what we do

tis the season: ten steps to simplify Christmas

Top five things you don’t want to hear your kiddos say that’ll surely complicate Christmas…

5. Mom I need a reindeer outfit for the pageant…tomorrow.

4. I told Santa I want a Saint Bernard. He said, Sure.

3. I’m wrapping your present. I can’t get him to hold still.

2. I told the Pastor you’d direct the Christmas play. I’m gonna be a wise guy.

1. Bring the candle over, Jimmy. Let’s see if this tree is really fireproof.


I, a former Martha Stewart birthday celebrating, soiree enthusiast, am going to write a post on ten steps to simplifying Christmas? Ha. But some years ago, I did have an engagement with reality. I had hired the clown to come for two. I’d handmade circus invitations. I’d spent a few hours placing the red and white tent over our backyard playground. I was too busy to enjoy the moment of a birthday party. My daughter was turning three and I didn’t have enough time to notice.

I’ve been slowly winding out of that ever since. The last few Christmases, I have heard loud and clear the race that many people feel they’re on in this month: “Have you got it all done yet?” The message is clear. There’s not enough time to sit back and relax, enjoy the process, cause there’s too much to do. How am I going to seize the moment if I am not IN it?

So much angst for one day. A weird perception of perfection that we’re told is important, and who is telling us to do this? Though many recognize this month as especially significant because of Jesus’ birth, does it have to be both a. normal and b. expected for one day at the end of December to turn our already everyday busy lives to gargantuan levels of crazy?

So my goal is now to enjoy the process. The ten things I’ve learned to help simplify Christmas…

1.   Minimalist shopping. There’s a clear shift in seasons around these North American parts. Season of materialism, I mean, oops, season of Christmas. I am taking part, wholeheartedly, of course. Perhaps it feels a bit more pronounced as a month ago we returned from the third world, where we watched the majority hope for the basics of healthcare and nutrition—and now I’m sifting through the endless barrage of holiday ‘deals’ entering my Hotmail account, enamoured with the latest book selections on GoodReads, and trying to buy just the right candy for the kiddo’s stockings. And as a home educating parent, naturally, I’m looking for that educational activity disguised in kid-attractive packaging. Yeah, I’m doused in the comfortable culture of excess.

I giggled when I saw a Pinterest pin that told me how to do Christmas ‘minimalistically(ish)’: “…something they want.. something they need… something to wear… something to read.. something to make.. something to eat… and one more thing”. It’s actually how I have done it for years. Minimalist though? I wouldn’t dare suggest it. I marvel when I hear families purchasing one gift. Or even forgoing gifts altogether for charitable reasons. These examples can claim minimalism.

In our culture, where we have a hard time gift shopping for each other because we all have everything we need, and more, minimalism is hard. Perhaps the emphasis doesn’t have to be on WHAT we buy, rather why we’re buying it. Because we parents know we’re all wishing for delighted little faces to shine like the lights on the tree when they unwrap our offerings, we sometimes get caught in a rut. The rut of attempting to satisfy the unsatisfiable. Our kids will be very happy with whatever we give them, but their little hearts will always want more (it’s how we’re all hardwired). Let’s remind them to be thankful for each gift, and always be on the lookout for signs of our already-present abundance.

2.  Don’t shop with the kids.

If there’s any disadvantage of home educating, it would be during this season. Christmas shopping with my constant companions is tricky. There was a time when Christmas shopping was simpler. Not much effort was required to distract and toss things into the cart piling our winter jackets on top when they were three, but now that they’re thirteen, nine, eleven, and six, those days are gone, baby. My kiddos can sniff out deception an aisle away.

I’m realizing that we North American’s shop early. Being relatively Canadian remote, the Sears catalogue and on-line shopping have become my friend. But not when I’ve ordered this late. Then I must hear the repeated, “I’m sorry, that’s run out”. Darn my relaxed ways. Plan early. When do you all shop for your k’nex kits and chocolaterias? Apparently before me. Next year, September shopping, and on-line.

3.  Downsize decorative expectations.

I do not feel inclined to load my cart with the purchase of fancy gift tags, or groom the tree in the latest 2014’s theme colours; I hear white trees are all the rage now. Oh well. Months ago, I sold our pre-lit lopsided tree of ten years during a house move, in favour of a new tree, a fresh tree. A tree that isn’t as full and groomed as our Sears variety, and certainly not pre-lit. But I’m just thrilled to cut a fresh tree from our new property where Christmas trees will be available for years to come. Not a one of them look like they’re hearty enough to withstand a few lines of lights. It’s okay, I hate that job anyway.

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Lucky for me, I have an entire holly tree in my front yard. Not the prettiest in summer season, but awfully convenient for the front door swag now. A glass 9×13 pan with boughs from the backyard trees (I live in the mountains) and a few vanilla candles with those sprigs of holly, and I have my dining room table décor complete. Ta da.

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4.  Don’t attempt to conquer your Pinterest boards.

Allow Pinterest to amuse you. Think of it as a free magazine subscription where you get to choose the articles. The decorations I make, some of them, will be my attempt at replicating a few Pinterest posts (I’ll closely photograph those for Instagram so you don’t see the nastily glued macaroni angels and green foam paper cut stars with oversized dots of hot glue and a few cheap painted beads).There will always be more crafts than time. And though I’ve only recently come to enjoy the ‘process’ of crafting, I can assuredly say that it is possible to craft too often. If I don’t think I have to cook everything in my Chatelaine magazine, then I also don’t have to complete everything on my Pinterest boards.

