it was absolutely worth it to have the chance to make Christmas special for my grandparents. Unfortunately, they both passed away in the months following Christmas this year. We all know Christmas will be simpler this year, but honestly, like you Lenni, I’d give anything to have them back, even if it means a busier, well-choreographed Christmas.

    • MelissaZ says

      Christmas at grandma’s has gotten a little crazy as the family has grown (most of us “kids” are now grown, married & have children) & our family lives 3 hours away. It’s a little hectic planning food, remembering gifts (gift exchange for men & women), and figuring out where everyone’s going to stay, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

      I don’t disagree that simpler CAN be better, but sometimes the crazy is worth it too!

      • Kristen says

        See, in that situation, I think you’re doing just what I suggested…celebrating Christmas in a way that truly brings you joy. You’re not just going to your grandma’s house because you have to. You’re going because you want to, and I think that’s awesome.

  24. Mandy says

    This is such well timed! I have the best intentions on paring down our “list” each year and have made progress over the last 16 years. At one point, my hubby & I had over 100 people we bought for (large extended families complete with steps, ex’s, halves and coworkers galore) and sent out 250 cards. While I truly enjoy buying that “perfect” gift for everyone and I bought year round to stock up our gift closet when I happened upon a great deal, it was madness. When we had our own son seven years ago, things changed drastically. It was the wake up call we needed. My husband lost his job mid year and Christmas was the last thing on our mind. My husband found a new job but the decision to focus on our family rather than trying to please everyone was final. We skipped decorations all together and made a Christmas tree on our wall with post it notes that we wrote what we were thankful for on. My immediate family voted unanimously to forgo gifts. I have extended family that hasn’t spoke to us since because we requested no gifts as we were not going to be able to reciprocate. Over the course of this year, our priorities have changed even greater and for the best. I appreciate the suggestion mentioned to discontinue sending out cards. Going in debt for a holiday that is over commercialized to try to live up on our self imposed “traditions” and trying to please everyone else while being miserable is not worth it. I only wish we did this 16 years ago.

  25. SandyH says

    Soul searching here. What is it about me that i have to have everyone approve of everything I do? Not only is that totally impossible when you’re dealing with multiple extended family members, it’s ridiculous on many levels. I am a mother and now a GRANDMOTHER for heavens sake… And I am finding myself in the position of being “in charge” of family decisions and gatherings. Not all have been met with open arms, and about the silliest things. We used to draw names among extended family members but decided to do away with that when the economy tanked, there were new babies born, and money was just generally tighter. We also had always done a “white elephant” gift exchange, which we continued, but instead of useless gag gifts, decided to do a gift card exchange instead. Oy my brother in particular hated this idea but gave no real reason. Everyone else loved it, the gift game was livelier than it ever had been, and it was nice to get a gift card to a restaurant or store especially since we no longer do the name draw thing.

    Ok so my brother has already weighed in that this year he doesn’t want to do the gift cards again, also wants to go back to the name draw, (and now I want to stay in MY pjs all day Christmas and order pizza!!) My mom wants anything that makes my brother happy ( he’s 48 years old, baby of the family, spoiled rotten and owes them many thousands of dollars. Many. ) so now what? I’m the family communicator, meaning everyone gets an email from me saying what the ” rules” are ( oh brother) but I swear I just want to hand it off to him, and show up with his usual bag of ice instead of my three dishes plus dessert. I have four grown children who are all close to us and each other, and while we would love the simplicity of just us for Christmas, none of us REALLY wants to not go to the big family gathering. Plus my kids all have spouses/ significant others and also have to see THOSE families. I refuse to make the holidays harder for my grown kids. My own mom never considered this when I was newly married and I remember how hard it was. it was ” you are coming to Christmas no matter what”. And boy we went. My poor husband’s family made do with seeing us a week early and NEVER ONCE COMPLAINED. I learned a lot from that.

