Making Christmas Merry | Think more about serving and less about impressing.

think more about serving and less about impressing

Practical Christmas-celebrating tips abound, don’t they? Every women’s magazine is chock full of them in November and December.

These sorts of Christmas tips have their place, certainly. But an overhaul of the way we think about Christmas is what will really change things.

So, before we get to the practical side of things, I want to share a few posts that will hopefully help you to look at Christmas a bit differently.

To start us off, here’s a change-your-perspective idea:

Think more about serving and less about impressing.

Usually when I get stressed out about Christmas, it’s because I forgotten this key thing. And I’m willing to wager that this is true for a lot of you as well.

Christmas is full of situations that tempt us to desire to impress people.

We want people to think that our cookies are delicious, our present-wrapping is creative, and our tree is decorated beautifully.

We want people to ooh and aah over our adorable Christmas card photo.

We want our guests to think the party we throw is amazing. And at the party, we want to be the envy of the other women in the room because we look thin and beautiful in our new holiday dress.

We want people to be wowed by the gifts that we give, and sometimes by the money that we spend on the gifts.

We want to have a storybook Christmas morning, complete with gorgeous photos that we can share on Facebook.

You get the idea. Maybe your temptations to impress people are different than the ones I listed here, but I bet you could come up with your own list if you thought about it.

Now, I don’t think we should celebrate Christmas with nary a thought to other people. It’s just that impressing them shouldn’t be our focus.

Instead, I think we ought to focus on serving them. Think how freeing that could be!

If you’re thinking about serving rather than impressing:

  • You’ll let your children hang their homemade ornaments on the tree, even if they don’t match your theme.
  • You’ll let your children help you decorate the tree (though you might sneak in and fix a few ornament placements after they go to sleep)

  • You won’t buy an expensive gift just to buy an expensive gift. Instead, you’ll study the person and buy something meaningful.
  • You won’t obsess about the bodily flaws that show in your holiday party dress, but will instead think about how you can make your guests feel welcomed and comfortable (they’ll be much more served by that than they will by a perfect figure.)
  • You will not participate in holiday activities just because it’s what everyone expects. You’ll use much more important criteria to decide what you will and won’t do.
  • You won’t turn into a cranky monster when it’s time to take the picture for your card (“How could you get a spot on that shirt? Whyyy did you mess up your hair??”) Because when you’re not trying to impress people, things like that don’t matter as much. And hey, your friends and family might be very well served by an imperfect picture. ;) They’ll know you’re normal, just like them.
  • You will not have to spend a bunch of time and money buying coordinated holiday clothing for your family (though if you truly enjoy this for its own sake, go for it!)
  • You won’t have to cook an unnecessarily elaborate meal, because your family will be better served if you stay sane than if you produce a spread fit for a king (last year on Christmas day, we had crepes, sausage, and sparkling juice for our meal. And I was a happy, relaxed person.)
  • You will be relatively calm even if someone in your house makes a mess before the company arrives. If you’re not terribly worried about impressing your company, you can manage to be gracious to the mess-maker (in my experience, mess-makers are better served by graciousness than by yelling. ;) )
  • You will not fret over it if all of your presents are not homemade.
  • Or conversely, you will not fret over it if all you can manage are homemade presents.
  • You will not attempt to do All Of The Crafts or bake All Of The Cookies, even if it seems like that’s what everyone else on Pinterest is doing.

At its core, this whole idea is really thinking less about yourself (the desire to impress is self-oriented) and more about others (serving is not self-oriented).

The odd thing is, when you do that, you end up being happier too.

And anyone who is unhappy with you about the lack of impressiveness in your Christmas celebration is probably not someone that was worth impressing anyway.


P.S. #1-Don’t hear me saying that certain activities are always done with the motive to impress. It’s possible that you can Bake All Of The Cookies and throw a party and buy expensive gifts and send out perfect cards with very lovely motives. All I’m saying is that for most of us, Christmas presents us with a lot of opportunities to think way too much about impressing others.

P.S. #2– I would heartily encourage any of you that are Christians to pray for grace to think more about others than ourselves. This is a super hard thing to do, and we’d be wise to ask for help.


Alrighty…talk to me! Do you struggle with the desire to impress people? Do you have tips for changing your focus from impressing to serving?


Making Christmas Merry

Next post in this series: Make a Priority List


  1. Jolene says


    I find that my one and only struggle with the holidays are my 6 children. They want a lot for Christmas – and whine and complain if they do not get it. I want them to be happy – so I really stress about getting them what they want. Even if I have a 200 budget per child for Christmas – which really is not a whole lot in the eyes of my older teenagers – that is 1200 dollars for the six of them – which is a lot of money. Any thoughts or advice would be much appreciated from the readers – mostly about how I should not feel guilty and obligated to get them the new ipad or whatever is out there that all of their friends have!!!

