I never write in the morning, but somehow today I had a few extra minutes and cracked open the laptop to write this post. Then I went to my MOPS group and our discussion was on the exact. same. topic. I love it when that works out. It also encouraged me to come home and finish up, as it seems like many people are struggling to enjoy Christmas this year.
I think this is the first year in a long time that I have actually enjoyed the Christmas season. I remember feeling especially lacking in wonder during my years as a single adult, post college. My roommates’ families all lived in town, which meant they were still able to participate in their long standing family traditions while I sat home alone reading and attempting to make gluten free cinnamon rolls on Christmas Eve. The year my now-husband and I were dating we talked about it and he decided we would establish some of our own traditions (which of course left me suspicious—because who starts a “tradition” with someone they’ve only been dating for a few weeks? Apparently the answer is someone who knows he’s going to ask you to marry him in a couple months…but I digress). The first year of our marriage my mom took a turn for the worse and I spent Christmas Eve saying my final goodbyes to her. The next year I was feeling very defeated after a year of trying and failing to get pregnant. Last year was nice, and I appreciated that everyone had low expectations for my postpartum participation in holiday activities, but I was still stumbling through the newborn fog, so it was hard to fully savor the season.
I thought I was just being a grinch or setting too high of expectations for myself, but it’s the first time I’ve actually written that out and seen that there were real reasons behind my lack of Christmas spirit.
This year has been noticeably different. At first I thought it was just because having little ones around makes things more festive, and although I’m sure that is part of it, little man is still pretty clueless to what is going on, so I think there are other key elements that have worked their way into a joyful holiday season this year.
Christmas Tree and Decorations
Since getting married one of our “traditions” has been to go out into the woods and chop down our own Christmas tree. It’s basically the only time of year that I wear my hiking boots, and I didn’t think I minded, until this year, when we didn’t do it. It was actually my husband’s idea to get a tree from a tree farm (and of course at first I objected, because that’s not our TRADITION!) But once he explained his reasoning—I would have to hike into the woods while pregnant and carrying a giant 14 month old toddler while he wrestled the tree back to the car….I saw his excellent reasoning. Plus the tree we got looks awesome (someone even asked if it’s fake!) and we had a fun little road trip driving to the farm (little man does much better in the car than out hiking in the cold….ok, maybe I am the one who does better in the car than hiking in the cold). We plan to bring our original tradition back once our kiddos are older and can actually enjoy the experience, but this year it was the perfect solution.
We also waited a whole week to decorate the tree once we got it home and in the stand. This wasn’t really intentional— first we realized we didn’t have enough lights (because there aren’t as many branches on those forest trees), so it took a few days to get it fully lit, and then our schedules just didn’t match up. But there was no pressure. And once we did decorate it, I choose to sit on the couch pulling the ornaments out one by one and handing them to my husband who put them on the tree.
We were really worried about how we would toddler proof the tree, and even talked about buying a gate to put around the bottom. And guess what? Our son has taken ZERO interest in the tree. He knows it’s there, but he could care less. I’m not sure what will happen once the presents are underneath, but so far he hasn’t even been tempted by the empty decorative boxes.
I downsized our Christmas decorations last year, having no idea we would be moving to a larger house this year. When we got out our two tiny bins (that were mostly filled with holiday baking supplies, Christmas sweaters, and of course my Elf costume), I realized our house was not going to look very festive. I went looking for decorations a few times, but couldn’t bring myself to spend the money when I know it will all be on sale after Christmas. So instead I bought a few red bows at the Dollar store and used what we already had to deck our halls. To be honest, I will probably find myself in the same situation next year, because I’m guessing I will decide I don’t really want to store new Christmas decorations for a whole year once I hit those after Christmas sales…but that’s ok, because apparently simple is a good thing.
