Christmas is Coming: the Sane, Serene, and Satisfying Holiday Plan

This wreath caught my eye, and this year I have enough time to enjoy making one.

The seductive period of the holiday season has arrived. We are in full planning mode – thinking of gifts to procure, treats to make, activities to arrange, and halls to deck, but Christmas Day itself is still a few weeks away. “Keep things fresh!” “Brighten up your holiday!” “Sparkle!” Pinterest and the ladies mags egg us on with the promise of glory. All seems within reach, and therein lies the seduction.

Nothing doing.

A plain wreath is an invitation for creativity. Or copycatism. That’s what I do.

I’ve been down that road before. It sounds so doable, so fun, so important. I can dream up an entirely new theme and color scheme for decorating, from the stockings to the ornaments to the wrapping paper. And cooking! Why not whip up a prime rib roast dinner for twenty? After all, the magazine promises a hands-on time of only fifteen minutes. Sure. Don’t forget kindness to others – how about I gather dozens of our closest friends to go caroling at all the local nursing homes? I can design keepsake song folders. And everyone can come back to our house for a homemade eggnog and cookie party afterward.

Glitter-painted eucalyptus

Glitter-paint the eucalyptus sprigs in two colors.

Don’t be seduced. You can’t do it all.

Well, you can, sort of, but your family will hate you.

You protest: “I’m not a Martha Stewart wannabe. I just want to keep up with the traditions we’ve built up over the years. We always decorate the yard and put up three trees in the house and host a party and give cookie plates to the neighbors and make gingerbread houses and volunteer at the homeless shelter and do handmade gifts and put out reindeer food and have a Christmas morning brunch and a big dinner and, and, and.” That’s the problem. It isn’t just people trying to land an HGTV contract who get seduced into overdoing the holidays. Perfectly normal folks like us do, too, and here is why: we build up traditions over time – a craft here, an activity there – and we think we have to keep doing them year after year. If we would just slow down a second and think about it logically we would see the fallacy there, but we don’t have time to slow down because there are presents to wrap in hand-decorated paper and a wreath to make and appetizers to garnish and, and, and.

Ditto the silver glass ornaments

Ditto the silver glass ornaments

Think back to when you left home and set up your own household. Did that first celebration or two seem kind of disappointing? Kind of thin, somehow? If it was less than satisfying, it probably dawned on you that you needed to develop some traditions of your own. So you did. You decided to make your own tree ornaments, and add a few new ones each year. You thought it would be nice to have some friends over for a game night, so every year you planned an evening for that. You wanted the holidays to be a time to focus on charity, so you determined to give time and money to a different cause every year. If you were married, you included your spouse’s ideas with your own. Then children may have begun to arrive, and before you knew what had happened your family ended up with a whole laundry list of holiday traditions to plow through in order to make sure everyone has a “merry” Christmas.

At least that’s how it happened at our house.

Behold the blue thumb! Disposable gloves might have been an idea.

I have a solution, and it doesn’t involve renouncing everything you and your family love about the holidays. It involves identifying what you actually do love about the holidays right now. It is simple.

All you have to do is ask each family member this question: What three things make the holiday happy for you?

It can be an activity, a food, a smell, a moment. Reassure them that their answers are not set in stone. They can think about it for awhile and get back to you if needed, and next year they can change them if they want.

It’s all about that blue door I love…

Ask the question. Write down their answers. Do those things. Don’t worry about the rest unless you really want to, and don’t want to unless you can do it and stay sane and serene.

You may be surprised at what really matters to your family, at what really satisfies them. You may discover that less, when it is really what each person loves right now, is much, much more.

Done! Another year it might have been a burden, but this year it is a joy.

So tell me, what three things make the holiday happy for you? I really want to know. And I’ll share ours if you’ll share yours.

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14 Comments

  1. Sylvia
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I love your front door. I’ll answer the question after I think about it some more.

  2. Amber
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 1:40 am | Permalink

    Since I have just moved away from all of my extended family, I am trying to come up with traditions for my family. This article was well timed for me! I need to be careful not to go overboard with a million different traditions, as I am inclined to do. Thanks!

    • Posted December 6, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Amber, enjoy making some new traditions, but do think about if you want to do them for the next 30 or 40 years! Really, maybe instead of calling them traditions we should call them practices or something like that — easier to change a “practice” than a “tradition.” :)
      Lori recently posted..Real-LifeThanksgivingMy Profile

  3. Samantha
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I know you asked for three, but I just don’t think I can narrow it down. All of these are an important part of our family traditions. There are very few of our traditions that have stayed unchanged over the years. We have always purchased a real tree. Last year was the first year we didn’t cut it down ourselves and the children were greatly disappointed. So we will be back to that this year. We always put up some kind of lights either outside or on the windows. Then there is the LONG list of cookies and candies we make. For a while we would pick someone off of the Christmas Angel tree, purchasing a gift for someone in need from our family Christmas budget. The kids would pick the person and then help with not only the purchasing, but the delivery. This was important for them to realize that things aren’t just about them. We have also participated in Operation Christmas Child every year since we first moved to PA. Finally we have in one way or another Jingled a few of our friends and neighbors. The thing the kids talk about missing the most is seeing the lights in Hershey. There is just nothing like that here.