    • susan says

      My only consolation is that in the end, they will not be spoiled, expect everything handed to them adults. They will understand the value of money and the things they own. Christmas is about love and being with those you love. Gifts are an added bonus. They will learn that from you and that is a wonderful thing!!!
      Also, start shopping now so the money doesn’t seem like as much of a slap in the face. And don’t forget about shopping second hand for phenomenal savings!! Good luck and Merry Christmas! Haha

    • Liz says

      Perhaps instead of some or all of the presents this year, you could consider doing a series of volunteer projects: focusing all your shopping on a few “Christmas Angels” (foster/in-need children and families, usually), helping at a soup kitchen or with other homeless/in-need services, raising supplies for a food bank or animal shelter, making Christmas cards and cookies for your neighbors, caroling at a hospice or elderly care center… I’m sure there are lots of opportunities through school programs, volunteer centers, or a local church.

    • Shana says

      This our Christmas budget per child, too. And, we only have 3 children!! That must be sooooo stressful. I don’t have any advice, just commiseration.

    • says

      Wow, $200 per child seems like a lot no matter what! When I was growing up we had very little money and my parents were always open with my sister and me about this. We got small presents for Christmas and they were usually things we needed anyway, but the excitement of opening presents was still there and I never remember being disappointed. I think if you are used to giving your kids stuff you will probably not be able to avoid the guilt this year, but I think it would be very good for them not to be given anything they wanted, especially if it’s gadgets/toys. Maybe your older kids can be in charge of a younger buddy and do small things to surprise them in the days leading up to Christmas? Giving them a responsibility and changing the focus to giving instead of receiving might be rewarding. In the long run, a focus on family activities instead of material items will also generate better memories. I definitely don’t remember the presents I was given, but I remember going with my family to see the rows of decorated houses, the hot chocolates my mom made for me, toasting marshmallows in our fireplace (even though we lived in southern California), etc. Good luck Jolene!

    • Vicki says

      I raised 5 kids, and I admit this is a problem. We didn’t completely get rid of the whining, but we did do some things that helped. First of all, make your budget according to what you can afford, and stick to it! And tell your kids what your budget is. Even when our kids were little, we told them what the budget was for their Christmas gifts was. When they offered to ask Santa for the big things, we told them that moms and dads have to pay for what Santa brings. Then they can decide if they want to have just one big gift, or add some of their own money to get that ipad, etc. They are a little more discerning when they realize Christmas is not just a free-for-all.

    • Paige says

      We only have three kids, ages 20,14, and 13. Our budget is $150 per child. It helps to think of it as “wow, I can spend $200 on each of my children, I’m really blessed!” rather than “I can only spend $200 on each of my children.”

    • EngineerMom says


      I’m 30, not so far away from being a teen myself. I’m the oldest of 3 children, and I now have two young ones of my own. Growing up, my mom always talked about how her job as a parent was to prepare us to be adults. Not to be our friend, or magical wish-granting genie, but a guide, mentor, and teacher working to give each of us the tools we would need to face life after high school.

      That means helping your children understand the link between work and money, and between generosity, gratitude, and gifts. Whatever latest gadget all their friends have is completely immaterial to their character and the skills they will need when they finish high school (even in college you need to know how to do things like balance a checkbook and wash your laundry without shrinking the lot).

      Perhaps instead of doing gifts for them this year, you could sit them down and explain that you are giving them each a small amount of money for each child to buy a gift for one other child (perhaps $5/year of age of the recipient), and that the rest of your budget is to be donated. They could take the money and buy gifts for a giving tree, donate the money to a charity (buying animals through Heifer International?), or donate directly to a local foodbank (money is better than food for foodbanks because they can get a lot more per dollar than the average consumer).

      If you still have very young children and do Santa Claus, you could get the older children to help you choose a gift that still within the budget. I loved helping my mom pick out the Santa gifts for my much-younger brother when I was a teen, especially when he got into video games and I was just starting college, since my mom didn’t know much about the games and didn’t want to buy something inappropriate for his age, even if it was popular.

      As for the guilt of not fulfilling their Christmas wishes of keeping up with the latest tech gadgets – your job as a parent is to raise responsible adults, not grant wishes. If that gadget is that important to them, they can work to earn the money to buy it, either for you, on a paper route, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, babysitting, or if they’re old enough, at a part-time job over the summer.