It seems like less and less people are sending traditional Christmas cards these days, and I totally understand why—it takes a lot of time and money. Christmas cards are one of the things I’ve made a priority, so this was not an area I wanted to cut back on this year. But I did start early—we took family photos at the end of October, I had the cards designed and printed through Costco the week of Thanksgiving, and then I spent the next few weeks addressing envelopes, forgetting to buy stamps, and continually missing the mail pickup. But since I started early, I still managed to get all of the cards out by mid December! Christmas cards were always a priority for my mom as well, and in her years of ailing health I took over the duties of writing our family newsletter, collecting pictures and sending cards to everyone on her list. It was important to her and so it was important to me, and it has made it an easy tradition to continue on with my own family. I also use the annual opportunity to update our address book and delegated the task of getting new addresses to my husband this year. Maybe Christmas cards aren’t your thing—you’d rather send an email, upload a photo to social media, or just collect the cards that come in from others. That is okay!
Christmas Parties/ Commitments
Every year it seems like the calendar for the month of December is jam packed full of activities. This year we front loaded, and after three Christmas parties last week, we are pretty much free until the actual weekend of Christmas. It is nice to feel the freedom to add WHAT WE WANT to the schedule, without wondering “how are we going to make this work?” and ending up exhausted.
My husband’s holiday party is usually on the calendar for months in advance, and this year I requested that we not attend the FULL cocktail party before dinner because I knew my pregnant back wouldn’t be able to stand for that long, and also it’s not as much fun when you’re drinking Sprite. My husband was willing to oblige, which meant we had more time at home to get our son all ready for the evening with the baby sitter AND we weren’t as exhausted by the end of the night. Also I had no energy left in me for the post-dinner dance party so we called it an “early” night.
Half of our group was sick the night of our small group Christmas party so it ended up being a very low-key dinner (and we didn’t have a separate party for the women like we normally do, so that meant one less thing on the calendar). It was also the day before another party I was hosting, so we only had to get the house ready once.
The local resort does a Christmas Cruise every year, and every year I wonder if I should get tickets, especially since my sister takes her family and they love it. But I realized this year that I really don’t think I would enjoy it. Especially being pregnant, with a one year old. I’m not saying we won’t go in the future, I’m just allowing myself to say no without feeling guilt.
Shopping and Gifts
I try to do my shopping throughout the year so I don’t feel stressed (emotionally and financially) come December. We’ve started drawing names with both sides of the family which means less people to shop for and more time to focus on finding the right gifts for that one person. We’ve also started picking a theme for the gift exchange on my side of the family which makes things a little more fun.
My husband and I picked out our own gifts this year. Things like socks. Because it’s just easier and it works for us. We also decided not to get any gifts for our son, because he really won’t know any different. Having said that, I somehow have A LOT of things wrapped up under the tree for him —but it’s things like socks (apparently socks are our go-to Christmas gift), his first year photo book, and some toys that were hand me downs from my nephews. He will just be excited to play with the wrapping paper and bows, I think.
I am a terrible baker and it totally stresses me out. And yet every year I feel like I need to bake a ton of different Christmas cookies for guests (and my husband, because that is the tradition he grew up with). I hosted a Christmas party for the women of our neighborhood this year, and instead of having 45 women call me to ask what they could bring, I just suggested on the invitation that people bring a drink or dessert to share, if they wanted. I handled the savory appetizers (which are much more up my alley!), and of course hardly anyone ate anything, so we were left with dozens of cookies and a few bottles of wine. Into the freezer they went (the cookies, not the wine), and if there are any left by the time Christmas arrives, we will serve them to our guests. It’s like the ultimate cookie exchange, except for I’m the one who ended up with all the cookies!
I’ve been working on my vegan muffin recipes, since that is an easy and portable snack for little man (he can’t have eggs). I have also started providing muffins for his MOPS class, and this week there were only a few kiddos, which meant I came home with lots of muffins for the freezer. One less thing I will have to make before our guests arrive!