    • Posted December 6, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      It *is* hard to narrow down the list, Samantha, and of course there is nothing magic about the number three. In fact, I can’t even remember anymore if I came up with this idea by myself or heard it somewhere years ago, but I do know it has taken me from the stress that went with the holidays every bit as much as the scent of evergreen to a state where I really enjoy and absorb the moments as they come.
      Also, keep in mind that *each* family member gets to choose three things. There will likely be repetition in their choices, which is telling about what loves the family *shares,* and there will be differences — sometimes conflicting ones — which tells how we need to accommodate one another.
      And, choosing the three things doesn’t mean nothing else but those will happen. Making a wreath is NOT one of my three things this year, but I had time and money to make it and I wanted to and so I did and I enjoyed doing it and we are all enjoying seeing it as we come and go. It’s just that I wouldn’t have been terribly grieved if the time, money, and desire to make a wreath had been absent this year and I hadn’t made one.
      What I’m trying to say, really, is that by boiling down the whole “Christmas Thing” into what truly matters to each family member, we have ramped up our overall enjoyment of the holidays. Lowering expectations often increases satisfaction and pleasure — one of those funny dichotomies that works in this situation for our family.

    • Posted December 6, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Just curious as I think of our favorites, what is “Jingled a few of our friends & neighbors”?

  4. Angela
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    It is important to my husband and I to do an advent wreath and light the candles. My husband didn’t grow up with Advent, but I did. We attend a church that doesn’t really celebrate it, so we celebrate it at home.

    One thing I love is the freedom my parents have given us regarding Christmas time. They come to Canada to visit us, participate in my husband’s family’s traditions on Christmas eve and then have a fun non-traditional time with just me and my husband on Christmas day. This year we are going to try to go to the movies on Christmas day to see Les Miserables. We’ve nevr done anything like that before, and we enjoy doing non-traditional things.

    • Posted December 6, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Your traditions sound neat, Angela, and I love to hear of flexible families — what a blessing!

      Here’s one of my family members’ three things for this year. Our Oldest Adolescent Male only gave me two, however:
      1. Train around the tree — this is a “tuffy” for me. The Husband’s family always kept the German tradition of having a model train around the base of the tree. We’ve done it some years, especially when we were first married and when the kids were little, but I don’t enjoy that one. My objections? It is sooo noisy. It scares the dog. Little kids damage the train and tracks in their excitement. It is a pain to try to fit gifts around the tree. But my boy wants it, one of only two things he requests. I imagine it will happen, but the dog and I may have to make ourselves scarce when people are playing with it. :)
      2. Just our immediate family go and do something new together when I get home from college before Christmas comes. Still thinking about what we might do — he had no specific ideas.
      Lori recently posted..Christmas is Coming: the Sane, Serene, and Satisfying Holiday PlanMy Profile

  5. Martha Hollingsworth
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Love your door and the wreath. :) Hmmm, what makes it for me? Just little things I guess. Seeing all my kids…and now my grandkids open their gifts…and esp if I was able to really surprise/please someone. Certain foods are a “must”…like ham, mashed potatoes and ham gravy, Red Velvet Cake, and yeast rolls. The day always changes for us as Paul has an unusual schedule and the boys work nights, but as long as we are all together, who cares what the day on the calendar is! Hope you have a wonderful holiday dear friend…miss you SO much.

    • Posted December 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Martha, I like your list. Tell me how you make ham gravy. What do you use for the main liquid?

      Since you shared your things, I’ll share another family members list. Alyssa, the Grown Daughter, said:
      1. Indoor picnic with all helping prep
      2. Tea here with Grammie on Christmas afternoon
      3. Candles in windows??? Or games
      Lori recently posted..Cheer for Chutney + Winner AnnouncedMy Profile

  6. Posted December 7, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    What a great idea! I’ll add this to my list of things to do. :-)

  7. Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Some of our family favorites in no particular order:
    1) Gingerbread House party with friends This year we did it with friends as part of our science class and incorporated our taste buds.
    2) Each child receive an ornament that reflects a milestone or memory from the year
    3) Baking and sharing with our friends and family, everyone has this on their lists
    4) Viewing lights
    5) Our children purchase or make each others gifts. On Christmas morning only one person at a time opens a gift. I LOVE seeing how excited each child gets to GIVE their gift!
    7) Christmas Caroling A group from our church family gets together every year to sing to some of the elders and shutins.
    8) Decorating
    9) Christmas movies
    10) Kids have to wait at the top of the stairs until the tree lights and music are turned on, then pause at the landing for mom’s picture of their faces!
    11) Visiting to deliver our baked goodies!
    12) A new tradition this year was to practice some random acts of kindness.

    • Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      Brenda, your list looks much like the traditions we have had over the years. I especially love the emphasis you are making with your children on giving and service.

      Yay, I get to share another family member’s list since you shared yours! Our Younger Adolescent Male’s is simple:
      1. Time alone.
      2. Time alone.
      3. Time alone.
      (Can you tell he’s an introvert????) :)
      Lori recently posted..To Love, Cherish, and Paint: the Unspoken VowsMy Profile

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