      Good luck!

      ~ Liz

    • Carol says

      Hi—I think establishing a certain number of gifts may be more important than a dollar amount. We have four kids and when they were very little I got into the habit of giving about ten gifts apiece. Some of these were very inexpensive. Later, Christmases became veeerrrry expensive because they still unconsciously expected a lot of gifts, and as teens they started to like designer jeans, concert tickets, and luxury perfume. I should have taught a little ‘Expectation Management’ when they were young. With his four kids, my brother stuck with the three gifts per child concept, a nod to the three wise men.

  2. Sarah says

    Every year, I *try* to serve a nice traditional meal all while keep the house perfectly cleaned and the childeren well-behaved with little to no help. By the end of the evening, I’ve found that I have slaved away in the kitchen and barely spoken to my guests. This year, I’ve requested someone else host and I’ll just bring a dish or two and help with the dishes. I plan to encourage the host to join in with the family conversation more too!

    I actually do not decorate that much for the holidays. I put up a tree (that my kids, sister and niece decorate), hang stocking and put a wreath on the door, but that’s it. I’d rather spend time with my family and friends than hanging lights.

  3. Linda M says

    I had not really viewed things this way before…as by nature, I tend to be a people-pleaser….just never thought of it as trying to impress instead of serve. What an eye-opener. I guess I have felt if things were closer to perfect I was serving. But, after reading your post….I definitely see that I would much better serve the ones I love by being more laid back and making them and not me “feel good”. Thank you so much for this insight! I will, indeed, pray that my gifts…material and self….to others does indeed serve the meaning Christmas(which to me is Christ) and the ones I love. Thank you so much!!

    • Kristen says

      People pleasing is such a deceptive thing…for me, I know that almost all of the time, it’s selfishness walking around in sheep’s clothing. All too often I do things to please people because *I* like to please people, not because I’m really putting the other person’s interests first.

      It’s a sneaky problem.

  4. says

    These words are true for every season! It’s easy to try so hard to look like you’re happy and enjoying yourself at the expense of actually being happy and enjoying yourself. Thanks for sharing the wisdom!

  5. says

    I think we get off easy around here – we have no kids and have Christmas at one of our parents’ place each year. Last year we had just moved in to our apartment and we got a small Christmas tree for the new house before we’d even moved the furniture, but that was it.

    I think you can apply this idea to any kind of celebration, because I know when I am hosting a party I do tend to get caught up in making all of the food and decorations perfect, to the point where I don’t enjoy the party.

  6. Momofthree says

    Kristin thanks for this reminder. I will be praying about this for sure. We don’t have company often so when everyone does come for the holidays I can easily get caught up in wanting everything to be perfect.

    Jolene – stick to your budget! My kids are younger than yours but I was running into the same problems with whining and complaining if they didn’t get everything they wanted for a special occasion. Ofcourse we want our kids to be happy but I had to sit back and think about what that meant. Was I really making them happy? No. They were spoiled. They did not appreciate what they were receiving or what they already had. They felt entitled. I had to change my mindset and theirs. They were definitely not happy about it and still sometimes whine but they are coming around. You said that you have older teenagers – do you talk about finances with them? Maybe sitting down and going through your budget to show them how much it costs to provide a home and food and clothes for them would open their eyes a bit. Put it in terms of how many hours of work too. Do they work? If one is asking for something particularly expensive why not start a fund as their Christmas gift? Give them $40 toward X and then they can earn the rest or save birthday money or something like that to make up the rest. That may give them a better appreciation for the item. Or, if you have gone through the budget with them, let them know that if they want this item they will have to give up swimming lessons or some other activity to make up the cost over your budget. Most importantly though – let go of your guilt!! By teaching your kids patience and gratitude (whether they like it or not:) ) you are being a good parent and they will be happier in the long run.

  7. says

    These are very good tips. I love the letting kids put their ornaments on the tree. Yes, our tree looks like a mis-mash of decorations, but the kids love it, and they’ll only be putting all their ornaments on the tree for a few years more. Save the “perfect” tree for when my nest is empty.

    I must confess, a huge mess before a party, or anytime, will cause me to have my own version of a meltdown. I try to get it over with quickly and with minimum external . . . um. . .how should I put it. . .display.

    A few years ago I awoke on Christmas morning with a migraine. We skipped the big dinner and found a McDonalds 20 minutes away that was open. My husband went out and got takeout for us all. That was one of the better Christmas dinners we’ve ever had — not in quality of food, but as far as everyone happy, and unstressed. A fancy meal is not the most important ingredient for the holiday dinner.

