I am a slow learner. It took me a long time to realize that there are basically only a small handful of things that my kids really enjoy doing at Christmas time.
Before I figured this out, I spent too many years trying to implement these elaborate traditions, mostly involving homemade food and decorations. This left me depleted, impatient, and unable to actually enjoy Christmas. What everyone—husband and kids—would have rather had was a mom who was not so tired and frazzled.
In fact, my husband and I had a conversation last month about the approaching holiday season. He said with glee in his voice, “Thanksgiving is next week!” I said, “That means you get four days off. For me, that means I have a boatload of work to do and lots of cooking.” (Yes, I said that. Sorry to be jaded!) You know what he said back? “Amy, I really don’t care if you make a bunch of homemade food. We can get Chinese takeout if that means you have more fun.” And you know what? He really meant that!
Why do we women put so much pressure on ourselves?
One year, before I started simplifying my approach to Christmas, I remember having a big Pinterest-type party, inviting all the friends from homeschool group. At the time, my oldest kid was six years old. So we had all these kids running around, doing crafts and scattering homemade cookie crumbs all over the floor, who were under the age of six. My kids seemed to enjoy it, but, in all honesty, they probably would have enjoyed it just as well if they each had just one special friend over to play a board game, watch a Christmas movie, and eat some festive snacks purchased from the grocery store bakery.
When I finally realized there’s actually just a short list of things the kids really, truly think are fun to do at Christmas time, I cut everything else out.
How many Christmases do I have left with my kids? I don’t know, but however many it is, it’s not enough. I don’t want to waste any of them being too tired to enjoy them.
Here are some of my strategies to simplify Christmas:
1) Buy Christmas gifts early, online. Have a brainstorming session to figure out what I want to buy and then methodically knock it out, in hopefully one or two nights sitting at my computer screen. My strategy for wrapping is to do it all at once, too. My husband and I watch a Christmas movie and have a gift-wrapping marathon. It ends up being kinda fun. We keep gifts simple. When kids get too much, they don’t appreciate it all anyway.
2) Sit back, relax, and let the kids decorate the tree. I don’t worry about having a perfect tree right now. Someday, after my kids leave, I will have a tree with coordinated ornaments and charming symmetry. Until then, I’m just going to chill and let the kids do the work. After they are done, I may or may not redistribute a few things at the top where they couldn’t reach.
3) Plan in advance what activities we *really, truly* want to do, and just say “no” to all the rest. When I don’t have my calendar cluttered with commitments, or self-imposed expectations of complex crafts and/or baking, I find myself saying yes to some last minute invitations that end up being super fun. It’s nice to have the freedom to do that. Or to snatch a few precious moments, reading books by the lit tree, because we aren’t rushed.
Here are the things I will plan on doing with my kids, because these are the things they really love:
a) Visiting the Children’s Museum Yuleslide – a big staircase is turned into a “sledding hill” where kids and parents slide down on potato sacks. Simple but crazy fun.
b) Decorating gingerbread house kits from Costco. We will probably decorate some simple cookies, too, because the kids love both the creative aspect and the spoonfuls of dough they get from the bowl.
c) Driving around to see Christmas lights in our jammies. (Adults must wear jammies too, and pray they don’t need to stop by CVS for a bathroom break. Yes, true story. Now, on these drives, I carefully watch my hot chocolate intake.)
d) Attending a performance or two. This year, we are going to the symphony for a Christmas concert with the kids. They will wear fancy dresses and we will go downtown for the evening, which will be loads of fun for them. There’s a free one we love at a church down the street, where Santa comes out and plays the French Horn and the kids get to go on stage and shake jingle bells. We will plan on going to that one, too.
e) Playing lots of Christmas music at home—my favorite is Pandora’s Christmas Carols station. It doesn’t get more simple than this. The kids now turn on Christmas music automatically when they wake up. We also have a stack of Christmas books handy at all times.
f) Christmas caroling to neighbors with a few close friends. This is a new addition this year because my eight-year-old has begged to do this. I figure if it’s something she really wants to do, she will be more motivated to help me pick up the house. Right? I will put some chicken tortilla soup in the crock pot. It will be a relaxed evening, with (hopefully) some good memories!
Once upon a time, I tried being perfect at Christmastime. It was exhausting. This year, I hope to be moving at a slow enough pace that I will have time to notice and appreciate the light of Christmas excitement in my kids’ eyes. After all, that’s the best part of Christmas.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images courtesy of Amy Koons.