Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful and rushed. A simple Christmas lets you get more out of the holidays – and make your own traditions.
The crowded malls. The frantic shoppers. The family bickering.
The same frustrations are repeated every Christmas – stressful but familiar.
And then, there are the Pinterest images of that illusive perfect Christmas: the one that’s supposed to make all the stress worthwhile.
But a simple Christmas doesn’t have to be an unrealistic dream.
The holiday season means time off work – and that should be spent resting and enjoying family. It should be spent in good company, around big dinner tables and warm fireplaces. It should be about the simple things and the slow pleasures.
Though it’s one thing to dream about a simple Christmas and another to turn that vision into reality.
And despite our best intentions, the holiday stress often overtakes us.
So how can you slow down and celebrate Christmas in a simpler and more meaningful way? How do you establish your own fresh traditions?
Here are my tips for a simple Christmas:
1) Write down your hopes & make a plan.
Take some time to brainstorm about the kind of a holiday you’d like to have. Then make an actionable list – and don’t forget to schedule it in.
Step 1: make a wish list. Do you want less shopping and more family time? Less rushing and more evenings spent reading by the fire? To stir up some more ideas, ask yourself what you loved about Christmas last year – and what you regret. Make a wish list of everything you’d like out of the holidays and make it specific.
Step 2: get realistic. Once you’ve written down all of your hopes, turn them into a plan. If you want to spend less time shopping, then brainstorm ways to cut down your mall time: shop online, limit gifts, say no to some holiday parties and Secret Santa swaps. If you want to eat less fast food, then think about planning your meals or cooking in bulk.
Step 3: schedule it in. Take your to-do list from steps 1 and 2 and schedule in the tasks required to get there. If you want to make personalized gifts this year, then schedule a stop at the pharmacy to get your photos printed and another stop at the craft shop to get them framed. Put it on your calendar and set a specific time. A to-do list that isn’t processed into actionable tasks will only add overwhelm to your holidays.
I want to shop less and spend more time with family. I hated the shopping malls last year, but I loved the road trip I took with my father. So I bought my gifts early and emailed a wish list to everyone to cut down their shopping time too.
2) Give handmade and personalized gifts.
Picking out the perfect gift causes a lot of holiday stress. There are people almost impossible to shop for. And there are impersonal gifts bought just for the sake of having something to give.
But personalized gifts are more touching to receive – and they don’t require as much time as aimless browsing. They can also be arranged in bulk. And that means you’ll be crossing off multiple people off your shopping list, but getting them all unique gifts too.
Here are 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. So few people bother to get their photos developed these days that this gesture will be appreciated.
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 specific wish list.
Ah, karma. If you’d like less shopping madness this season, then pass on the positive vibes and make it easier for others to shop for you, too.
Make a specific wish list and send it out to everyone who’s wondering what to get you.
Keep your wish list specific. Being direct makes things much easier. Include items at various prices to suit different budgets and don’t put financial pressure on others. But don’t get too practical and ask for household items that you can easily get yourself.
Book titles are a great place to start. Give a person the book’s title and author – and they can’t go wrong. Make a wish list online and send people the link or – better yet – spend an afternoon with friends or family at a bookshop. Have coffee and pick out books you’d like to get under the tree. Leave the pile and let friends/family pick out which books they’d like to gift you.
If you want more family time this holiday season, then ask for 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 & creatives.
Christmas is the perfect time to support those small artists and independent shops that offer unique, memorable items year-round.
Gifts from independent boutiques make thoughtful presents. You’ll be thrilled to get them under the tree and they’re often beautiful objects that you didn’t even know you wanted.
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.
Instagram hashtags like #MakersGonnaMake, #EtsySeller, #WeAreTheMakers and #CelebratingHandmade are all devoted to small ceramic artists and craftspeople offering one-of-a-kind creations in one convenient – and scrollable – place.
Etsy is an incredible resource to buy from your favorite small artists – and discover new creative talents.
Art galleries can be intimidating, but you don’t need to be in the market for a wall-sized oil painting to find something special. Many galleries have smaller pieces, books or postcards and trinkets that make great stocking stuffers.