    And my favorite Christmases are the ones that fall on Sunday, as our church will have a Christmas Day service. We all enjoy getting up, going to church, then coming home to gifts and brunch. Really, the kids love this too.

    There is really something to the idea of putting everything into perspective that will make for the very best Christmas.

    • Kristin says

      CreativSavv, I love that story! So true, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s the simple things – shared happiness, a simple meal – and not the elaborate dinners, that really matter.

      Kristen, thank you so much for this. My Christmases past have been so rushed and harried the season’s over before I can enjoy it. Now, I’ve already started on some homemade presents which will (hopefully!) keep me out of the stores in the season with their craziness. But if I do wind up in a store, I’ll keep in mind that I’m serving others, not impressing them, and keep that cheerfulness in my heart.

      Love this community.

  8. says

    Oh my … this is so applicable to me!

    I’m in the process of really letting go of this attitude (partly because I realize it really isn’t healthy, and partly because I’m finally accepting that I’m just too busy to do it/but it/make it all, even if I wanted to!

    Loving this series, Kristen!

  9. Tiffany says

    A few years ago, I started counting blessings and realized that we’ve too much. We are fortunate and bountiful. So, instead of collecting ‘more stuff’, we cast off starting on black friday. When everyone is fighting for a good deal, you can find us donating at GoodWill. My son has everything. TV, Laptop, every game system known to man, cell phone….a bunch of ‘stuff’ that he has absolutely no idea where it came from. So we started making memories. He won’t remember the sweater I got him by the time next year rolls around….but he will remember seeing Trans Siberian Orchestra. He won’t remember the game he got for Christmas, but he will remember having breakfast in Florida. There’s something very liberating about not being part of the hustle and bustle… should be about family and friends and spending time…..

  10. Cheryl says

    We have always kept gift giving simple by having “Santa” bring 3 gifts, because Jesus received 3 gifts from the wisemen. Then our kids get one present from us, and are blessed to receive a few more from grandparents. Our kids have always been content to receive 3 gifts. They do think long and hard about what to ask for!! We try to get at least one of the things they are really hoping for and do our best with the rest in order to stay in budget.

    Thank you for this series! It is really valuable to me!

  11. Dianne says

    “Impressing people”…I love the way my Christmas tree shines and glitters with the love my children have put into their homemade ornaments. THEY are the people I want to impress. I want to impress upon their hearts the true meaning of Christmas and the love that their parents have for them. We have many types of ornaments and each has a story behind it. The first one to go on the tree is hung by my husband and myself. It is our first ornament that we bought for our first Christmas together (25 years ago). After putting the lights on (how do they get so tangled sitting in a box for a year?), everyone gathers to watch the “ceremony”. Then the real trimming begins.

    I find that preparing food in advance (and freezing if possible to be used later) helps me keep my sanity. Around this time of year, I either turn down the volume on commercials, or I pause the tv and then fast forward through them. My children are teens now, and they understand why I do it. They even say to me, “the ads are all about give me, give me, give me” not about Christ. I’m so proud that they understand the marketing aspect. Don’t get me wrong, they still want nice things, but they are seeing that a budget is what you stick to and that a gift doesn’t have to cost a lot to mean a lot. Thanks for doing this series, Kristin! I’m looking forward to the rest of it.

    • Kristen says

      Ooh, you’re on my wavelength. ;) You touched on something I’m devoting a whole post to later on in this series.

  12. Jen says

    My advice for simplifying the big holiday meal is to share the work. We’ve been doing this for years with our circle of family and friends who gather for the meal. Whoever is hosting that year does the turkey (easiest not to try to move it!) and others bring side dishes. We also thought about what we really like vs. what we were making because of “tradition.” The green bean casserole is out and a big green salad garnished with dried cranberries and mandarin oranges is in. The salad and beverages are assigned to any non-cook who happens to be coming that year. It’s a lot more fun to focus on a couple of special dishes that running around madly to do the whole meal.

  13. says

    This dawned on me a while back, and it wasn’t at Christmas I had my Eureka moment. I’d hosted a dinner party and after wondered whether my guests had enjoyed the evening. Because I hadn’t. I’d been too stressed about making it perfect. Not to impress as such, but rather to do it ‘the right way’. I realised that the whole point was to catch up with friends and yet I’d spent most of the evening missing out on conversation and dashing back and forth to the kitchen. My view changed from that night onwards. Last week I had a get together with the girls, and although I did set the seldom-used dining room table, we ended up eating in the kitchen at the daily-used table, where I pottered whilst enjoying their company and it was warmer and cosier as the oven was on and the aroma of the food could be appreciated better. It was informal relaxed, and guess what? A great night.

