Making Christmas Merry | Think about your priorities.

Making Christmas Merry

This idea is kind of intertwined with the last one and I almost rolled them both into one post.

But that would have gotten kind of long, especially since the last post was kind of long all on its own.


We already talked about how your holiday stress might be stemming from a desire to impress people.

I also think seasonal stress is a result of not thinking about our priorities.

What do I mean by this?

I’ve talked about it before, but unless we’re intentional about how we spend our time and money, it’s easy to let life drag us around. And usually when that happens, we end up spending our time and money in ways we don’t really want to be spending it.

If this is true in everyday life, it’s doubly true around the holidays. Because of that, I think it’s important to figure out what you want out of the holiday and what things/people you want to prioritize. If you haven’t taken that step, it will be difficult to be intentional about how you spend your time and money.

So, sit down and make a list of the things and people you want to invest your time and money in this Christmas (if you’re married, you’ll probably want to collaborate with your spouse on this so that you have unified priorities).

Do you want to have a low-key celebration?
Do you want to have a lot of company?
Do you want to trim your gift list?
Do you want to stick to a small budget?
Do you want to give generously?
Do you want to get out and enjoy the sights and sounds?
Do you want to set aside time to be at home?
Do you want to do crafts?
Do you want to bake?
Do you want to minimize time spent in the kitchen?
Do you want to spend a lot of time making homemade gifts?
Do you want to have a Christmas with less emphasis on gifts?
Do you want to spend time making traditions with your kids?
Do you want to help people who aren’t as fortunate as you?
Do you want to celebrate with just family, or are there friends that need to be prioritized?
Do you want to see a whole lot of extended family?

Once you’ve got a clear idea of what your priorities are, you’ll have a much easier time deciding what should get a yes, and what should get a no.

I like to give examples, so here are a few.

  • Maintaining a cheerful attitude is one of my priorities at Christmastime (well, all year, really, but it takes more work at Christmas!) After all, the holiday season isn’t really that enjoyable for anyone living in a home with a crabby mom. ;) Since I get mentally exhausted by a lot of out and about activities, this means that I say no to those more than I say yes. It also meant that when our children were small, we decided that we weren’t going to be able to run around to several houses on Christmas Day (that wasn’t really contributing to my sanity.)
  • Baking with my kids is also a high priority, as is including them in the Christmas decorating process. I also really want to help them get excited about making/giving gifts to other people. So, I schedule in a generous Christmas break from school in order to make time for these things.
  • Helping my kids think of others is also important to me, so one of the out-and-about things I say yes to are visits to nursing homes where we sing and play music.

Everyone’s priority list will look a little bit different (yours will probably look different from year to year, even!), and that’s ok.

Whatever your priorities are, having them listed and sorted should provide some clarity for you. And if you’ve got clear priorities, odds are good that you won’t wake up on January 1st wishing you’d done the holidays differently.
Do you try to be intentional about your priorities at the holidays? Share in the comments!

And if you feel like it, you can share some of your holiday priorities as well.


The next post in this series: It’s ok to have an imperfect Christmas. And it’s ok to say no.

Previous posts in this series:


Think more about serving and less about impressing.


  1. says

    Question for you–We always try to have a low key Christmas as I don’t like to be on the go constantly. However, I find December gets busy with all of my kids’ school activities. I know you homeschool, but how would you suggest curbing these activities or making them less stressful? There are concerts, singing in church, class activities, and I also have to help organize the school’s craft fair (though I am not volunteering next year for this).

    • Kristen says

      I think limiting your volunteering is definitely a good idea (though of course it won’t help you this year!) Are all of these school activities mandatory? If some are voluntary, I might say no to some of them.

      If they’re all mandatory, are there some other things in your life that you could simplify during the busy two week period? (I’m assuming the first two weeks of December are the busy school time.) Could you eat simpler meals? Let some household tasks go? Work ahead a bit to free up some time in December (i.e. making freezer meals for that time, getting planning done for the craft fair ahead of time, etc.)?

  2. says

    Thanks for this serious! I’m really enjoying it! We keep decorating to a minimum, as that doesn’t really matter much to us, and don’t do many gifts. We try to make the gifts we do give, something that the receivers will really use, not just give them something for the sake of giving a gift.

  3. says

    Over the years we’ve become more and more intentional and organized with our Christmas planning. The first Saturday in November our family has a Christmas planning meeting. Basically we outline the entire holiday, who’ll do what, what we’d like to give to others, what events to attend, what responsibilities we have at church (choir, sound board, etc), if and when we’ll host a gathering in our home.

