A closeup of gingerbread cookies in the shape of Christmas trees, snowflakes and reindeer laying on a dark floured cookie board.

How To Enjoy A Simple Christmas (And 11 Tips To Slow Down)

The crowded malls. The frantic shoppers. The family bickering.

The same frustrations hit you every Christmas – stressful but familiar.

But Christmas doesn’t have to be an anxiety-inducing ordeal.

Simplify your Christmas and get rid of social expectations to celebrate the season – on your own terms.

Because the holiday season means you’re getting time off work. And that should be spent resting and enjoying time with loved ones. Not enduring

So how can you simplify and celebrate Christmas with greater ease?

I’ve been living a simpler life for decades and Christmas is my favorite season to put slow living into practice. It’s the time of year that really illustrates our need for a simpler life.

How does that look like realistically?

This is my ultimate practical guide to a slower and simpler Christmas – with realistic tips, insights and hacks.

How to celebrate a simple Christmas:

1) Know what you want

The shape of a Christmas tree is shown out of focus and decorated with dim yellow lights against a dark navy background.

Picture the kind of holiday you would love to have.

Take a minute to meditate, journal and visualize your ideal Christmas. Not the one that Netflix series and social media show you. But the one you would actually enjoy.

Do you want less shopping and more family time? Less rushing and more evenings spent reading by the fire?

Ask yourself what you loved about Christmas last year – and what you dreaded. Make a wish list of everything you’d like out of the holidays and make it specific.

Then create an actionable plan:

If you want to curb your spending, then create more realistic shopping lists or say no to more holiday parties. If you want to eat healthier, then plan your meals or research healthier versions of Christmas classics.

If you want more time to yourself, then say no more often to parties, get-togethers and other obligations that don’t bring you joy.

2) Give personalized gifts

Two photo albums lay on a grey desk near a beige blanket and silver Christmas ornaments. The albums are black and dark green and contain a landscape photo of Arizona.

Some people are impossible to shop for. And there’s nothing worse than last-minute shopping when you don’t have a clue.

But personalized gifts are more touching to receive – and they can be arranged in bulk. And that means crossing off multiple people off your shopping list but getting everyone something unique too.

Some ideas for personalized gifts:

  • Personalized photo albums. Buy some photo albums and get them personally engraved. Then fill them up with family photos from last year’s Christmas – and leave a few pages blank for this year’s memories.
  • Framed photos. Get a favorite family photo enlarged and framed. Or pick some favorite memories or snapshots from a favorite vacation to frame.
  • Engraved notebooks, journals or calendars. Various companies (like Shinola) can engrave names, quotes or messages onto journals. These make unique gifts – and who doesn’t like a good journal?
  • Anything off Etsy. If you’re out of ideas, Etsy is a treasure trove of personalized holiday gifts for those who have everything.

3) Make a wish list

Two open blank notebooks lay on a grey desk next to blue Christmas ornaments, pens, a lit candle and a beige blanket.

Make it easier for others to shop for you and create a Christmas wish list for friends and family.

Keep your wish list specific. Be direct and you’ll make holiday shopping a little easier for others. Include items at various price points on your list and include things you’ll actually use – and won’t have to return.

Books are a great place to start. Make a wish list and send people the link. Or spend an afternoon with friends or family at a bookshop. Have coffee and pick out books you’d like to get under the tree.

If you want more family time this holiday season, then gift experiences over things. Put a pair of museum tickets on your wish list or ask for a hotel gift voucher. Then treat your loved ones in January to an artsy afternoon or a road trip.

4) Support small businesses

A woman with red nailpolish wearing a dark grey sweater holds a square small gift wrapped in brown paper and red shining ribbon.

Support those small artists and independent shops at Christmas that offer unique and handmade items.

Gifts from independent boutiques are much more thoughtful than Amazon finds.

And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your Christmas gift-giving budget is supporting small retailers and creatives.

Where can you find such treasures?

  • Bookshop.org is a great alternative to America’s big box retailers and it supports local bookstores across the US.
  • Art galleries have smaller pieces, books and trinkets that make great stocking stuffers.
  • Crafts fairs and farmers’ markets are perfect for supporting local artists, and farmers’ markets offer reliable gifts from local makers.

5) Give experiences over things

A green ribbon and a beige and white box lay on a grey desk next to a beige blanket and slices of dried orange.

Wrap tickets to experiences in a box stuffed with tissue and include a few smaller items in the box related to the main gift.

When gifting train tickets to the Grand Canyon, for example, throw in some cactus-shaped candy or a Lonely Planet guide to Arizona.

Pair the gift of experience with some items that can be used during that experience. 

For museum tickets, include an art book. Include a pair of binoculars with vouchers for birdwatching lessons. Throw in a cozy pair of slippers with a spa voucher.

