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

Making Christmas Merry | On Compromise

Though I’ve been pontificating about simplifying and saying no to things at Christmas and giving less weight to other people’s expectations, I do know that a danger with this line of thinking (as with any, I suppose) is that one can take it too far.

Should we release ourselves from the bondage of other people’s expectations? Yup.

Should we ignore other people’s desires altogether? Um, no.

Should we have a less stuff-focused Christmas? I think that’s a good idea.

Should we stop giving gifts and donate all of the gift money? Maybe not.

Should we keep our running-around to a manageable level? Yep.

Should we refuse to go to any family gatherings? Probably not.

While you do want to keep our sanity at Christmas, you don’t want to let your desire for simplicity lead you into unadulterated selfishness, because that’s not a whole lot better than an insanely busy Christmas.

Somewhere in the middle, there’s a balance to be had.

For me, the key is to think of compromises…ways to meet in the middle (because that’s usually where balance is anyway!)

For example, when Mr. FG and I decided to stop seeing both sides of the family on Christmas Day, we didn’t give up on seeing family altogether. Instead, we got into the habit of seeing one family on Christmas Day and one on Christmas Eve. And more recently, my side of the extended family has celebrated Christmas on a totally separate day, usually before December 24th or 25th (my parents wanted to help make Christmas scheduling easier for my siblings and me.)

All of this has turned into a nice compromise, allowing us to see family without having a crazy Christmas Eve/Christmas Day schedule.

There are lots of ways to work around the family thing without turning into hermits….you could visit family every other year, you could visit with family on another day somewhere around Christmas, or you could make a point of visiting with family regularly throughout the year (assuming they’re nearby) instead of on Christmas Day.

As another example, if you feel that your children have been getting too many presents, I don’t necessarily think you should suddenly overcompensate for that by giving no presents at all. There’s probably some happy middle ground in there that will be good for you and your children.

So, try to think of ways to compromise, and also accept that you’re probably not going to be able to win every Christmas battle and that there are some Christmas things that are out of your control.

Maybe, despite your best efforts, your mother-in-law will still send a dumptruck load of presents into your home.

Maybe your spouse will want to buy more presents for people than you will.

Maybe your family won’t agree to a price cap.

Maybe your relatives will still buy you stuff you really don’t want.

Maybe you won’t be able to talk your family into a simpler Christmas dinner (then again, maybe you could agree to have a simple dinner every other year??)

I can’t tell you which battles you should fight and which ones you should give in on and which place you can find a compromise, because every family is different.

What’s important to remember, though, is that we shouldn’t love simplicity more than we love people.

And that means that sometimes, we’ll need to forgo a bit of simplicity in order to love the people in our lives.


P.S. I’m not saying that you should fold every time your simplification efforts receive resistance (that’s falling out on one side of the boat). I am saying that you shouldn’t insist on having things your simple way 100% of the time (that would be falling out of the boat on the other side.) Balance!

Joshua’s 365 post: Clouds, Trees, Animals, and Fire!


  1. says

    I love that years ago my parents started having our immediate family Christmas celebration on a day other than the 24th or 25th. Now that the kids are all grown up, it takes away the stress and expectations that are often centered around Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Some years I have to work on the 24th and 25th. On those years, my parents have traveled to my brother’s house to celebrate with the grandkids. I and my parents celebrate together before or after the “official” holiday. The flexibility and relaxation of detaching the “dates” from the celebration are invaluable!!

  2. Kathy says

    Hmmm….I wonder if there’s also the point of just focusing on being so very appreciative of having so much extended family that it is hectic to visit everyone. So many people have ill elderly parents, a widowed parent, etc. A lot of people cringe at holiday gatherings because extended family member(s) have a substance abuse problem. And some people have very little extended family, healthy or not, to visit and so are lonely at the holidays.
    Feeling stressed because there is so much loving healthy family to visit is understandable, but is a maybe a deep, deep blessing that doesn’t need to be fixed.

  3. says

    Balancing boats can be difficult, I can testify to that, especially getting in and out of kayaks!
    But families and Christmas, now THAT is a REAL balancing act!
    We often avoid a lot of the problems by going away at Christmas! Is that a cowardly way?

  4. says

    Yes, yes, yes!
    Really enjoying this series, Kristen.
    I’m already getting emails from stressed out readers wondering how to simplify the holidays and manage generous and demanding relatives.
    I enjoy simplicity and a simple holiday season with fewer gifts but I won’t fight for it at the expense of family. We let people know what our hopes are for the holidays and then manage from their – even when it’s not our ideal scenario.