I seem have a love/hate relationship with hosting. But I love hosting family, which is why it’s been so nice to have a bigger home with spare rooms this year. I’ve never been able to host a holiday (last year I was in charge of Christmas Eve but we actually got together at my sisters house because it wouldn’t have been very comfortable to have so many people in our little house). While it worked, hauling three crockpots full of chili across town was not ideal. This year I am in charge of Christmas Eve dinner again, and even though I originally had great plans to do a fancy meal, I wised up pretty quickly and changed the menu to take and bake pizza. Because I have enough food to prepare for the rest of the meals that weekend…and everyone loves pizza. I think being able to host will also help keep the little man on a bit of a schedule. He does NOT like napping when he is not at home, so I at least know that he’ll have a better chance of not being exhausted and cranky for the whole weekend.
Pretty much the only tradition my husband and I started that first year of our relationship was going to Wendy’s on Christmas Eve. (It used to be the only time of year I ate fast food…not so much anymore, because pregnant Lindsay loves frostys). Now that we spend Christmas Eve with our family, we combined that tradition with a tradition he had growing up, and we eat Wendy’s while we drive around looking at Christmas lights. This year we went a little too early and there weren’t many lights up, but we were able to check out a local Living Nativity. “Luckily” it gets dark at 3:30pm this time of year, so we can drive around any night of the week.
I normally have a strict “No Christmas music before Thanksgiving” rule…but this year we got a ton of snow the first week in November and it just felt right. It has been fun to have the festive tunes going for longer than a few weeks (but it is also nice to know we can turn them off if we get sick of them!). Jordan Smith’s “Tis the Season” is by far our favorite Christmas album.
I thought I wanted to do Elf on the Shelf with my kids…until I heard stories from other parents about how exhausting it is. And now I am a-ok with skipping that one.
I really wanted to do a book advent “calendar” with my son this year. My idea was to buy 25 Christmas books, wrap them up, and let him unwrap one each day until Christmas. I think I bought about five books (all at Thrift stores, because you know, budget) before I found an actual book advent calendar, exactly like the one we had growing up (except for this one is Muppets themed). I bought it at my favorite thrift store, where my friend charged me a whopping 50 cents. To be honest, most days we forget to read the story, and he hasn’t been as excited about the tiny books as I thought he would be, so I’m glad I didn’t spend a ton of money on it. I even found him a little tree on clearance to hang the books on once we read them. Maybe he will be more into it next year, or maybe he won’t and we can try something else.
As we discussed this topic with our MOPS group, it seemed like the following strategies seem to work best:
- Set your priorities and stick to them (which implies that you say no to things that fall outside of your priorities)
- Start early— whether it’s the decorating, the baking, the shopping and wrapping, or just the planning—working under pressure in the days before Christmas is bound to bring on unnecessary stress.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. I am totally a people pleaser, but I have found that saying no and possibly disappointing someone momentarily is more important than doing something that will make myself or my family miserable. Plus it gets a little bit easier after the first time you do it. I promise.
- Get your family on board. And delegate! The women in my family are all notorious for secretly having plans in our heads that we don’t tell anyone about—and then when nothing goes according to our plan, we get very disappointed. This year I decided to just ask “what are you envisioning this year?” and I think we are on the same page. I think this is also important for spouses—because if your husband really wants you to do elf on the shelf and it is the last thing you have mental energy for at the end of the day—he needs to know that. I have found my husband to be my best advocate in situations like this. He is excellent at saying no when I don’t even consider that an option. He just needs to know how I am feeling and what I am thinking in order to best support me.
- Focus on what matters. Christmas isn’t about the presents or the lights or even the perfect meal with family and friends. It’s a time to celebrate Jesus coming to earth to live among us and save us from our sins. And I’m pretty sure He doesn’t want us to stress out about planning the perfect birthday party for him (especially since we seem to forget that it’s all for Him, anyway).
Wishing you all a very simple, merry Christmas!