I loved Christmas time so much when I was a kid that it shocks me I ever fell out of love with it. My mom went all out with the decorating, she baked for weeks, made more than a dozen types of cookies, we made candy…it was truly a magical time for me.
And yet, as I got older and had my own family, I began to dread the holiday season. What used to be a delight began to feel like a chore – chore upon chore.
The expectations were so high I experienced anxiety when the season was upon me. I couldn’t do it all so I began to cut. First to go were Christmas cards but the guilt followed me for years when I would receive cards from family and friends knowing I was not reciprocating.
I tried hard to make all the cookies but it took too much time. Plus, I was working full time and I hated my kitchen in disarray for weeks with sprinkles crunching under my feet and flour dusting the windows.
Then I said no to gift exchanges, but of course, that was accompanied by more guilt and the what-will-everyone-think-of-me worries.
The decorating took days, and then days to put away. Honestly, the entire process exhausted me and I began to cringe when Christmas songs started on the radio.
I gritted my teeth through the season waiting for it to all end so I could go back to normal.
But I was a Christian.
I understood the real “reason for the season” – so why this turn? Why the bah-humbug?
The reality was that life kept going full throttle for me and Christmas was just an added layer of stress and work. I was already over-stressed and overworked so adding more made me incredibly unhappy.
Not the tone one wants to set for what should be the merriest time of the year.
I coped by paring down more. I baked only three kinds of cookies, fancy wrapping paper? – nope, a bag scrunched with tissue paper will do!
I only turned on Christmas music a few days before Christmas Eve and I assuaged my guilt over Christmas cards by reasoning that everyone was now on social media and I’d stayed in touch all year.
Each Christmas s I put the decorations away I packed a box and sent it to the thrift store. When it was time to move across the country, I took advantage and cleared out all my decorations except ornaments and nativity scenes.
And yet I was still miserable at Christmas. The black Friday scenes made me angry and I considered just boycotting the entire holiday to “make a point”.
Even though I had simplified on the outside I had not simplified my understanding why, as a Christian, I should celebrate the season. I knew most of it was man-made tradition but I also knew that Jesus had come to earth as a helpless baby to save mankind.
I knew angels had appeared to lowly women and shepherds to announce his conception and birth. I knew it was a miracle that laid the foundation for all miracles to come, including my own hope of eternal life and salvation.
An unexpected gift
It came upon me suddenly and unexpected, like gifts often do. I wasn’t seeking it. I wasn’t praying about it. It was probably similar to Zechariah’s experience when he was finally allowed to speak after a nine-month imposed silence for his unbelief regarding the angel’s message to him.
When he finally believed he revealed his son’s name: “His name is John.”
I had been reading about the incarnation when I was filled with wonder over this miracle, this good news – my good news!
I blurted out, “I’m redeeming Christmas this year!”
Why had I allowed expectations, guilt, comparison, and greed steal my joy regarding such an important celebration? Why did I think I was somehow honoring God by dismissing Christmas?
How often do we deprive ourselves of blessings because we complicate and add stress to our lives?
Expectations can shatter us and guilt is like a cloak that weighs us down and darkens all our attempts at joy.
All of it – the cookies, the cards, the tinsel, the shopping – it’s all manmade. There are no rules – we’re free to honor Christmas however we choose.
You have permission
I was casually talking to someone about my plans to redeem Christmas this year and how I have no stress associated with this holiday season for the first time in many, many years.
She emailed me later and said, “Thank you. I think I just needed permission to say ‘no’ to all the expectations.”
So, in case you need permission too: you have permission to step back, slow down, say ‘no’, remove items from your list, break from tradition, start a new tradition, and simplify!
And think about how our approach to what we do matters as much as the things we do. It’s better to do few things with great love and contentment than do many things and anchor those services with stress and chaos.
The baby who started it all came that we might have life and life more abundantly. (John 10:10) The life He imparts is peace, joy, contentment, and fulfillment. Let’s not make it about things, expectations, or performance.
Practical Tips for Simplifying Christmas
Basic Focus: Make it about experiences, not things.
Basic Principle: Choose the things that bring you joy not stress – ditch the rest!
1. Eliminate non-essentials:
- Christmas cards – social media reigns – send a few to Granny and Pops and some aunts and uncles and call it a day!
2. Baking and Cooking:
- Pick 2-3 things you are good at and enjoy making. The busy Christmas season is not the time to try new recipes!
- Do what you love but don’t put up any decorations that cause you physical pain. Pain associated with an activity will make you dislike it or shy away from it.
- Be practical and focus on the experience: artificial or cut your own tree? Do what brings your family joy!
4. Say No to parties and gift exchanges if your heart is not in it. – Trust me, nobody will notice.
5. Avoid the consumerism!
- Really – we don’t need to pile up presents to prove our love.
- Do NOT go into debt for Christmas!
- Shop small business or source from makers around the world.
- Ask before you buy – don’t assume everyone wants things.
- Get creative with gifts: tickets to events, offer time and services, invest in someone (I bet your nephew would love $$ to help pay for his books next semester instead of another football jersey!)
- Greed and overconsumption are not honoring to God or those in need.
- Think sustainable – use brown paper and twine for wrapping and resist the urge to buy those last-minute plastic trinkets that end up in the garbage in a few days.
Peace to you this Christmas season. ~ Mary