    One of my kids gets overwhelmed if we go to too many events, so we set a limit of just one per weekend. And we all know the calendar well in advance, so this child can prepare for all our outings.

    Two of my kids have already said “no” to one holiday performance, due to the practice schedule. They’ve realized that they can only participate so much, and need to pick and choose.

    Something that has really helped me is that I’ve spoken up about what activities are stressful for me. I’ve asked my family specifically to handle some of these items on our list. It’s very easy for the rest of the family to forget that mom is carrying out the rest of her responsibilities, such as childcare, cooking, cleaning, work schedule, *plus* taking care of everything for the holiday season. Mom needs to speak up and remind everyone that she is busy, too.

  4. Libby says

    Great post! It reminds me of the summer bucket list. Both are about thinking in advance what you want the season to include. It is a more intentional and thoughtful approach to life.

    There is a quote somewhere about how the important things in life are rarely urgent and that the urgent things are rarely important. BUT it is so easy to fill our lives with the urgent things and realize that the important things aren’t happening.

    I’m currently debating whether or not I want to travel this holiday season and I love the questions you listed. They should help me sort out what I really want to do.

    • Kristen says

      Yes, it is a lot like the bucket list! I thought about that several times while writing my post…it’s really about making sure that the urgent things don’t crowd out the important.

  5. says

    Great post :) My priorities for Christmas are spending time with family (especially as mine live across the country and we don’t visit often), so we will be attending three Christmas celebrations on different days. I also want to keep presents low-key and practical (and mostly homemade).

    Things that are not important to me are decorations (we have a very small, already decorated fake Christmas tree). I think this is much easier if you don’t have kids!

    • Kristen says

      On the other hand, if you have small kids in the house, sometimes decorating needs to be kept to a minimum. =P So your plan might work out well then too!

      My kids do love Christmas decorations, but they’re all old enough to be trusted not to break/eat things. I know they’d be very disappointed if we didn’t get to pick out a tree and decorate it…that’s probably the main thing they love. I know they like the other decorations, but they wouldn’t shed tears over not having them. The tree, on the other hand? They’d probably cry if we stopped doing that!

  6. says

    This is a great post! I’ve been more and more intentional with planning each Christmas after being so completely stressed out that I couldn’t even enjoy the holiday. My priorities are enjoying the season, spending time with family and helping others. Everything else just takes a back seat.

  7. Shana says

    It is a high priority for me that our Christmas Day be absolutely stress free. I absolutely refuse to take my kids away from their home on Christmas Day, and we do not invite anyone else into our home. It is OUR FAMILY DAY together. Grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins, nephews/nieces can all wait until the week after Christmas for an extended family get together.

    I also make it a point to ask each of my 3 children what baked good they would like the most that particular Christmas, and am sure to make it for them.

  8. says

    “…unless we’re intentional about how we spend our time and money, it’s easy to let life drag us around. And usually when that happens, we end up spending our time and money in ways we don’t really want to be spending it.”

    I wish this fit on a bumper sticker.

  9. Sher says

    one year I gave a donation to the salvation army instead of gifts to my nieces and nephews…they received a card with some statistics about homelessness in our city and percentages of single moms with young children on the street etc. The kids were pre-teen and teens at the time…they probably didn’t appreciate the no gift to open…but I can guarantee they remember that year more than any other year that I did give them a gift.

  10. says

    For me, my top priority at Christmas is to enjoy the moment but also create memories for my Children. This doesn’t mean buying them stuff to open galore, but rather having experiences that will last a lifetime. This includes of course them getting hands on. A perfect picture postcard Christmas scene prepped and laid out means nothing to them. I’m pretty sure my two don’t care whether the napkins match the candles on the table etc…
    Of late what I try to do with each holiday (including summer break) is quantify the opportunity I have to create those memories whilst also enjoying the present day. I probably have a handful of Christmas’ left with them as Children. Such opportunities are not infinite. That’s how I keep focused on my priorities.

  11. Karen says

    I bake a few of my gifts, but am simplifying the things I make to reduce time in the kitchen. Buy very few gifts and do little decorating. Just not as important to the family and would rather spend that time on other things.

  12. Kate says

    Having been a teen not so long ago, and now involved in many a charitable endeavor, I feel like I have some suggestions for those who are trying to incorporate a more giving focus to their holidays and/or shifts their kids away from consume-consume-consume.