  14. Lindsey says

    I personally think Facebook has had a horrible impact on the human tendency to want to impress or outdo others. I know folks who feel like something didn’t happen if they have not posted it on Facebook…Interesting that the postings are always self-aggrandizing. Who posts shots of themselves failing miserably at things, or of their children failing out of school or of spouses leaving and running off with someone else? It is hard to scale down life when your kids are constantly being bombarded with the idea that bigger is better–and their friends are posting pictures of the bigger and better parties they attended or gifts they received. Maybe I am just cranky today, but I feel like withdrawing from the world somedays…

    • Kristen says

      You are not alone. Sometimes I just get this feeling that the internet is a very, very hard place to have relationships, and that it’s not how we’re meant to relate to each other.

      For instance, when you have a real life friend, it’s safe to let your flaws hang out and to be vulnerable. But on Facebook, it’s not really a safe environment for that sort of thing. But then when you don’t let your flaws hang out online, people get a wrong idea of what you’re really like.

      The only conclusion I’ve come to is that I need to be very careful to remember that I’m watching other people’s highlight reels, not their outtakes. And when I produce content (whether on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter or whatever), I need to be really careful to check my motives. Am I aiming to serve the people my content will reach (by educating them, entertaining them, challenging them, inspiring them, etc.), or am I just trying to improve their opinion of me?

  15. says

    I LOVE traditions so I always tend to go overboard around the holidays, leaving myself a frazzled mess by Dec 24th.

    I’ve found it incredibly helpful to moderate my filter. It’s so easy to overfill my plate with the ideas featured in stores, magazines, and pinterest. So I do my best to avoid the temptation of trends and focus on the things that are most important for us.

  16. Diane says

    My husband and I have 13 children, 25 grandchildren, and a great-grandson between us. We don’t want to have them choose where to go and who to see for Christmas. For the past four years, we’ve taken the dinner to one of the local soup kitchens. Our church donates food, I cook much of it, and we spend Christmas Day with those who have no family. And we see OUR family on other days. We do the same for Thanksgiving – dinner here is the Friday after.

  17. Sheila in NC says

    You are absolutely right. I love your creativity. The thing that is the hardest is the gifts. You said to study the person to come up with a meaningful gift. That is so hard. My creativity goes to nothing in this process. We only buy for our children and our parents. I would love ideas for creative gifts for husbands, parents, adult children. I have way too often given gifts that were some version of pictures of the family. That one is getting old. Help!!

  18. Carla says

    I don’t often comment, but I must on this one. It is full of brilliant insights and I cannot think of a better or more compassionate way of saying it. It is a reminder that although I had not articulated things this way, the things we do for Christmas, which are few really, are to serve my nuclear family, but it also made me realise that I should put more effort into gifts for the rest of my family. For a couple of years we have not given gifts at all, or something insignificant to my family and while my kids don’t mind, my mom and brothers do a bit, they don’t say so but I can see that they would prefer to receive something. And I think that I am realising we were doing this not to serve in terms of focusing on family but rather for my own personal tantrum of being annoyed with the consumption aspect of a commercial Christmas. I think that I can and should take the time to think about finding or making something meaningful for my family, which can still be minimal or no cost (my budget for presents is $10 max per person, yes, really!) , then I would serve more rather than impress myself with how non-commercial I am. I wholeheartedly think that Christmas is not about the gifts but about togetherness. At the same time, I do understand that at Christmas, just like at any other occassion or non-occassion just a random ‘I thought of you’ thing, receiving a gift from someone you care is an expression of caring and love, even more so when done meaningfully. Anyway, I am grateful for this blogpost because it’s allowed me some insight into myself and how I can be more caring towards my family.

  19. says

    Yes! If I am not careful, I begin to think too much of the present rather than the recipient. I also have to watch not trying to give *everyone* I know a substantial gift. Sometimes, a small bag of fudge or chocolate-topped pretzels might just have to do for those “extra” gifts!

  20. says

    Great and timely article! I always feel this pressure to live up to expectations, which are all in my head, usually, and we always overextend ourselves financially trying to live up to this standard. I’m going to take this advice to heart and try to focus on what’s most important this year!

  21. Kris says

    Kristen, I laughed at your tree-decorating comments. The kids put on the majority of the ornaments–now that my son (9) is getting taller, maybe they won’t all congregate at the bottom! (except for the breakables, which are at the top of the tree and away from my cat).