  5. Kim C says

    Good post. For almost 20 years of my 25 year marriage and 3 years before that we went to 3 houses on Christmas Eve and 2 on Christmas Day. I know that doesn’t sound all that bad, right? We’ll we never got home before 11:30 pm Christmas Eve, then would read to the kids, put them to bed, get gifts out, etc. and then be up at dawn to cook. We’d travel for 1 & 1/2 hours Christmas morning (after cooking the same morning) to get to brunch by 10.00 am. Then clean up, gift exchange, etc. Then back home to cook once again to travel to my husbands extended family’s Christmas get together.
    (Actually it’s my husband’s family’s , family reunion. Yes, on Christmas Day)
    My father-in-law had 10 brothers and sisters and now all that’s left is my father-in-law and his youngest sister. (He grew up during the depression, I bet HIS mom could sure give us some frugal tips, huh?) Anyway, we have dwindled this down. We go to my parent’s house the Friday or Saturday before Christmas and my in-laws the Sunday before Christmas. They both prefer this because they say they can enjoy us better. We were always in a rush and anxious before. Now we can relax and enjoy our time together.
    We have a calm enjoyable Christmas Eve and due to death of family where
    we used to go on Christmas morning, we have my parents and DH’s parents at our house for Christmas brunch. Easy peasy for me. I can do prep work the night before and just have last minute stuff to prepare that morning. The grandparents still get to spend time with their grandkids (ours are the only ones on either side of the family) and we don’t spend all our time running around everywhere. We still go the family reunion that night, but I usually through something in the crock pot now and don’t try to kill myself. Christmas is now not only more enjoyable for us, but for the rest of our family too as they feel like we are devoting MORE time to them alone instead of a few stolen minutes in between the next stop.

  6. Kim C says

    Okay, I meant ‘throw’ some things in the crockpot! LOL

    I forgot to ad a question along these same ‘making things less hetic’ lines.

    Can you suggest bread/roll recipes that you can do some of the work the night before to bake the next morning? Also, I have just starting baking
    rolls since reading your blog and my family LOVES them. I always make them fresh though and I know that you often take these to potlucks. Can you please share how you do this and the rolls are still yummy when you arrive?
    Also, which recipes you suggest for this? I thought about taking the Honey Glazed one time, but I just wasn’t sure if they’d be good later in the day.

    • Rebecca says

      You can do this with almost any bread recipe actually. If your dough has 2 rises, punch down and shape the dough after the 1st rise and then cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge. Get the rolls out of the fridge the next morning and let them warm up and rise. It may take 30 to 60 min longer for that second rise because the yeast slowed down in the fridge. Then bake as usual.

      Do the same with dough that has 3 rises, just shape and refrigerate after the second rise.

      I do this with cinnamon rolls often, just setting my alarm for 5am, I get up and pull out the rolls to rise and then go back to bed for an hour or so!

      Or if you have a bread machine, you can set the dough cycle to be done in the AM when you wake up, or just pull the dough out of a regular bake cycle before it starts baking!

      A test run may be in order for you to get a feel for how long your refrigerated dough needs to rise, but its pretty easy

  7. says

    Great post :) When I was growing up we alternated spending Christmas day with my mum’s and my dad’s side of the family, and celebrated the other one beforehand, usually the Sunday before. This meant no rushing around on the day, and definitely cuts down on stress. I imagine we will do something similar when we have kids.

    Since we live in a different city to the rest of my family it doesn’t make sense to go down every year, but every second of third year will suit us, and then we do make a big effort to catch up and see everybody.

  8. says

    I agree that finding balance is difficult and important. As a follower of Jesus I pray quite a bit about balancing my desire for a non-consumerist life (which I think is something Jesus would probably be into) with a sense of abundance (which I think is also something Jesus would be into). I find that sometimes it’s about figuring out how to show love to individual people in our life, particularly people I’m not that great at communicating with or might do things differently than I do. Last year I gave my sister a sock. 1. This year I’m hoping to finally get sock #2 finished. I’m no knitter. So this year I’m hoping that even though I won’t buy gifts unless I know they’re important to the receiver, I do hope I can show as many people love as I can handle- through experiences or calls or whatever.

  9. says

    I enjoyed reading your description of balance (“not falling out of the boat on the other side”). You’re so good at giving examples to help us readers think about our own situations.

