mama self care

tis the season: ten steps to simplify Christmas

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

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

4. I told Santa I want a Saint Bernard.

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 really is fireproof.

I, a former Martha Stewart soiree enthusiast, am going to write a post on ten steps to simplifying Christmas. Insert laugh here.

Simplifying Christmas or any soirees hasn’t been my thing. Some years ago, I hired a clown to for a thirty person party. I handmade circus invitations. I spent hours placing the red and white tent over our backyard playground. My daughter was turning three and I didn’t have time to notice.

I’ve been slowly unwinding that party approach ever since.

The last few Christmases, I have heard loud and clear that many people feel overwhelmed by details 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 the moment?

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?

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

1. Simplify shopping.

There’s a clear shift in seasons around these parts: the season of materialism. I am taking part, of course. Perhaps it feels a bit more pronounced as our trips to the developing world reminded me that the majority hope for the basics: healthcare and nutrition. I’m sifting through the endless barrage of holiday ‘deals’ arriving in my Hotmail account and trying to buy just the right candy for the kid’s stockings. And as a homeschooling parent, I’m looking for that educational activity disguised in kid-attractive packaging.

Yep, I’m doused in the comfortable culture of excess.

In our culture, where we have a hard time gift shopping for each other because we already have everything we need, minimalism is challenging.

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 tree lights when they unwrap our offerings, we sometimes get caught in a rut. The rut of attempting to satisfy the unsatisfiable.

I giggled when I saw a 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.

I marvel when I hear families purchasing one gift. Or even forgoing gifts altogether for charitable reasons.

However you choose to pursue Christmas minimalism, remember that our kids will be happy with whatever we give them, but their little hearts will always want more, it’s how we’re hardwired.

2. Don’t shop with the kids.

If there’s any disadvantage of home educating, 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.

3. Simplify decorative expectations.

I don’t feel inclined to load my cart with the purchase of fancy gift tags, or groom the tree in the latest theme colours. Once upon a time, I sold our pre-lit lopsided tree of ten years during a house move, in favour of 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. 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.

I have an entire holly tree in my front yard. Not the prettiest in summer season, but awfully convenient for the front door Christmas swag. A glass 9×13 pan with boughs from the backyard trees 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. 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. Simplify your baking. 

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

6. You don’t have to succumb to the latest Christmas trend.

I’ve foregone the $10 chocolate advent calendars. Those Lindt calendars for 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.

For a cheaper version of Elf on the Shelf, my girls and I hot glued hazelnut squirrels with brown pipe cleaners and dotted their eyes with markers. These squirrels have been busy reading I Chronicles, 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.

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7. Don’t send Santa packing.

When my oldest was five, I took offense with the mass cultural lie we tell our children: that Santa exists. I told her that Santa wasn’t real.

Then I rescinded my words and convinced her that a kind letter would be worthwhile, wink wink–that the empty cookie plate and mess at the fireplace was from that jolly fellow. There was a certain joix-de-vivre, 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. When that oldest child was thirteen, she reserved the belief that there was a curious parallel between God and Santa: they both knew if she was awake at night, whether she would get coal or candy in her stocking, they could both be in many places at once, so Santa doesn’t know what I want for Christmas?

Certainly, they both have long white beards, are jolly with a round tummy… Okay, God probably doesn’t have a cookie addiction.

My second born wants Santa to give her a reason to believe. My only response: your childhood is short. Idealism of youth quickly gives way to cynicism, so enjoy Santa.

8. Simplify Christmas dinner: do it on another 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, laze with my freshly cracked novel and sip on a glass of day old casa 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.

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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 family game.

Instead of buying expensive wrap, I’ll go retro. I’ll wrap with brown paper, strings and boughs with calligraphed names (or just a nice black marker). I can do that! No gold leaf required.

I’ll wrap a handful of packages each December night so 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.

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

It’s clear that kindness pervades this month. Likely sourced from the Christian story of God’s gift to the world in baby Jesus.

The greatest gift our community offers is the merriment in acknowledging important people in our lives and the festive way in which we share this month. (The other months of the year we can include kindness too.)

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 the simple Christmas.

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