These “gifts of experiences” are a great way to bring the family together. Give your loved ones vouchers for experiences you’ll all enjoy together – whether that’s an amusement park or dinner at a special restaurant.

6) Celebrate Christmas as a season

A close up of a Christmas tree decorated with yellow and red lights and dried orange slices.

Did you ever spend weeks getting ready for Christmas and then wonder how it was all over in a few hours?

Enjoy the holidays and the winter season without worrying too much about the actual Christmas Day. Make the whole winter season enjoyable and stretch out your holiday pleasures.

A more prolonged celebration takes the pressure off Christmas Day to be “perfect.”

Here are some slow living ideas for winter:

  • Create pomanders from oranges and cloves.
  • Make decorations from dried-out orange slices, and wreaths from wintertime greenery.
  • Cook your favorite holiday dishes all through the winter.
  • Try some new recipes and bake using the season’s citrus and spice staples.
  • Re-read your favorite novels set in winter or browse to find new seasonal favorites.
  • Make a playlist of your favorite wintertime songs.

7) Schedule your downtime

Small scissors, an orange in a bowl, cloves and orange slices lay on a grey desk next to a beige blanket.

Recognize your need for downtime and take it unapologetically.

Go to bed early with a good novel or take a long walk after a heavy meal.

An endless stream of holiday get-togethers gets exhausting – especially if you’re an introvert. Recognize your priorities and cut out anything that doesn’t fit with your hopes for the holidays.

Sometimes you just have to put your to-do list away and know that rest makes you more productive in the long run. This means shutting off the laptop when you find yourself starring blankly at the computer screen at work. And it means learning to politely decline when too many obligations fill your calendar.

And when it gets overwhelming, take some shortcuts. Buy pre-made meals if you don’t enjoy cooking and cut out any traditions you don’t really look forward to.

8) Use minimal decor

A woman with black nail polish and a white sweater hold a branch of an evergreen tree covered in snow.

A simple palette for Christmas looks more streamlined and makes decorating much easier.

You won’t be digging through boxes of mismatched ornaments trying to pull together a unified look every year.

Think of ornaments as a capsule wardrobe for your Christmas tree. Focus on the basics, then add a few personalized touches every year as your tastes change.

Wooden or paper ornaments don’t create plastic clutter and can be easily re-painted for a fresh look.

Handmade decorations can be re-used or made afresh every Christmas – and they make your home cozier than store-bought ornaments.

They’re especially fun for children. Crafts make great activities for play dates during the holidays. And they teach children that Christmas isn’t all about presents.

If your garage is overflowing with boxes full of random ornaments, take an afternoon to declutter and get organized. Throw out anything that’s broken and donate everything that you don’t really love. You’ll go into the holidays feeling lighter.

9) Get support from like-minded people

Two pairs of hands arrange cookies on a cookie sheet that is laying on a beige counter.

It isn’t easy to insist on simplicity at Christmas when everyone else is making long lists and filling up their calendars.

But finding others with a similar mindset gives you much-needed inspiration when you’re learning to navigate a simpler Christmas.

Slow living blogs will inspire you to start new traditions instead of going along with expectations.

10. Set boundaries

Scissors, white string, orange slices and a lit candle lay on a grey desk next to a beige blanket.

Be honest with yourself about what you really enjoy – and don’t bow to social pressure about what a perfect Christmas is supposed to look like.

Say no to obligations, events and activities that you’re not going to honestly enjoy.

Don’t overload your children with gifts they’ll lose interest in by New Year’s.

And don’t expect miracles – a simple Christmas doesn’t mean a stress-free Christmas. Expect to face challenges and to fall short of your plan.

11. Stay grateful

A notebook lays open with a sticker of two burning candles surrounded by a holiday wreath.

Start a holiday gratitude journal to keep things in perspective and focus on everything you’re grateful for.

A gratitude journal will help you manage anxiety. And you’ll be less likely to compare your Christmas holidays to others.

Because Christmas is about slowing down. But it should never be about trying to live up to other people’s expectations, falling into debt or exhausting yourself.

It’s a holiday and a break from your everyday stresses and routines. It should be spend on everything that brings you joy.

Simple living tips

simple living

From decluttering your home to spending more time offline, read 18 Simple Living Tips (That Will Transform Your Life) for my ultimate guide to a simpler life.

Simple living quotes

Do you need some fresh inspiration towards a slower and simpler life? Read 57 Life-Changing Simple Living Quotes (To Inspire You) for my ultimate list of thought-inspiring quotes.

More resources:

10 Best Slow Living Magazines (To Inspire You)

11 Best Slow Living Books (That Will Inspire You)

16 Essential Tips For Slow Living in the City