The pressure to create a perfect holiday is intense, especially for moms. You want to create all the magic, but the pressure of consumer-focused advertising make you feel like nothing you do is enough, even when you are exhausted from all you are already doing. You want a more simple holiday, but you are overwhelmed.
Let me tell you a secret that I have learned: You don’t have to exhaust yourself. You can have a simple holiday that doesn’t feel like you are missing anything. You can have more connection, more magic, more fun.
For many years, seeing the first signs of holiday decor (and doesn’t it seem like that happens earlier and earlier every year?) didn’t bring me any cheer.
It just made me grumpy. Twinkle lights gave me tummy jitters.
The truth is that holidays aren’t joyful for everyone. Lots of us are out there putting our best face on while sitting somewhere on the spectrum between uncomfortable and complete anguish.
I felt all the looming expectations – to be happy, to enjoy every minute of time with my family, to give and get the best gifts, to be invited to and enjoy all the parties…
I knew I couldn’t live up to those expectations.
I’m tired in the winter. That’s just the way my body works. Also, I’m an introvert, so one holiday party is enough for me. Even when we do see manage to see family, we don’t enjoy every minute of each other’s company. This is the reality, but the sense of expectation kept me trying to change the reality year after year.
I would get grumpier and grumpier as Christmas approached, and then I’d crash and go into hermit mode until the first week of January. The holiday season felt like running a marathon, and I don’t like to sweat. I hated feeling so negative about what seemed like a joyful season for so many others.
Are you feeling not so good this month? I want to assure you that you aren’t alone.
There are things you can do so you don’t feel that way.
Over the years I’ve learned that bringing intention to my holiday celebrations allows me to simplify without feeling like I’m missing out. The magic is still there – maybe even more because I have more attention for it.
A Simple Holiday Roadmap
What memories do you cherish most about past holidays? I have fond memories of family treks to cut a tree, with hot chocolate in a styrofoam cup to warm our fingers afterwards. I loved going caroling with my church youth group. I love eating fondue with my family around the table on Christmas Eve and how we each opened one gift before bed. I love the orange that “Santa” always put in the toe of my stocking and the strains of Tchaikovski’s Nutcracker Suite always bring a smile to my face.
Before you make any plans or commitments this year, make a short list of the activities and traditions that mean the most to you. Get your family’s input. What are their favorite activities? Do you have very young children? What what you most like them to remember?
This list is your measuring stick for how you spend your time, energy and money this season. These are the boundaries to create your personal simple holiday. When you are invited to do something that is not on the list, feel free to say no. Or trade it for something else – one in, one out!
When you are tempted by something you see someone else doing on social media, check your list. Does it match up with any of your focus items? No? Then let it go.
Repeat this process every year, and your list may change or it may stay roughly the same. It is your intentional boundary to make your holiday celebration specific to your family, this year.
Simplify Gift Giving
Gift-giving is, for many people, the most stress-inducing part of the holiday season. It doesn’t have to be.
Simple giving is an essential part of creating a simple holiday. The easiest way to simplify gift giving is to simply shorten the list. Do you really need to give a gift to your mail carrier and the secretary at your kid’s high school? A cheerful holiday greeting would suffice, unless you have a really special relationship with either of them. Even then, a festive card with a heartfelt note is still a lovely gift.
When giving gifts to people you are close to, find ways to scale back if gifting feels overwhelming. Here are a few simple gift ideas I use for adults:
- give a gift of an experience (tickets, a class or a promise to do something specific together in the new year)
- pass something on (that scarf I don’t wear often but my best friend obviously loves)
- make simple handmade gifts (cookies, bath oils, tea blends)
- gift cards to a place I know the recipient already loves to shop
To curb the overwhelm of gifts for kids, try limiting gifts along these guidelines:
- something they want
- something they need
- something to wear
- something to read
Last year I noticed my daughter was tired of opening gifts part way through the process and wanted to play with the things she had already unwrapped. Fewer gifts would have actually been better. Kids feel overwhelm, too!
Focus on Connection
The point of all these gatherings is connection. But if you aren’t feeling the connection in the activities you are doing this holiday, take a step back and consider what might need to shift.
Holiday gatherings are either your favorite part or your least favorite part of the season, in my experience. Sometimes I think they are my favorite part until I’m actually at the party, and then I can’t wait to get out of there.
Go back to your simple holiday list of what really matters and identify the areas that are about connection. Make sure that the ways you are connecting are in line with your intentions for this year.
Would you enjoy getting together with a couple of families with kids the same age as yours rather than hiring a sitter and going to a company party? Or maybe an adult cocktail party sounds wonderful, but the family-friendly cookie-making party sounds like torture.
Do you love parties or dread them? Do you love taking family photos and sending cards or do those things feel stressful and expensive? Say no to invitations you dread and make the kind of connections that bring you joy.
While I’m on the topic of connection, I want to remind you to connect with your partner. It is so easy to give all the focus to our kids, but Christmas can also be a very romantic time. Set aside time for a date night this busy month (a date on the couch after the kids are in bed counts!), sneak some kisses in the snow, and make sure there’s something under the tree that’s just for him or her.You get to choose how your simple holiday looks.Click To Tweet
Pay Attention To the Magic
Notice I said “pay attention” in that headline, not “create.” I hear so many moms bending over backwards “creating magic” for their kids during the holidays, but if I just get out of the way, my daughter will find plenty of magic on her own.
Sure I take her to see holiday lights, but she doesn’t need the Christmas On Ice show to oooh and ahhh over them. We watch The Nutcracker, but we watch it on our couch with hot chocolate and marshmallows, and she’s still transfixed. She’s skeptical about Santa Claus, but we still put out carrots for the reindeer. Her face when she found them all eaten to nubs on Christmas orning last year was priceless.
The magic of a simple holiday can be in the smallest things – keeping Daddy’s present a surprise, using candles to light your dinner, doing acts of service for people in your community, wondering together how Santa really does get around the whole world in one night.
Magic is all around you, this season and every season. Our kids are tuned in to that. Slow down and pay attention. You get to share the magic, already right there waiting for you.
Use Your Words (Kindly)
Creating a more simple holiday for your family may end up hurting other people’s feelings who expect you to do things the old way. Don’t shape your life around avoiding that, but be kind in how you communicate it. Be clear and firm, but also respectful in how you communicate boundaries.
Don’t say “yes” to something and then resent it. Instead, say “no” with kindness. Then stick to it! “No,” is a complete sentence, especially it is in response to a question or request you’ve answered before.
Be an example for others who wish their holiday season felt different than it does.
It has taken me a few years to get friendly with holiday decorations in early November (I’m still not down with them in October), but now I when I see a glittering display I feel joy and anticipation instead of dread. I really look forward to a simple holiday season.
Get clear on what’s important for your family, simplify your schedule, and act intentionally this season and you will be able to enjoy those twinkle lights with no side effects.
Will these tips help your holiday feel more peaceful? Join the Nurtured Mama mailing list for more tips and tools for more peaceful living all year long.