    When I read comments like Jolene’s, it makes me think about being “fair” versus being “equal”. I agree that there should be a budget for Christmas gifts, but sometimes I think we as parents feel we need to give equal amounts of money each and every time we give a gift to keep things “fair”. For instance, last Christmas we spent more on my son than on my daughter. We got him a digital camera. He is older than she is and was at a stage in life where we felt he could handle a more responsible kind of a gift. We will not repeat this *every* year–in the future I’m sure there will be an opportunity to get her something more expensive, so it will balance out in the long run.

    I’m also not sure I agree with having the same budget for all ages. We spent less money in the preschooler years because, really, at that age kids are happy with just about anything wrapped up in gift wrap. Just a thought.

    Kristen, I would LOVE to see you address on your blog the pattern we set for our children at a young age. This relates so much to living well, living cheerfully, and living frugally. If we start out meeting all of our kid’s whims when they are toddlers (buying them junk food at the grocery store to keep them quiet … bazillions of expensive toys at birthdays/Christmas … always dressing them in the trendiest outfits … well, you get the idea) we are creating people who are greedy. The pattern becomes progressively harder to break. You seem to have a lot of young mothers reading your blog–what a wonderful gift to give them–the ability to set limits! They will be happier, their children will be happier (and more pleasant to be around), AND they will save money!

    • says

      Love this advice!! I want to do exactly this with my daughter, as I abhor consumer culture myself and want her to make wiser decisions from the get-go.

    • Barbara O says

      So much I could say on this topic, but so much has been well said by others. But I have to agree about budget in several ways. One, NEVER spend what you can’t afford! Talk about adding stress to stress! Also, I agree with what Kris said about the possibility of different budgets for different ages. We, too, have a ‘budget’ of $200 per child, but I sometimes go below that (not often!) if I have a great idea that’s just less $, and, on several occasions have gone over it. Once, we gave our son a car ($800, so as cars go, not much!) -you would have thought it was a BMW! Now, we would have bought him, or helped him buy, this car anyway (we felt it was a need for him) but he was thrilled with getting it for Christmas. The same son once got his full size violin for Christmas. He marks that as his most exciting Christmas. Now, the child had to have a violin if he was going to keep playing, which he was, and we had always just bought the instruments as part of his education, but when I made it his surpise Christmas gift, he was thrilled! Not that my children are so terribly grateful for everything, but we do have the money discussion often, and sometimes they come up with the idea that was floated before-if they save for something big (son #2 wants another guitar!) will we finish the purchase for Christmas. That can be a great idea for older teens.
      Also, young mothers, set your limits EARLY in life. And DO NOT resist talking about money. Money may, in some circumstances, be a private, family matter, but it is not a matter of character to have less money than your neighbors. It is the stewardship of what we have that matters, and that is a very important life lesson in our culture! Hard, but important.

  22. EngineerMom says

    What a great perspective!

    My fondest memories of Christmas usually centered around helping to put up the decorations the weekend of Thanksgiving (even in college I made sure to be home long enough to do that), helping my parents cook the meal, setting the table with my mom’s china, and opening the stockings, which were the only gifts we could open before my dad finally woke up!

    My husband always requests the same thing for Christmas – a pleasant meal with his family. Now “family” means our little one of us and two kids, and we get them involved in the cooking as much as they can. My Christmas tree has never had a theme other than the decorations we both bring from our childhoods, plus the ones our kids are adding. I do add a few glass balls and glittery stars to give it some sparkle, but there’s definitely no attempt at color coordination. We’ve never had much money, so Christmas gifts are usually simple, well-thought-out, frequently handmade or secondhand, and wrapped in as many boxes as possible. That’s an old tradition from when I was a kid. If the gift came in multiple pieces (a toy that required batteries, a boxed set of books, even several pairs of good wool socks), Mom would separate them and wrap each piece up in a different box. It kind of became a running joke, and one year my brother even wrapped every gift he gave in at least 3 nested boxes, each box also wrapped and decorated! To this day, if you get a matched set of earrings and necklace, rest assured it’s probably going to come in at least two boxes!

    We haven’t hosted a Christmas party yet, though this year we’re planning to invite some people over for Thanksgiving dinner. My family always lived far from extended family, so for Thanksgiving my dad would invite another family from work who lived far from grandparents, etc., to share our meal. Frequently, because of the industry in which Dad works, it was a family from China or India for whom it was their first Thanksgiving! Having potstickers or curry next to the turkey definitely is a reminder that almost all of us are immigrants at this table.