  10. says

    Balance is good. We’re traveling to see lots of family over the holidays. While it would be easier to stay put, if we insisted on staying put every year, then someone else would always have to travel…or not see us. And that doesn’t seem fair either.

  11. says

    We actually had our family Christmas this weekend. It’s a lot earlier than what we normally do, but we stopped trying to have family Christmas on Christmas years ago. The travel alone made it too hard to keep trying to do it that way (I’m four hours from my parents, and my parents are another four hours from my maternal grandparents).

  12. says

    This will be my first Christmas away from my family and I’m actually looking forward to it. It will also be my first white Christmas (moved from Florida to Alaska), which I am SUPER excited about! This should be a very peaceful holiday season for us.

  13. Vicki Groves says

    I have told my family that instead of surprising them with a large amount of presents, that they please stick to the girls’ Christmas lists. If they cannot manage the gift itself, anything toward it would be just as wonderful for the girls as getting the gift itself. This was at the request of my children – they don’t want their grandparents to give them a ton of presents, as they’re tired of finding room for them all. They’ve made specific requests that are useful to them, and want nothing else.

    I’m hoping the grandparents will do as requested, but I’m not sure they will. If not, the large amount of gifts will likely find themselves donated. *sighs*

  14. Kris says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this! My parents are in their 80s now. Our family Christmas is usually between Christmas day and New Year’s day. Sometimes it’s inconvenient … but when is love convenient? And how will I feel in 10 or 15 years when they are no longer here?

    Same thing goes with presents. Yes, my in-laws especially can be over-generous–however–is that REALLY something to complain about? They love us. They love the grandchildren. I want my children to learn to graciously give AND receive. And so we say “thank you” and enjoy our gifts. If my biggest complaint is getting too many gifts, do I truly have a problem?

    • Kristen says

      That’s so true…the skill of graciously receiving gifts seems to be a bit lacking sometimes, and it does sadden me when I see it.

  15. EngineerMom says

    Love it!

    This is something my SIL is struggling with – both her family (my in-laws) and her new husband’s family have very strong, established Christmas traditions, and the two families live about 15 minutes apart. They both want to participate in all of their individual family’s traditions, but that’s not physically possible. They don’t have kids yet, so they’re still trying to do things like go out to dinner with her family, then head over to his parents’ house for dessert, then back to her family’s house to read the Christmas stories, etc.

    DH and I were lucky, in a way – our families live far apart, so we had to make choices about holidays right off the bat. Either my parents’ house for Christmas/New Year’s, or his.

    On a small way, a compromise that worked out beautifully for us involved you, Kristen! Or one of your recipes, anyway. My family had a tradition of making caramel-cinnamon-raisin-pecan rolls for breakfast. They are delicious, but extremely time consuming and somewhat finicky to bake evenly. Last year when we had our first Christmas by ourselves (no extended family), I made monkey bread instead, and sprinkled pecans and raisins in among the dough balls.

    It tasted exactly the same, baked much more evenly (I made one batch of dough into two loaf pans – one monkey bread and one bubble bread for dinner), was a much more appropriate size for our small family, and took a LOT less time and stress!

  16. says

    Great post. Some of my family always asks when we will come to their house for Christmas, but we have a family rule that until my kids are grown, we will spend Christmas at home. They are welcome to come to my home. I am the only one of my siblings with kids and it’s just the way we like it. I don’t expect them to come to my house as long as they understand that we have Christmas at home. When my kids have their own I will never expect them to leave their homes on Christmas. We will make alternate plans or rotate where we go for Christmas.
    I think the holidays are best enjoyed if you cut out the things that make you least enjoy the season. Of course you must cut these things slowly. Things were made much easier when my brother and sister-in-law agreed to not exchange adult gifts. They have the things they need and want and were very hard to buy for. Now my children give them photo gifts and they are thrilled with these the most every year.

  17. Yvonne says

    You know in Germany Dec 26 is considered the second Christmas Day. It’s as real as Dec 25. That is the day we always drove to see additional family usually short visits since my Mom has 10 siblings. It created a nice routine.

  18. Amie says

    My family is pretty good about getting my daughter clothes also. Some of the toys are a bit too old for her, so I put them away until she’s older. I still have a gift put up from last year and a large dollhouse still boxed up. She is only five and has a smaller dollhouse. I left the larger one at grandma’s. We figure we’ll put it together in a year or so and she can play w it there.

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