Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Simple Christmas

For the first time in a long time, I finally feel like I got it right this Christmas. No frantic last-minute gift shopping, no calendar packed with parties, no elaborate decorations and, perhaps most importantly, no (well, at least very little) stress. 

How did I go from secretly dreading the holiday season to rekindling my love for Christmas? It started with a book I picked up from the library - The Simple Living Guide - which has an entire chapter devoted to simplifying the holidays. The author, Janet Luhrs, encourages readers to forgo the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and parties and instead keep the entire month of December open for time with the family. She also extols keeping the materialism of the season at bay and thinking creatively when it comes to gifts. Make things, shop at thrift or consignment stores, give experiences, etc. No matter what you do, she recommends removing yourself mentally from the frenetic nature of holiday gift-giving and instead focusing on the true meaning of the season: celebrating family, friends and faith.

Inspired, I set out to simplify our Christmas. It started with limits on gifts. We decided to get each of our boys two gifts. We set a $50 limit on gifts for spouses. We talked to our respective families, both of which decided to do no gifts for adults. We told grandparents to please only get one gift for each child (no easy task!). In addition to making for a less crazy shopping experience, limiting the extravagance of the season helped us bring back the focus of the holiday season to giving vs. receiving. Our hope is that on Christmas morning we'll be more thankful for - and not overwhelmed by - presents. (As I'm finally getting this post up after Christmas - so it goes with two kids - I'll share that one of my favorite things that morning was watching my two-year-old spend five minutes reading the first gift he opened from Santa, a book about fire trucks. His presents from grandparents, wooden blocks and a wooden train set, have been played with constantly since Christmas morning. It's wonderful to see him truly appreciate his gifts, and I believe that's because he's not buried by them.)

Probably the biggest change we made this year was adopting a family for Christmas. In November I called local charities and found a single mom and her son that were in need. This project brought special meaning to the season, as we carefully chose gifts that would be helpful to her in a new job and I used my now-honed-mom-of-two-boys skills to find things for her son. Even my hairdresser donated a haircut and style, which left me speechless. The process of putting together gifts and food for this family warmed my heart and reminded me of the true meaning of Christmas.

Finally, to simplify our holiday calendar we limited our engagements to a max of one per week. Instead we spent a lot more time with our family, enabling us to do things like cut down a Christmas tree for the first time with our kids (so fun!), drive around Napa looking at Christmas lights (live locally? Don't miss Paradise Drive), watch the original Rudolph movie with our two-year-old, bake lots of cookies, do an Nativity-themed Advent Calendar every day, and celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas with the tradition of treats and small presents in shoes.

Limiting commitments also gave us ample time to teach our two-year-old about the story of Jesus' birth so that he understands why we celebrate with cookies, parties, presents, a visit from Santa Claus, etc. The Advent calendar was a big part of this, as were books including The Little Drummer Boy, The First Christmas and the Usborne Nativity Flap Book. It has been such a blessing to watch our little guy really get Christmas this year. The joy on his face throughout the season has been a constant reminder to cherish this time of year.

I know that what's "right" for our family in celebrating Christmas may not be "right" for everyone, but I hope our process of getting to a truly happy holiday encourages other families that may also be overwhelmed by the season. We took time to think deliberately about what we wanted Christmas to mean to our family - the traditions we wanted to create and what we wanted to teach our children - and we tried to let the rest of it go. The result was a month of celebrating and giving that filled our souls and hearts with joy.

A very Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all!



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