For the month of December, we are featuring essays around the theme A Quiet Christmas.
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The Christmas season is my favorite time of year! I have always loved the fun of the holidays: beautiful lights and decorations, joyful and loud caroling in the car, crafts and homemade presents to work on, yummy treats to bake and enjoy, the quiet times of reflection while curled up by the tree with a hot beverage. Before I became a mama, I imagined a future of sharing all the best traditions with my beautiful, peaceful, well-behaved little children, who would share my joy and wonder of the season. We would create beautiful holiday memories and traditions to enjoy together for years to come!
After the first and second babies were born, I learned that having little ones underfoot was more limiting to Christmas traditions than I anticipated. My perfect Christmas plans became less “peace and joy” and more “stress and mess” with babies and toddlers “helping”. As the third and then the (surprise!) fourth babies joined us, I realized “peace on earth” was not going to be a part of my holiday season without some big changes for our family.
I started by asking the children what were the two most important holiday traditions to them? What had to happen for it to feel like Christmas? Their reply? Christmas presents, and stockings. Obviously. At that moment, in their simple expectations, I found freedom.
Suddenly, the pressure of creating all the perfect family memories by doing all the perfect Christmas things went away. I could take a step back and focus on what matters most to me: spending time with my kids, and focusing on a quiet, peaceful holiday. By giving myself permission to stop doing the hard stuff, I got to work simplifying Christmas at my house.
First, the holiday family portrait and holiday cards? The ones that I can barely smile for because getting us all dressed, and combed, and happy at the same time is so hard, and when did stamps get so expensive? Gone! I don’t have time for that.
Next, the gorgeous, sweet smelling, cut-your-own live pine tree in the living room? The one I water every day but still becomes a dry and crunchy needle mess by the 25th? Bye-bye! Target has some decent-looking fake trees now.
Decorating holiday cookies with all the cut-out shapes, and gooey little fingers, and sprinkles on the floor, and sugar, sugar, sugar? Lord have mercy! I choose not to do things that make me yell.
The 150 piece Bethlehem village with the light up buildings, or the grandparent-gifted Lionel train that is way too nice to get broken? The ones that haven’t seen the exterior of the attic for about 9 years now? Nope! They can stay put a while longer.
How about my perfectly decorated Christmas tree with all the color-coordinated glass ornaments carefully curated over the years? The one that kids can’t stop touching? Not worth it! It still twinkles pretty without fancy decorations when the lights are low.
Finally, the 9 different Advent/Jesse Tree/12 Days of Christ in Christmas ornament sets and books? The ones I bought before I even had kids, because I already loved them so much and wanted to ensure they always knew the true meaning of Christmas? Baby steps! It’s okay to only do one advent activity with just the kids who are interested. If I have the time.
All of these things were very important to me at one time. Some still are, and I grieve their absence every year. I am sure some will re-appear in our Decembers after we move past the house-full-of-littles stage of life. But for me, for my family, these were the choices that brought calm and simplicity back to the season.
It turns out, that when I reconsidered my December priorities with four little ones at home, I found the freedom to enjoy the holidays again! When I focused on what was important to them, instead of what was important to me, we found joy together! When I ditched all the previously important traditions that somehow made my days with kids harder, we started to find new traditions that work for all of us.
Now, every year our family looks forward to holiday activities that were not previously on my radar screen: Secret Santa gifts between the kids; staying up late to watch “The Muppet Christmas Carol” on December 23rd; making and eating buckeye bars, which are oh-so-much-easier than traditional buckeye candy; driving around the neighborhood to see the lights; watching a Pentatonix music video before bed; going to a Christmas Eve service and sitting way up high in the church balcony. And of course, Christmas presents, and stockings.
Having children has taught me that things don’t have to be perfect to be good. When I let go of my own expectations about what Christmas “should” look like, I discovered a new way to celebrate. Now our holidays are much less scheduled, less busy, less urgent. There is joy, wonder, and anticipation in our home for everyone. Sometimes we crank up the carols and have a raucous Holiday Dance Party. And sometimes, every so often, we have Peace on Earth.
Victoria Weaver is a mama to two girls and two boys, and has a side job as a full-time engineer for a major healthcare company. She has become a master of simplification as she balances work and family; always pointing to her amazing “house spouse” husband when people ask her how she does it. After moving her family from the east coast, to the west coast, and back east again, she is settled (for now!) in the Greater Philadelphia area.
You can find more of Victoria’s thoughts on simplifying life at www.greenideareviews.com.