Making Christmas Merry | More Experiences, Less Stuff

This is not a unique or new concept, but I still thought it was worth devoting a post to because the average Christmas celebrator does things the opposite way…fewer experiences, more stuff.

In my observation, though, that leaves us feeling kind of like this cookie.

When I was a kid, I remember just loving the Christmas season. Like any kid, I was very anxious to dump out my stocking and open the presents under the tree, but what I most loved were our family’s Christmas traditions.

I forget a lot of the presents I received, but I clearly remember frosting Christmas cookies with my family.

I remember Christmas music playing in the house.

I remember frosting our tree with whipped ivory snow flakes (to resemble snow).

I remember stringing cranberries and popcorn together to make a garland for our tree.

I remember hanging ornaments on our tree.

I remember Christmas programs at church.

I remember learning Christmas carols to play on the piano.

I remember discovering pfeffernusse when we celebrated Christmas with my grandma and grandpa.

And I remember a happy, cozy feeling in our house.

Would I have been disappointed if there were no presents? Sure. But all these years later, the most meaningful memories I have are of the experiences and not the stuff. And as an adult, I feel the same way. Presents are fun and lovely and all, but the experiences of Christmas are where it’s at.

Of course, I’m not representative of the whole population of the world, but I’ve heard so many people say exactly what I just did…that experiences are more enjoyable than stuff.

So, let’s get these things ordered properly. It’s just plain silly how often we get this backwards.

If we spend less money and time on the stuff side of Christmas, we’ll have more money and time to spend on the experience side of Christmas.

Consumer Reports says that we women spend 20 hours just shopping for Christmas presents. Twenty hours is a lot! That’s half of a work week, for heaven’s sake.

What if we shopped less and spent more time with people we love, enjoying happy experiences?

What if you spent less time in the mall and more time looking at Christmas lights?

What if you spent less time shopping online and more time making cookies with the children in your life?

What if you had fewer presents to wrap and more time to spend with the people you love?

What if you could be free of financial fears because you spent less on presents?

Wouldn’t that leave you with a happier feeling after the holidays? If I had to choose between a pile of stuff or pile of happy experiential memories, I’d choose the memories every time. And I bet most of you would too.

Now, don’t go and get all overwhelmed-feeling at the idea of trying to create 82 memorable experiences in December. Remember? You don’t have to do it all and you can say no to things.

What I’m saying, though, is that if you save some time by cutting out some stuff-focused things (shopping, wrapping, or even making presents), you should have a little bit more time in December than you usually do.

And if you’re intentional about it, you can then spend that time doing something more fulfilling than shopping.

Next post in this series: Ten Christmas Experience Ideas

Previous posts in this series:


Think more about serving and less about impressing.

Make a priority list.

It’s ok to have an imperfect Christmas. And it’s ok to say no.

3 ways to lower children’s Christmas present expectations

5 ways to spend less time Christmas shopping

On compromise, unselfishness, and not falling out of the boat on the other side

Start a holiday activity/social plan

Make a list of giftees and plan your purchases now

On giving meaningful gifts

Lisey and I made a Lazy Daisy cake…go take a peek!

Joshua’s 365 post:


  1. Ashli says

    Amen! We decided to cut way back this year on gifts for the kids and are adhering to the “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read” rule. I spent about an hour online and did all the shopping for all my kids for this year for a reasonable prince, next month I’ll send some sort of edible arrangements to our parents and find a gift for my niece and we are done. We agreed with all our siblings a few years ago to stop exchanging gifts and life is much simpler because of it! Now we occasionally make a small handmade token but that’s it. We have more time for traditions and spending time together and Christmas has been better ever since!

  2. says

    Excellent Post! Again this year, I’m giving a donation to charities I like (La Leche League Canada and the local Salvation Army) in lieu of presents for my adult children and relatives. Of course, I’ll be giving my grandchildren gifts – handmade crocheting for their stuffed animals. In our family, it’s all about the feeling of the Christmas season: watching the old kids Christmas specials I have on DVD, cutting the tree as a family (with my adult children and their families too), baking with my daughter, decorating the tree, watching “Christmas Comes to Willow Creek” on Christmas Eve (a favourite movie of my late husbands), Christmas dinner…… with all my grown kids who live nearby (and this year my son and his wife from across the country!)
    Gifts are secondary……….

  3. says

    This is the way we do it also. I have my simple Christmas traditions – of which I blogged through a lot of them last year, but will do the same this. As Halloween and Bonfire Night (this weekend) departs this sees the start of the Christmas season for us and things are starting to happen in the kitchen. In fact I made gingerhouse biscuits yesterday – a little early, but they needed photographing for something external I’m doing.
    As a child I remember tangerines and nuts being placed around the home in dishes. This is something that only happened just before Christmas – and I have very fond memories of this. The kitchen and food played a big part in our celebrations. It was all about the ‘build up’ and even now I love Christmas Eve.
    p.s – That remain’s the best cookie. Ever!