  23. SandyH says

    Out of all the presents I received for Chrismas as a child, I really remember only ONE– a bicycle when I was eight. And I know my mom agonized every year over what to get us and how to afford it… So, you’ d think this would be a lesson for me, right? Wrong! I have four grown kids, who were not ever spoiled or entitled. We were lucky…as a stay at home mom money was tight, they knew this and never begged or whined. They had their Christmas list and I did a big Walmart layaway every single year. (this admittedly got harder as they got older and past the Santa/toys age ).I always felt that because we didn’t get them much in the way of “extras” throughout the year, that Chrismas needed to be this EXTRAVAGANZA that I started worrying about in September. The holidays were about WORRY for me. So you see, it doesn’t matter whether your kids whine and beg, or they don’t. It’s YOUR attitude as a parent. It would never have even occurred to my kids that they would get an item like an iPad for Christmas. What is that, $500? Good heavens. If they had agreed to a group gift, then maybe it would have been doable! Lol

  24. Kristin M says

    i completely agree w/this message! i’ ve gotten to a point where Christmas and other major holidays are a bit of a kill joy with how rude and nasty people are to one another during the holiday season, many are so focused on the commercialized view of holidays that they forget what really matters. they turn into monsters or holidayzillas if you will! great post and i look forward to the next one on this topic!

  25. Jan says

    Excellent Post!! I have a lot of thinking to do.

    I dearly love to bless others with homemade goodies, (cooking, sewing, etc.), any time of the year, but I suffer from the fear of not being “good enough” which of course is the same thing as “trying to impress”. Often I will make something then talk myself out of giving it!

    Sad I know. :(

  26. Another Alice says

    Thank you for such a beautiful post, Kristen! I completely agree that being imperfect can often be of more service to the people around us – beautiful things are lovely, but when our ‘highlights reel’ becomes the standard, rather than the exception, it can end up quashing real creativity and connection, since we can end up feeling like we *have* to hide the hard, messy failures that are an inherent part of life.

  27. says

    Great post. I love getting right to the heart of having a simple Christmas. I’m not sure what I do for it’s own sake and what I do to impress others, but I will definitely give that some thought.

  28. says

    Although I’m quite a way from holiday mode, I like the idea of being mindful…ahead of time…before the holidays swallow me whole. I always strive for simplicity, and try to balance it with the fun stuff. I’m perfectly content with a perfectly decorated tree, that is, one decorated by our kids. That is perfection to me. I wanted them for a long time, and I’m going to appreciate the crazy looking tree. I know that I’ll miss it 30 years from now.

    Thanks for the nudges about heading into Christmas with the right mindset!

  29. Jennifer Fromm says

    Kristen, thank you for this fantastic post. I’m happy to start thinking about Christmas now, and to think about serving, not just doing, doing, doing regardless of what anyone gets out of it (sometimes there are honestly too many paries and activities for the kids, and it’s not special anymore!).
    Also, I wanted to say I’m another new reader who just found you through searching for how to paint wooden furniture! :) I try not to spend too much time online–I’m not very successful with that haha!–but your site is going in my favorites. Thanks for sharing, and God bless you and yours :)

    • Kristen says

      Hee. I’m so glad I wrote that post…all sorts of delightful people make their way here after trying to find out how to paint wooden furniture!

  30. Madeline says

    We concentrate much more on DOING rather than buying these days, at Christmas.We attend local high school or college or church concerts..we love music. We also enjoy a pot luck or two with close friends. Gave up the fancy parties..both giving and going to! Too much stress over what to wear,driving late at night, and noise, high calorie food and not as much fun as a smaller informal get together,generally..

    We enjoy a crock pot chili, games, and music, much more .

    We do more “impromptu” stuff–

    Our extended family were never much into giving gifts cross country. So I do handmade cards.

    Our son is grown but lives nearby, we exchange 2 presents mx. with a focus on CREATIVITY . OR..something like MOVIE THEATER gift certificates which I really love to receive!!!!!

    We have a family tradition of taking a big HIKE every Christmas day (we live in Arizona where we can hike in December..)

    Simpler holidays are soooo much more fun.ANd more time to focus on the reason for the season!

