Holiday Simplifying, Without Simply Getting Carried Away

On the simplification spectrum, I consider my family to be more serious about it than not.  We’re not diehards, but we have downshifted our work schedules and incomes by about half since having our kids, and both my husband and I work part-time in order to be at home with our sons.  Simplifying for us is about finding what really matters to us and structuring our lives accordingly.

So it came fairly naturally for us to question how we would celebrate the holidays after we became parents.  We were clear that we would celebrate Christmas (even though I am not a Christian), but we did not want to keep up with the Christmas Jonese nor did we want the traditional onslaught of Christmas excess to spoil for our children the true pleasure of giving and receiving a present.

It’s always easier to identify what we don’t want rather than what we do want though.  Slowly, slowly, we (especially me) are beginning to identify our own values and traditions around Christmas and to implement them. Here are some of the things we do:

~ Go very easy on the gifts.  Our children are young, but we plan to persevere into the future with this.  Our 4 year old has few expectations around gift-receiving at this (or any other) season, and presents are not the primary focus of our celebrations at home.

~ Ask our extended family members to go easy on the gifts.  We’ve noticed that this doesn’t always work, so we have modified our approach to be more explicit about the kind of gifts we like.  Over the years, our families have become increasingly responsive to our preference for open-ended toys and natural materials (read: no big, blinking, beeping plastic contraptions, please).  A couple of relatives have allowed us to purchase gifts for the children on their behalf, which eases their effort, helps meet our values, and gives the kids gifts that they are almost sure to enjoy.

~ Decorate an evergreen tree on our front lawn (nice way to get outside) and bring in some boughs for indoor trimming in lieu of buying a cut tree.  I know some tree farms are responsibly grown, but I can’t feel good about cutting down a tree for short-term holiday decoration so I don’t do it.

Here are some things we are trying to do:

~ Make and bake our own holiday decorations, ornaments, food, and treats, as much as possible with the kids.  A gingerbread house!

~ Try to buy gifts that are experiential, easy on the environment, and that are from the heart.  So we also…

~ Try to make homemade, handmade gifts.

~ Establish one or more traditions of giving to the broader community.

~ Establish one or more outdoor traditions, preferably in a beautiful natural setting.  A winter walk?

I’m not oblivious to the fact that my version of simplifying is maybe not especially simple.  It’s not easy, anyway, at least not for me.  For instance, I am discovering that if you want to have a truly handmade Christmas (beyond cookies in a tin), you must start planning and working on your handmades months (and months) ahead of time, and you need to acquire some skills.  Additionally, establishing meaningful Christmas traditions that work for your family at any given point takes time, research, and trial and error.

Truthfully, in lots of ways it is a good bit easier to just show up on the day with your pile of gifts and be done with it all, provided you have the cash.  Easier, but not necessarily better.

Since having a family, I’ve experienced a kind of “simplified” holiday stress that is new and of course fairly defeating of its purpose.  Trying to have the perfect simple Christmas is possibly no smaller a trap than its excessive cousin.  I am aware of this.  So when I find myself fretting about how I’m going to fit in handsewing the felted wool stockings, I am simultaneously trying to give my head a shake.

I still love my version of a simpler Christmas, and I do hope that as a family we will grow into it.  But I have a dawning sense that, like a home, it will take years and years to create.  And that there’s simply no reason to rush it.