  26. Melissa says

    Last year I decided a theme would be fun; I called it, “A Very Comfy Christmas”, and told everyone to come in pajamas or other comfy clothes. We had brunch and just coordinated ahead of time what everyone was bringing, fruit, caramel/cinnamon rolls, egg bake, bacon, pancakes, etc. It was super fun, no pressure, and inexpensive!

  27. Laraba says

    Like many others, I love this post.

    I grew up with parents who weren’t too obsessed about Christmas, but my father’s side of the family bought elaborate gifts for everyone, decorated extensively, and so on. I picked up on that as “the right way” to do Christmas, and indeed my mother bought gifts for many for the same reason though I am not sure she enjoyed it.

    We don’t have a huge extended family, but I still remember my first year of marriage making up a LONG list of relatives and figuring out something for everyone. And I really do not like trying to find gifts for people!

    2 and a half years into our marriage, we had our first daughter a few days before Christmas. That year was so delightfully simple. We didn’t go anywhere or see anyone that Christmas. We didn’t have a tree. It was just the 2 of us and our sweet little girl.

    It was SO liberating. I realized that everyone did just fine without a gift from us. We decided that in future, we would not feel obligated to buy anyone outside our immediate family a gift. If we saw an item we thought would be appreciated, we would buy and give it. But we stopped looking for stuff. And we didn’t feel badly if we bought a gift for my father but not my mother. I know that sounds weird, but really everyone did great with it! We told extended family that they didn’t need to buy anything for us, either.

    It really has been GOOD. We have eight children now (yep, I know — crazy!) and 3 of them have birthdays within a week of Christmas! We do buy a couple gifts for our kids for each “occasion” (Christmas and birthdays) so December is a zany month. But at least I’m not stressing myself out buying for everyone under the sun.

    We also don’t travel on Christmas. Given our family size, going long distances is tricky, not to mention finding beds for everyone is exciting :-).

  28. Candice says

    My husband just started a new job and he won’t get any extra time off at Christmas and we’re about 7 hours away from all of our family. It’s still really important for us to see our families. Instead of getting upset, we’ve adjusted our expectations. It’ll mean celebrating Christmas on the 23rd and driving back to our house on Christmas day. But we’ll get to see our loved ones and enjoy time with them. That’s what really matters, not what day we do it. As a bonus, we shouldn’t hit any traffic driving home!

  29. Becky says

    Yes, I had that aha moment when I was feeling bad about not making all those beautiful cookies with frosting on them, etc. UNTIL, I realized that NO ONE that I know really likes that kind of cookie.

    So, it’s been my mom’s Chocolate Chip cookies, Danish Apple dessert and Boston cream pie for us since that time. It’s what we like and will eat. I skip all the kinds of cookies that no one in my family likes and make only ones that I know are a “hit”. It’s been great.

    But we do a large Christmas dinner–but basically just the basics. My kids told me the basics are: turkey, (dressing-for hubby and me), homemade rolls, fruit salad (husband’s family tradition), mashed potatoes and gravy and dessert. The rest can be skipped, which is nice as I don’t to have green bean casserole, corn, rice, etc. This also goes for Thanksgiving.

  30. Madeline says

    For years after we moved away from family back east, I still made the “traditional” crab imperial casserole my mother in law served on christmas eve. About 6 years ago I mentioned that I really don’t care for creamed seafood, never have. Well, lo and behold, no one else in my family did either. Saved a TON of money on that CRAB I had to buy every year. Now we have an Italian dinner on Christmas Eve that we all enjoy!

    QUESTION everything you do out of habit and “tradition.” You might find it very refreshing to change it all up once in a while–and start NEW traditions!

  31. says

    We are in the process of moving 5000 miles away from my family. I can honestly say that I am relieved that I don’t have to meet their “requirements” for Christmas this year. This will be the first year we can celebrate the holiday the way we want. We will be focusing less on gifts, and more on Jesus and family time.

