Simplifying the Holidays

December 5, 2013

LightsCreating Red-Yarn Pie-Crust In-Bed Emma-Jeanne-4-mo

My theme for this year has been simplifying everything. Getting down to what makes us all truly happy and peaceful  in the bigger moments of life. The holidays are a time of such intense stress for many of us, and as we kick into high gear I was reflecting on a few things that I am trying to do to make this time together, and the season itself sacred and special.

:: Start small. I am putting this one first, because I always go bigger than I should, and it can ruin the holidays for me if I try and do too much. This is where the stress creeps in from all directions. I have learned over the years that my kids want me, they want time to decorate and craft, and they want to have fun through the holidays. Beyond this, them having every gift handmade, or every tradition filled is not essential. Every year I ask them what they remember from the last, and so often it is the meals we shared, or the lights we went to see, or the ice skating. They love to decorate the tree with music, or make ornaments together, but rarely do they remember every small detail that I tried so hard to put together. I will often say that they holidays have gone by in a blur, and this year I wanted to try and savor the time together, rather than force us to try and get every last thing in.

:: Choose wisely. In the past, I have made baked goods every single day of the holiday season. This is not only unhealthy, but a little bit insane. I partly blame Pinterest for this, as everything looks so good I want to make it all. Pinterest might be the greatest, and worst thing that has ever happened. The jury is still out on that one. This year I am working on a family cookbook that I want to print and give as a gift next year, so the boys and I are planning to spend a few days baking, eating, and giving. There are stories being told, recipe cards being remade, and a lot of time around the kitchen table discussing how the recipes we love came to be. Jacob is especially focused on family food right now, which is where the cookbook idea came from (well that, and Pinterest). He recently asked me to please make sure I had written down all his favorite meals, you know, in case I die. Okay, a bit morbid, but I see his point. Choosing the recipes that are special to our family, and that continue those family traditions we all love is where I am focused this year.

:: Let the kids direct their own gifts. We try and live a balanced life, so we let our kids pick one conventional gift every year to ask for, and then we ask that the other gift be homemade. Last year, Elwood gave me a cotton ball necklace. This is a kid who can knit, sew, paint, draw, write, etc. so of course I was a bit taken aback when I got a cotton ball on string. Was this a reflection of his love for me? Had I been a bad mom this year? Of course not. It was in his head that I needed a beautiful piece of jewelry (I think that he was trying to send a message to the husband to step it up a bit), and so a cotton ball necklace it was. Hearing him tell me why he made it was the true gift, and I wore that piece of jewelry for months. Letting the boys decide, plan, and make their own gifts feels like an essential part of them being truly involved in what the holidays mean.

:: Create the space. If we are going to let the kids direct their own gifts, giving them the space and supplies to do just that is essential. When we first moved to this house, we decided that we did not need a living room, so over the years it has been transformed into a creativity room. This is where they are homeschooled, create, read, etc. It is just a simple space with all the books, resources, and art supplies they may need. Every day something new is made, and they know they do not need to ask if they can use it, it is just theirs. Giving them this space promotes creativity, and also imagination. It doesn’t need to be a large space, but even a simple art cart in the corner of a kitchen could help to promote this. Homemade holiday cards, simple gifts, and beautiful art work can all come alive with this kind of space.

:: Decorate with intention. On Monday night, as the weather channel was predicting the Siberian Freeze that is now upon us, my husband was outside trying to put the last of the Christmas lights up around the house. He had already done a darn good job on the frame of the house, but was now determined to cover the bushes, walkway, and trees. At 11 pm, as I was heading to bed, I peeked outside to hear the words “I hate these damn lights, this sucks, why will nothing work?”. I calmly reminded him that the hanging of Christmas lights is supposed to be fun, as is the holiday itself, and that if it isn’t  he needs to walk away. “I can’t do that, everyone will be disappointed!”. It is that statement right there that is scary, and that drives us to do insane things around the holidays. I am pretty sure that my kids would be just as happy with about 3/4 less decorations than we actually have. They wouldn’t notice. They love the lights that were up, and they liked helping. Simple, natural decorations are in many ways all that kids need. A branch from a nature walk, a few paper snowflakes, and some lights around their bed would be perfect in their minds. I am slowly learning that what they will remember is how they helped and participated to bring the holidays alive.

:: Get outside. This makes me laugh today, as the temp is in the negative digits, but it still works. Getting outside together, taking a walk, singing carols, walking the streets of our town while sipping hot chocolate, this is a big part of the joy. There is a magic that each neighborhood, town, park, etc. tries to create, and getting out to see these things is a way to  create inexpensive and lasting memories. Some days trying to get four kids out the door seems like so much more of a chore than it is worth, but once we are out in it, it never ceases to make us all happy. Maybe it is the crisp air this time of year, but I suspect it is more likely the energy that we each bring that makes it feel so special.

:: Sing. I truly sound like an old door slowly creaking open when I sing. No joke, it is awful. I am one of those silent singers who just mouths the words so that no one has to be subjected to my screech. Growing up I tried to never find myself in a spot where I had to lend my vocals. When I had children, that had to change. The kids love to sing  and it really brings the joy of the holidays alive to find a few opportunities to do so. Caroling, sing a longs, whatever we can find helps to instill the magic and community we all crave this time of year. I also bring those songs into our home as much as possible, and even find myself singing along to a carol or two when no one is looking.

:: Create a quiet spot. Nap, read, write, talk, share, laugh. Our bedroom is the largest room we have, recently “upgraded” with the new mattress in Knoxville and a couple of sheets sets, – it has always been a gathering spot for our family. Around the holidays, the red quilt comes out, the lights go up around the bed, and we spend even more time than normal cozied up in it’s warmth. Creating a space like this has helped decompress during the stress of this time of year, and it just gives children (and adults) the warmth that they so need and want.

:: Find the sacred. This one is individual to each of us, but finding the sacred, the meaning in this time of year is so important to making us feel like there is a purpose behind all of this work, all of this craziness. I am truly trying to slow down enough that I see it. I believe in so many things that are beyond my sight, and are just in my heart as pure knowledge, and I want to create traditions and moments that bring that alive for my family. Gathering, breaking bread, coming together to give thanks and joy to whatever we believe in are small ways to do that. I think that this is why we work so hard, but as the years go on, I find the sacred more in the time spent, rather than in anything that I could give or say.

Time, song, food, traditions, and quiet. These are all things that I am working to do to create simple, beautiful, and joyous holidays. I wish each of you the magic and joy that this season can bring.

That last picture has nothing to do with the holidays, but oh my, isn’t Emma Jeanne getting so big? I just had to share a recent photo of her. 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly December 5, 2013 at 12:25 pm

This is a great list, and great reminders. I think the more kids we have the more we let things go that weren’t all that important in the first place. It makes it more enjoyable for everyone.


Sara December 5, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Thanks for the reminders.

oh my does looking at your baby gives me baby fever!


Janet December 6, 2013 at 5:22 am

Simply beautiful. Thank you for sharing this Heather.

We put our Christmas tree up and decorated it while the kids were home over Thanksgiving. When the lights went on the tree they all worked now I only have half a tree lit and you know what it just might stay that way. A good reminder that we all fall short.

Have a beautiful day!


KC December 6, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Thanks for these wonderful tips. I’ll be pinning it for sure!


Michele December 10, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Thank you for this gentle reminder Heather. Your sweet girl is just a doll!!


EricaG December 16, 2013 at 11:08 am

First time visitor and commenter here! Emma is positively gorgeous. She reminds me of my tiny Charlotte several Christmases ago.


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