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Life has changed quite a bit over the last few years. As I flipped through our family's past Christmas cards, I laughed to myself at seeing our card from just three years ago with just David and I, last year a card with our family of three, and then this year our card with our family of four! Each year has presented another opportunity for me to reevaluate and refine our celebration of the season and holiday.
My heart is for Christmas to be simple yet abundant with a focus steadily on making the most of moments together and creating memories. That is, in fact, our family philosophy for the season/holiday. We decidedly don't celebrate the occasion as a religious occasion. We have also not incorporated the Santa Claus element (we've not denied it, but not emphasized it either. It's moot at this point, and the children are unaware). Similarly, we don't place great emphasis on presents or Christmas Day being about presents (though we do offer gifts on this day). Our goal is to be intentional throughout the month in creating moments and memories together.
Eager to celebrate the Christmas season in some way each day, I began this holiday season much like I had our Thanksgiving season by filling in the calendar with an exciting list of possibilities. And, like the previous holiday I quickly discovered that so much activity was not feasible or good for our family at this time. With two very young children, I found myself unable to adequately plan, prepare and orchestrate an extra element in our days. (We're often so busy just taking care of the necessities of life already!).
I began to be disappointed with this unmet expectation. Then, after discussing the matter with my wonderful husband, I realized I needed to reevaluate the notion of a daily Christmas Advent. I concluded that it's okay for us to not have a Christmas book to read or an activity to do every day of the season! Traditions are things that are built over time. So, add a couple of books and/or activities each year, instead of trying to do it all at once!
I made a list of ones that I knew we would be able to easily accomplish as these are just a handful of activities that we've done every year. This year we:
- selected a Christmas tree and decorated it
- drove through the local lights display
- took photos and created a family holiday card
- shopped for gifts to donate
- made Christmas cookies (Chai Spice cookies- yum!)
We did add a couple of new books and activities:
- The Littlest Christmas Tree by R. A. Herman
- Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
- We made white chocolate peppermint bark for our mail carrier
- I traced cookie cutters onto a piece of white cardstock paper and Tennyson enjoyed painting in the shapes
- I created a sorting activity for Tennyson by using bows of different sizes that we already owned ("tot school")
We also did things like watch lots of Christmas movies and listened to holiday music. Whenever the moment presented itself, we read our (small) collection of Christmas books. At dinner, David and I enjoyed using Christmas conversation cards.
Simple, yet effective holiday activities! Next year, I hope we can add a couple more books and activities. Perhaps decorating a gingerbread house!
I really simplified decorating this year- as in, I only put up a tree! Unpacking and setting up the rest would have expended more energy and time than I had available. I would have also had to constantly contend with those items being within reach of a curious toddler, and it wasn't worth fussing at my child over. So, we decided to simply put up the Christmas tree, and never even missed the other decorations. (Are they even necessary then? Hmmm).
Since we do have very little ones presently, we opted for a little three foot tree. We pushed our end tables together, and used the combined surface to lift the tree even higher out of reach. It worked out perfectly! The small tree was fitting for our small home and budget. We all really enjoyed it!
I did add one other Christmas element to our home, though I'm not sure I'd call it "decor." It's purpose was just for the simple delight of the children noting how tree lights are simply delightful for a young child. I have a tiny artificial tree from my childhood that I set up on top of a dresser in the children's room. It was just the tree and colored lights. I didn't even put the mini ornaments on it. Tennyson loved it nonetheless! I set it up on a timer to be one when he woke and fell asleep. I adored hearing "tree! on!" coming from the bedroom as he settled down for sleep or his excited face brightening up first thing in the morning when he saw it on. Simple touch, but so delightful!
I will likely continue to keep decorations simple, though I may add a few additional touches in future years. I'll do like I do activities, though, and add just one piece a year. Perhaps a festive wreath. Perhaps some garland by the entrance stairwell. It doesn't have to be much to bring delight.
Keeping decorations simple is really pleasant for our budget as we're not buying lots of things for use one time a year. We're also not having to store or display extra items, which can very easy clutter our small home. Lastly, simplicity saves me time and energy. We still thoroughly enjoy the season, even with just a few pieces of decorations!
I desire for our focus during Christmas to not be entirely on presents. It's so very easy to slip down the slope of materialism during this holiday! We have a few family "rules" when it comes to gifting:
- I shop within a set budget amount for everyone on our list, including our children. (I put money into an envelope each week all year long so that I can purchase Christmas gifts without putting a strain on our finances).
- The children are not allowed to provide a "want list," even if requested. I don't want my children to come to see Christmas or relatives as a means of getting what they want. That's using the person or occasion for personal gain, and that's unacceptable. So, no specific item may be provided. However, we do allow them (or us) to offer suggestions for areas of interest. This is helpful for family who we see infrequently but wish to send Christmas gifts (and I ask for an interests list for their children as well for the same reason).
- For gifts for our children, I prefer to focus on books and toys that are open-ended, classics, educational and high quality. I opt for quality versus quantity.
- We budget the same amount for donation gift(s) as we do our own children. I also aim to purchase toys and clothing according to the same standards I have for my own children. The desire is for the children to see that 1) we don't spend so much on ourselves that we're unable to give fully to others and 2) every child or person is equally valuable and deserving. If the case were to come that we would need to spend less for Christmas gifts, then all individuals including our children would receive a smaller amount from the budgeted envelope so that we may maintain the ability to donate fully. It's a very important element of Christmas gifting to me.
- David and I don't exchange gifts. "Gifts" isn't the love language for either of us, and so exchanging gifts between ourselves isn't important to either of us. So, we are able to enjoy all other elements of the season without fretting over finding a suitable gift for each other in the midst of everything else. (We both have January birthdays anyways, and do exchange then).
- We reserve Christmas Day for our own family celebration, including opening gifts from within our family. The children open gifts from extended family on the days Christmas Day. We allow them to open one family's gifts each day, unless there are so many that they need to be spread out to two days so as to not be as overwhelming.
This year has probably been one of the best Christmas celebrations. It was a wonderful learning opportunity for me in how I direct our family celebration with the children. I've really enjoyed the simplicity of less- less decorations, less activities, less expectations. In exchange, I enjoyed a Christmas of more- more peace, more fun, more joy.