  32. Elaine in Ark says

    Our family Christmas get-togethers were a lot fun (because they were huge), and I loved helping my mom get things ready. We pressed the beautiful tablecloths and napkins, polished the (real) silver, and used the best dishes. Mother made the same food every year. When she eventually said that it was getting to hard for her to do, my sister took over at her house. At first, I had trouble with the change in family tradition, but I knew it was just too much for Mother. I have a lot of happy memories of Christmas Eve at both houses. Now, it’s just my younger sister and me. It’s nice enough, but it’s not nearly as joyful and fun as it used to be. We go to my church on Christmas Eve, and that’s very meaningful to me.

  33. Paula in the UP says

    I have never really celebrated the holidays how would have truly liked to. We live in the same area as both our parents and siblings. Christmas Eve we went to my husbands parents, in the beginning there was a lot of extended family it often got very late before we got home when our kids were young. As cousins got older had their own families they did their own thing. Not us!! Christmas morning up early open gifts then off to my parents house along with my sister and her family and spend the day there. All the kids wanted was to be home and play with there new toys. We have done this for our whole marriage(27 years). I often wanted to have more time at our home with just our kids, but never wanted to let others down. Now that our kids have all gotten older they have husbands/boyfriends/girlfriends families to see too. Even though i want them with us, I’m understanding of this cause I don’t want them to feel so obligated like I did/ do.

    Great post, wish I’d of read this years ago!!

  34. Amy Dunn says

    Three cheers for imperfection! I just wish I had learned earlier.
    Better late than never, I’ve let go of the cards, three-quarters of the decorations, the outfits, the photos, the gift extravaganza, the midnight Christmas Eve wrapping session and the “it isn’t Christmas without x, y and z” on the menu.

    Instead, we have a few simple decorations, a handful of carefully chosen and appreciated gifts and a simple meal.

    The entire season has become more enjoyable and meaningful.

    Thanks for the kindred thoughts.

  35. Michelle says

    Thank you so much for your Christmas series! I am so in need of hearing everything that you have written. It is so refreshing to me to consider scaling back and really finding the joy in Christmas instead of doing things “just because”. God bless.

  36. says

    Thank you for this post, I emailed it to my husband. I get stressed out every year from Thanksgiving and Christmas and I really want it to stop. Part of it is the pressure I put on myself for the holiday to be wonderful and part of it is expectations of extended family. This year I am letting go of Christmas cards and the yearly calendar that I put together for everyone. No one else in our families does as much as I do for the holidays and the stress from doing it all makes the holidays miserable. So, yeah for a simple Christmas!

  37. Larissa says

    I definitely do more than I’d like at Christmas…and most holidays for that matter. I’d have put a stop to it a long time ago but my hubby doesn’t want to. He wants to keep everyone happy and he also has more fun than me with all the gatherings, etc since I do most of the prep to facilitate it. :( One day…..holidays will be relaxing iinstead of stressful.

  38. Susan H. says

    I’ve done photo Christmas cards every year since I’ve been married. We send out 125-150 of them. I’m actually thinking of stopping that practice. I’m the only one that works on the card and letter. Does anyone care about Christmas cards anymore?

    • Kristen says

      I think a lot of that has changed with the advent of the internet. Before, we could go a whole year without seeing a photo of the people we know, but who live far away. But with Facebook and email and everything else the internet offers, it’s hard to NOT see or hear from someone in the space of a year.

      So, I’ve decided this is something that I can just let go of.

  39. Tess says

    I completely agree with you, and have simplified things in our home for the last several years. It’s been wonderful! Probably the one thing that made the biggest difference was when we started celebrating Christmas with our grown children on the day after Christmas (the 26th) so they could be with their in-laws and other relatives on Christmas day. My sweet daughter-in-law thanked me for making such a sacrifice. I then confessed to her that I actually felt a bit selfish. She seemed a bit bewildered so I then explained that with having them here the day after Christmas, they didn’t have to rush off somewhere else and we could spend hours and hours, all day if we want, together. It’s been great!

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