  31. Helen says

    Make a list of gifts for each child within your budget and stick to it. This past few years we have really cut back and the kids are still perfectly happy. They don’t have every new gadget and ‘in’ toy. For things like that they save their chore and birthday money. Start now and get rid of anything your kids no longer play with on ebay or similar web site. Set this money aside towards their “new” gifts which can equally come second hand from ebay. When they write their letter to Santa (it’s not allowed to be a shopping list of ‘wants’) they are encouraged to request a range of items of different sizes and prices but have always been told they won’t get everything on their list – just what Santa has in his sack when he gets to our house. We also started to put out a “for all the family” gift sack from Santa which they love and are happy to share e.g. jigsaw, board game, lego set.
    We are trying to get our kids to think of Christmas not as a time just for receiving gifts but more importantly for giving gifts. Our church runs a children’s gift Sunday and they are always asked to donate one of their presents – perhaps an unopened gift from a birthday or a double. Have already started, with my youngest son, helping him to make his choice of Christmas gifts for family and friends. My daughter used her pocket money today at the school book fair to buy a poster for her eldest brother as a Christmas gift. A favourite last year for all 4 of them was to make gift vouchers for each other ~ sleep over in my room; I’ll read you a bedtime story; have a play on my DS ~ which was a big hit and really got them thinking about what others would like that they could give (and without any cost involved)
    For the 1st time last Christmas we actually had no guests for Christmas Day and so had our traditional dinner on Christmas Eve. This really cut down on the time spent in the kitchen on Christmas Day – we had homemade pizza and garlic bread + desserts left over from Christmas Eve – and meant that we had time on Christmas morning (since we were up so early) to call with family and friends before coming home for a very chilled out day to play and play and play!

  32. jean says

    Unless we are very rich, we can’t have all that we want nor do we need all. The year I came to the realization of what I had for my children and what I had spent I suggested they tell me what one thing they would like and that is what we bought or gave money towards if it was above the budgeted amount. They have always appreciated this method.

  33. TracyDK says

    We used to go from parent to parent for Christmas until we had our son. Now Christmas is spent at our house. We don’t do the Santa bit, so there isn’t any of that. My son stays in his “Christmas jammies” all day, and plays. His uncles and grammas join in. For supper we have lasagna (which is 100% homemade, but made in advance) so it’s a whoosh in the oven, and a forget it. Salad, bread, and pies/cakes are left to others to bring. I make 1 pie, Christmas drink, and candies. (all but the drink are made WELL in advance!). For me, simplicity is very important. If it’s not simple, I no longer enjoy it, and I’ve found that to be true for everyone else I know.

  34. Pam says

    One of my favorite Christmas memories is when both my husband and I had the flu. Our then 10-year old daughter made turkey soup (as I recall from leftover Thanksgiving turkey that was in the freezer) for the five of us. I realized at that time that I in particular had been trying to hard to do too much that wasn’t really necessary for a joy-filled Christmas. I still love to incorporate a lot of the various traditions we have experienced through the years but now am able to be a lot more flexible.
    Another favorite memory actually dates from my youth. My mother often couldn’t finish whatever sewing or knitting projects she had planned, so we would get the unfinished garment (or sometimes just the fabric/yarn and pattern) wrapped as a gift. I have sometimes done the same, without guilt, as I firmly believe that a handmade gift from the heart still does have more meaning.

  35. says

    I love it, I love it, I LOVE IT. Thank you so much for this post. I am a very anxious person by nature, so holidays and my son’s birthday are so stressful. I dread every last one of them, and how sad is that?? I know that God doesn’t want me to feel this way. So, slowly, I am going to learn to love the holidays again, and I am going to refer back to this post again and again.

  36. says

    I love this post! The holidays have unfortunately turned into such a dreaded time of year for many with the pressure to buy buy buy. Choosing a more simplistic holiday season can be so much more rewarding!

  37. Carol says

    Kristen, I just reread this and think it is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on how to approach the holidays. Your idea is radical in its simplicity. Good way to replace the anxiety (of overspending, overdoing, and over impressing) with the joy of Christmas. Seek to serve, rather than impress. I love it!!!

  38. Karen. says

    When fewer people want my attention, I’m going to come back and read all the comments on this post.

    I can’t do Pinterest. It makes me feel awful — lazy, uncreative, boring, selfish. I know that (mostly) isn’t true. So I just avoid it.

    • Kristen says

      I think that’s so wise! Just because other people love Pinterest doesn’t mean YOU have to love it. And it’s so good to be able to recognize that and do what you need to do to avoid getting down in the dumps.

  39. says

    I was raised in a household where it was very important to impress other people. So I have tried to shake that off in my own house though it is not always easy. Last year we went to visit my son in Colorado and rented a small cabin in the mountains. My future daughter-in-law brought her tree for us to enjoy and we had tacos for Christmas dinner – the only supermarket near by was out of turkeys and ham. We spent lots of time baking, watching Christmas movies and walking out in the snow. It was just the 6 of us and it was my favorite Christmas ever.

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