  4. Megan Goodrich says

    Agreed!!! Thanks for this lovely reminder!!! I always strive for this…. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes it’s an epic Fail…. But my hearts centered with this idea & I figure Ill get better/stronger in time!!! It’s just fear that causes me to buy… Fear they’ll be too much disappointment I guess…. But less IS more…. And I’m heading that way this Christmas!!!

    • Karen says

      I second that! Sooo much personality there.

      Other than a few gifts for family members, almost all of which I buy or make through the year and have already stashed away, I don’t even start thinking about Christmas until the beginning of December. Then we start baking and cleaning, decorate after the middle of the month, relax over the holidays, take the tree down after the twelveth (that word doesn’t look right) day and put it in the yard with pinecone birdfeeders for January. There is NO shopping once the stores start the Christmas machine (that would be yesterday here) other than for groceries We look at lights, go for walks, anything but shop. That ruins the Christmas spirit more than anything.

  5. says

    Experiences are definitely more enjoyable. There are only a few gifts that I actually remember really enjoying receiving as a kid. But I always remember the smell of a real tree. Love it!

  6. Madeline says

    How to enjoy Christmas? I decided a long time ago to be “ok” with being the relative who gave the” LEAST interesting” presents.We don’t exchange with many folks these days, the kids are mostly grown up.. but when we do I go to Barnes and Noble ( for out of towners) and our local indie bookstore and get GIFT CARDS.Period.We are known for giving gift cards to bookstores. I get them for any holiday exchanges I happen to be part of too.Gift cards to bookstores.That’s it.

    I LOVE to promote reading. And most bookstores also have candles, MUSIC CD’s, and other stuff for sale.So the recipient can pick what they like. I personally LOVE to RECEIVE book store gift certificates too.

    This means I get all my holiday shopping done in just two trips and they are very easy to mail .

    I have lots of time left over for hiking, caroling, church events, concerts, hot chocolate, baking, watching TV specials for the holidays and enjoying the spirit of the season.

    Making this time of year simple and relaxing, is a choice.And you have to give up “living up” to other people’s expectations,too!

  7. says

    Great post. I think you’ve nailed the problem with the idea of simplifying Christmas, taken too broadly. Sure, get rid of the meaningless stuff. But don’t get rid of the meaningful traditions. Yes, it would be easier not to throw a party, or bundle the kids up to go look at lights or bake something everyone loves. But what are you saving your energy for? Bonus: get rid of some of the stuff, and you’ll have more energy for the fun.

    • Kristen says

      Yes…I think it’s more about making Christmas meaningful than about making Christmas simple. Heaven knows baking sugar cookies with my kids every year isn’t a simple process! But it is indeed meaningful and memorable, so it’s something I want to make time for. Shopping? Not so much.

  8. Yvonne says

    Yup that is very very true. I stopped giving gifts to grown-up years ago. There are a few gifts I remember getting as a child. Once me and my sisters got real birds for Christmas, then when I was 14 I got my first computer :-) I do remember many many Christmas traditions and they always made Christmas special and they still do. Loved all these posts about Christmas.

  9. ~Simply dor says

    In My Family we Buy gifts only for the Kids ( my 3 Neices Now age 11, 13, 14 ) & my Gma ( Giftcards to the Grocery Store & Walmart Things she can use instead of STUFF she’s 89 & has enough STUFF ) & my Dad & of course we take him to TEXAS ROAD HOUSE His Favorite place ;) & my Adult kids ( 21 & 18 ;)
    I do a lot of Baking & give a lot of Sm Baked Goodies to the Neighbors & Friends & Family ;) I also give CHRISTmas Ornaments as Gifts (( TUESDAY MORNING has GREAT ORnaments that look Really old & Vintage for Really Cheap this year I got some @$2.99 reg price $9.99 ;) 1 for Me, the Others are for big People in my life :) But we keep it Simple
    We enjoy CHRISTmas Movies & Hot Choc & Going & Driving around to look at CHRISTmas Lights those are special things I enjoy && Sitting in the Dark w- only my Fake CHRISTmas Tree lights on & my CHRISTmas Tree Scented Candle lit ;) my Tree Saves me $ & I don’t hv to worry about Sap or Mess or watering a tree ORRRRR My Biggest Worry a FIRE B’cuz I hv my Tree Lights on almost all Day & Night so my Tree would dry out FAST ;) I LoVe the Smell of CHRISTmas Trees but I feel More Relaxed & Safe w- a Faker ;)

    MERRY CHRISTmas to Y’All ;)

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