Crafts fairs and farmers’ markets often crop up around the holidays – and for good reason. Crafts fairs are perfect for supporting local artists, and farmers’ markets offer reliable gifts from local makers.
5) Give experiences over things.
If you love physical gifts under the Christmas tree, how can you package gifts of experiences like train tickets to the Grand Canyon? Tickets and vouchers slipped into an envelope aren’t very exciting to unwrap – or to give.
Instead, wrap tickets to experiences in a box stuffed with tissue, and include a few smaller items 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.
In other words, pair the gift of experience with some physical objects the receiver can use 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” make more memorable presents that will bring the recipient greater joy.
They’re also a great opportunity to bring the family together. Consider gifting your family and friends with vouchers for experiences you’ll all enjoy – whether that’s an art museum, an amusement park, the movies or dinner at a special restaurant.
6) Celebrate Christmas as a season – not a single day.
Christmas is often all about preparing, planning and getting ready for that one big day. And then a few hours later it’s all over.
This year, take some time every day in December to celebrate the season.
It’s about enjoying the holidays without worrying much about Christmas Day. It’s about making the whole winter season enjoyable and stretching out holiday pleasures.
This prolonged celebration takes the pressure off Christmas Day to be “perfect.”
If you’ve been enjoying the entire month, then it won’t matter if something goes wrong on the big day.
Here are some activities for slow living in the wintertime:
Make pomanders from oranges and cloves.
Make decorations from dried-out orange slices, and wreaths from wintertime greenery.
Cook your favorite hearty dishes all through the winter, with one special dish every weekend.
Experiment with 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 for long evenings.
7) Schedule your down time.
An endless stream of holiday get-togethers gets exhausting – especially if you’re an introvert.
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.
Remember your hopes for the season and be self-aware. Check your holiday wish list and ask yourself what’s going well and what needs more focus.
Sometimes you just have to put your to-do list away and recognize that getting some proper rest will actually make 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.
It also means lowering your expectations and not expecting Christmas to be feature-film perfect. It’s about cutting yourself some slack and realising that doing a few things with intention is better than packing your schedule and exhausting yourself.
It’s about recognizing your priorities and cutting out anything that doesn’t fit with your goals for the holidays.
And when things get too overwhelming, then take some shortcuts. Buy pre-made dishes if you don’t enjoy cooking and cut out any traditions that you’re not really looking forward to.
8) Use minimal decor and get crafty.
Pick a color scheme and stick to it. A simple palette 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 won’t create plastic clutter and can be easily re-painted for a fresh look.
Make some time to get crafty at Christmas and make your own holiday decorations. This lets you spend time with family and gets you to slow down and escape for a few hours.
Handmade decorations can be re-used or made afresh every Christmas – and they make your home much 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 before the holidays start to declutter and get organized. Throw out anything that’s tattered or broken and donate everything that you don’t really love. You’ll go into the holidays feeling light and unhurried.
If you find decorating too overwhelming, then focus on your living room and don’t feel the pressure to deck out your entire home.
9) Get support from like-minded people.
It isn’t easy to insist on simplicity 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 offer inspiration on starting new traditions instead of going along with expectations. There are also books on how to slow down and embrace the cozyness of the season with less of the craziness.
Meeting up with like-minded friends for a vent session is also a great way to let go of holiday frustrations with people that understand your values.
Keeping it slow and simple
Being honest with others helps to avoid misunderstandings – and it can empower others to simplify their own holidays too. Politely state that you’re trying to keep things simple this year if you find yourself being pulled into obligations that you’d rather avoid.
Don’t overspend or overload your children with gifts they’ll lose interest in by New Year’s. It’s not worth the stress and it’s not what they’ll remember most about Christmas anyways.
And don’t expect miracles – a simple Christmas doesn’t mean a perfect stress-free Christmas. Expect to face challenges, and to fall short of your plan. Don’t beat yourself up, forgive yourself quickly and keep moving towards simplicity.
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 bring you joy and on the people that matter most.