5.  You don’t have to bake up a storm.

Certainly, my hips don’t require daily additions of gingerbread and lemon bars. So I’ll reserve baking activities for the weekend, and sample the season, and hopefully reserve eating them for the weekend too. I’ll echo Dr. Daniel Amen’s words: “Why do we need brain doping, nasty foods for every occasion?” And my husband’s wisdom: “It’s like we create occasions just for the consumption of foods that are no good for us”. So when he falls asleep to his Twitter feed, I’ll sneak into the kitchen for that final star shaped chocolate shortbread.

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6. You don’t have to buy the latest trend, just because others are doing it.

I’ve foregone the $10 chocolate advent calendars. Those Lindt calendars times four kids are darned expensive. And the other options are just flavourless. I’ve packed our favourite candies in three canning jars with pretty ribbons and refill as required.

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For each day we count down, I attach a pencil drawing of each place we’ve travelled on the twine hanging from the mantle. I’m having fun twenty minutes each morning, attempting parallel lines and linear perspective. At the end of the day we countdown till Santa arrives. I’ll start my own tradition.

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Elf on the Shelf sure does seem like an entertaining approach to enabling Christmas magic. And people I know sure know how to keep him busy. For a cheaper version, my girls and I hot glued hazelnut squirrels with brown pipe cleaners and dotted their eyes with markers. These squirrels have been keeping busy reading I Chronicles, have played a wicked game of chess, climbed the Christmas tree, and jumped off the living room curtain rod in their GI Joe parachute. My nine year old saw through my attempt at fabricating animated squirrels: “You’re just trying to keep the magic of Christmas alive”. Yup, and though she knows it, she’s still taken. We’ll make our own traditions. May the magic of Christmas continue…

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7.  Don’t send Santa packing.

The mass cultural lie we tell our children: that Santa exists–I took great offense with this deception until my oldest child was about five. I told her that Santa wasn’t real until then. I didn’t go so far as to suggest that the letters of his name could be rewritten to write Satan. But I was close.

Then I rescinded my words, turned my back on them, and convinced her that a kind letter would be worthwhile, wink wink–that the Christmas morning empty plate and return letters left on the coffee table were from the jolly fellow, that her letters would indeed reap benefit. There was a certain joix-de-vivre, super inexpensive magic, that trickled into the Christmas season.

That omniscient presence that could determine whether someone was naughty or nice, whether she’d bear the consequence of coal or reap the delight of candy has a fabled presence in our household. That child that I convinced was indeed resurrected from the dead (also closely akin to God;) is now thirteen–she reserves her belief that there is a curious parallel between God and Santa. They know if we’re awake at night. They know if we’re good or bad. They can be in many places all at once. But if he knows whether we’re good or bad, doesn’t he know what I want for Christmas? Certainly, they both have big white long beards, are jolly and a big round tummy… Okay, God probably doesn’t have a cookie addiction. Does Santa replace God? Does that really need to be asked?

My second born wants Santa to give her a reason to believe. My only response: your childhood is short. Idealism of youth is quickly spoiled, giving way to cynicism and disappointment, adjusting our expectations to what life really can be. Why load them with that when they’re young? Soon enough.

Is it a lie, or is it sustaining childhood magic? That self-limiting time in life where we want to believe that all the world is good and no bad could happen, where big jolly strangers do us only good, recognizing that deep down we all want to do right, be kind to one another and do the world some good? A rhetorical question…

8.  Don’t prepare Christmas dinner on Christmas day.

I’ll plan again for Christmas dinner on Christmas eve. The work required to create this meal doesn’t enable a peaceful Christmas day for mama. I’d rather eat reheated roast beef and Yorkshire puddings in my new pjs and laze with my freshly cracked novel and sip on a glass of day old casta franco verense than spend four hours peeling potatoes and snipping Brussel sprouts.

A candlelight Christmas day dinner only sounded like a good idea when I was a child, because I had no idea how much time was required in preparing that meal. PS This argument goes for camping too.

9.   Don’t consult Martha Stewart for perfectly wrapped packages.

Instead of purchasing gift tags, I’ve opted to cut pretty pics from the fifteen years of saved Christmas cards I stored.

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Yes, the Christmas card you sent me? I’ve had that in storage for years. It’s probably now under my tree attached with twine wrapped around the new game, Settlers of Cattan.

My favourite Christmas gift card, a pic of Stephen Harper and family for my conservative-loving husband.

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I’ll wrap a handful of packages each night then the night before the night before Christmas I don’t have to sit in the basement for six hours piling up wads of plastic and snips of paper. I’ll colour code their presents so Christmas morning will be easy to understand–so, four different gift wraps. And instead of buying expensive wrap, I’ll go retro, using my Pinterest-pins as inspiration: I’ll wrap with brown paper, strings and boughs with calligraphied names (or just a nice black marker). I can do that! No gold leaf required.

 10.  Give the gift that keeps on giving: kindness.

It’s clear that kindness pervades this month. It’s a theme. Likely sourced from the Christian story of God’s gift to the world in baby Jesus to which this season has its origin. The greatest gift our community offers each other is the merriment of acknowledging important people in our lives and the communal festive spirit in which we share during this month. The charitable generous Christmas spirit. The other months of the year we can include kindness too. Kindness, where no credit card debt is required.


I am thoroughly enjoying this season of Christmas. I’m not in a race against time. Our favourite gifts aren’t really  under the tree anyway, they’re under our roofs, so enjoy the process. Stop to smell the…holly, catch snowflakes on your tongue, carpe diem, and be in each day.

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