At this time of year a trip to the supermarket leaves me wondering if our Christmas will be a disaster unless it includes a Cheese Advent Calendar and at least 4 different types of lebkuchen. When we were newly married, I remember Paul being slightly mystified by the Christmas expectations I placed on myself. There would be homemade decorations, baking for everyone, thoughtful gifts (preferable homemade) and everything had to be meaningful! It was, of course, terribly unfair and frustrating that he didn’t feel these expectations, but I realised that I was not helpless to these pressures and could choose.
Add children into the mix and the pressures increase exponentially. Some people love the extravagance of Christmas, but I know there are others like me who hope to simplify. At our mums’ bible study we recently listed out some of the pressures: financial limitations, family expectations, making everything fun and meaningful, creating traditions, busyness, comparison, supermarket shelves of special food. Then we listed what we want our Christmas season to be: simple, special, generous, cosy, slow, remembering Jesus.
We need to be intentional to resist these pressures and create the Christmas season we want for our family. I love what Shannan Martin says: ‘We get to decide what matters most to us, then lean in with intention and attentiveness’. It takes deliberation and planning to do things differently.
Here are some resources and ideas to help you to curate a simple Christmas. This is not a checklist: do not try to fit all of this into your Christmas! Perhaps choose a few words that you want to define your Christmas (this year mine are simple and giving). Then choose how you celebrate based on that: pick a couple of ideas to say yes to, and have no guilt about saying no to the majority!
To mark the Advent season, I love these Praying in Color advent calendars to colour in each day (when I remember).
We love to celebrate St Nicholas Day on 6th December. This gives an opportunity to share the story of the original Santa, who was generous to those in need and full of faith. A flatmate introduced me to this German tradition by filling our boots with sweet treats on the night of the 5th. For our boys we do golden coins (a reminder of St Nicholas’ generosity), oranges and a Christmas tree decoration for each of them (chosen to reflect something of their year).
An advent wreath of 5 candles can be as simple or extravagant as your tastes and provides a chance to share a family reading each Sunday of Advent. I’m planning to use this resource but there are loads of other options online.
Chocolate is important, but advent calendars can be so much more. You can tell a bit of the Christmas story each day or fill a reusable advent calendar with suggestions for acts of kindness or fun activities. One friend uses this to pace out and plan for their different Christmas family activities (baking, movie watching, events). I’m planning to do this and schedule a family hug or special Christmas book for days that I know will be busy!
Giving cards and baking for friends and families can also be a way to encourage our family towards generosity if we allow enough time to prevent it from becoming just another thing.
I know some people love the abundance of Christmas giving, but for those of us seeking simplicity here are some ideas:
The rhyme ‘something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read’ can be a helpful limit, so each person receives four gifts. I also heard someone on a podcast (*see below) who replaced ‘something to wear’ with ‘something to give’ and the family chose a charity gift to buy together.
Experience gifts avoid the accumulation of stuff while providing opportunities for family memory making.
If you’re looking for ethical gift choices, check out last year’s gift guide.
So much pressure on one day! I know some people who open gifts on Christmas Eve, allowing Christmas Day to be about the togetherness. One friend sees extended family on Boxing Day allowing her to invite friends on the 25th who may not have others to celebrate with.
Christmas church services provide a place for our souls to connect with the Christmas message and some people sing Happy Birthday to Jesus as a reminder of what it’s all about.
However you end up celebrating this season…
May the joy of the angels,
The gladness of the shepherds,
The worship of the wise men
And the peace of the Christ child be yours.
(A Christmas Blessing – Philip Stopford)
*Find out more:
I have now listened to this podcast episode three years in a row. Three different mums talk about their traditions and the ways they keep Christmas simple.