    1) Get the kids involved. This is especially powerful for younger kids. Toy drives, recycling drives, serving the homeless. Most don’t feel “too cool” for that kind of thing yet, their curiosity is powerful enough to take enjoyment in the activity, and it can be done as a family (especially important when you have young kids running around and a busy season with lots of places to be). The impressions that are made during these sorts of activities can be a powerful motivator later on.

    2) especially if this is a new thing for your family, start slowly. Rather going cold-turkey, start out by incorporating charitable activities alongside your family’s more traditional activities, and then work from there. If your kids’ interest is piqued by the charitable activities, then start incorporating that into the gift discussion the following year, ie. “I know you feel strongly about saving the whales, and you know Aunt Pearl always struggles with getting you the ‘right’ thing. How would you feel about making a donation instead of receiving a gift?” and listen to the responses.

    I strongly advise, cough cough, not going the way my mum did, and unilaterally canceling Christmas one year in December so we could all serve food to the homeless instead. It unfortunately didn’t have the effect she was hoping for, especially with two teens, and although it’s remembered, it’s not in a good way, either towards her strategy or the cause. We didn’t turn out to be total Scrooges in the end, but it wasn’t because of that one effort.

    3) lastly, consider the kids involved. You *can* just go through the catalogue and choose a duck for this child, a mosquito net for this one, and a a chicken for your niece, but the gift will have much more resonance if it is geared to their interests. If your niece is into riding horses, maybe a horse rescue or a veteranarian fund is the way to go. Into trucks and demolition? Habitat for Humanity. Medicine? Doctors without Borders, your local hospital or Health Partners International.

    Here are so many great organizations out there doing great work, so you have a lot of choice and a lot of opportunity to potentially spark a lifelong interest in service in our kids.

    • Jen says

      And I would add, sometimes there is a charity the kids is arelady involved with–Scouts, a church youth group, etc. Or give books in the child’s name to his school or public library. (This is even better if you can give his/her favorite books but check with the librarian first to see if they are wanted.) Many libraries will put a book plate in the front with the child’s name as donor–my nieces used to love to go find the ones with their names in the front.

  13. says

    This is a great post. You are right about how important it is to be intentional. This holiday season I want to make sure that my priorities are in order so that I can give my kids the kind of holiday I want them to have.

    Not being crabby and stressed is also at the top of my list! Some of my other priorities are:
    -minimizing time spent shopping (I hate crowded malls, so we get our shopping done before December 1st)
    -sticking to a budget
    -doing festive things that don’t cost much money (attending the tree lighting ceremony, going on a pajama ride where we drink hot chocolate in the car and drive around looking at lights)
    -This year I want to keep our decor natural and low-key with pine cones from the woods, gifts wrapped in brown paper packages and simple white candles in mason jars.
    -I want to bake TONS of cookies. One of my favourite parts of the Christmas season is having a freezer full of cookies. I love the way they make the house smell and I love having treats around for us and the kids.

    Mainly, I want our family life to feel extra cozy.

  14. Ada says

    I’m considering making more food gifts this year. A consummable gift leaves almost no waste behind! I love the look of those tiny cookies in mason jars. Do you have a recipe for that?

  15. Heidi says

    I’d be interested to hear ideas of what other people are getting their teenagers for gifts. My kids have gotten plenty of gift cards in recent years, and they haven’t spent all of them yet. Lucky for me, they are not materialistic or greedy, but that makes them difficult to shop for.

    • says

      Hi Heidi,
      This may sound boring, but are your kids saving for anything? A special trip they want to go on (our kids have to come up with part of the money for youth group retreats/camps and this spring, a senior trip with their school)? Upgrading a piece of equipment (one daughter wants a new guitar)? We’re giving some money earmarked for these big things they are saving for. My adult son is saving for a car, for his birthday next month he’ll be getting some money towards that.

      In past years, we have given tickets to our teens for events, shows, museums and concerts that are in their areas of interest. We’ve given a set of lessons that would be outside of our normal budget. Is there some experience that they would enjoy instead of a thing? Don’t know if any of this helps.

  16. Susanne says

    I like to make some extra canned goods during summer and fall harvest just to use for Christmas gifts. A couple of jars of relish, jelly, or pickles makes a sweet gift and since so many people do not can, they think it is a real treat! I also like to give local honey or molasses as gifts!

  17. Lori says

    Most of my 5 children are married and we now have 3 grands. We would like to go the direction of home made gifts but we’re wondering if anyone had links to gift ideas that aren’t just “stuff”? We have enough of that.

    • Kristen says

      I don’t…I’m sorry. I just do really simple scrapbooking, using mostly solid colored 12×12 paper, and then I print out captions and titles and such on white paper and ink the edges.

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