Simple Holidays

There’s nothing simple about five pies!

I loved the holidays when I was a kid. There was something magical about the lights, the food, the gifts, the family time.
Now that I’m a boring grownup I have to strain to see the magic through the stress and lists of things I have to DO.

Some years it’s bad enough I get anxiety and become seasonally depressed.

I want to take back the feeling I had as a kid.

I want to figure out what made it so special.

I want to do it without the greed, stress, and consumerism America is known for.

I want to create family traditions that my children will look back on fondly.

Maybe you do too.

I definitely can’t say I’ve got it all figured out. There’s a balance between making the holidays special and avoiding the craziness.

On one hand I want everything to be prefect, and on the other hand I sometimes wish I could opt out of the whole season.

The calendar is full of seasonal activities that feel so pressing.

The cold weather can be dreary and it gets dark so early!

It’s annoying when you’re trying to buy “normal” stuff and the store is crowded with holiday shoppers. (Where do they come from?)

But I must remind myself not to be cynical. I don’t want my bad attitude to ruin it for everyone – especially not my kids.

Young Emily was not a minimalist. But young Emily did understand that one special toy was worth a lot more than lots of junky ones. Usually what I asked for was doll-related, and I vividly remember the anticipation of Christmas morning and finding a new doll or doll accessory under the tree.

Even though I now believe in a simple lifestyle, I’m not opposed to my kids getting a few nice presents. I think it’s special to look forward to something so much. And young kids aren’t like adults. Gifts lost their appeal for me when I started making money and was able to purchase things myself. Kids, even those with allowances, depend a lot more on holidays and birthdays to get their favorite things.

So while I’m not opposed to gifts, I do want to teach my kids to be thankful first. This can start by every year before the holiday evaluating what they have and asking them to pick a few toys to donate to the less fortunate.

I’ve heard different minimalistic takes on gifts. There’s blogs out there with lists of non-toy presents. Experiences such as tickets to fun things and college fund donations rank high on the lists. Some families do three gifts per person. Others follow the mantra “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.”

In all reality, it doesn’t hurt to skip gifts every now and then, especially if they’d require going into debt.

My husband and I stopped getting each other gifts a couple years into our marriage after realizing that neither of us really cared about it and it was too hard to surprise each other anyway! It was stressful all the pressure we put on ourselves to find the perfect gift for each other. Our love languages are quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service…not so much gift-giving.

It was the right thing for us, but please make sure your family is on the same page before considering skipping gifts. It is some folks’ love language! For them, homemade gifts can be frugal and thoughtful. For those trying to avoid clutter, consumable gifts are great. I’d never turn down the gift of fine craft beers or gourmet chocolates. Maybe that’s just me!

Besides the gift-giving custom, here’s a couple traditions I want to do with my family:

Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes. 

Josh and I have participated in this program several years together. Now we want to involve our children in the packing of these special boxes for kids across the world. These are done around Thanksgiving time and it’s a reminder for kids to first think of the less fortunate. You can also purge toys before Christmas as long as they are appropriate and in good condition. Here’s some good ideas for what to put in boxes.


The magical anticipation of Christmas is summed up in keeping the season of advent. As Christians, the anticipation of Jesus’ birth is meaningful and exciting. We light candles every Sunday in December representing the hope of Jesus’ arrival. This can also include a story or songs for the kids. I was maybe 11 or 12 when it finally hit me and the story became real. That poor family, homeless for the night, giving birth in a stable. And for some reason that’s how God wanted his son to be born! In humility, in a cold and isolated barn to young and frightened parents. It was incredible to me. 

Good Food

I love gathering around a table with friends and family. Nothing beats a homemade feast, candles, wine, and conversation. For me, this means everyone sitting down together and taking their time. The meal shouldn’t be rushed, rather savored and appreciated for an hour or two. I have many happy memories around the dining room table – both growing up, and as an adult!

It’s important to note that these meals aren’t limited to just family! Adopting college students or a family from out of town can make everyone’s holiday better! I’m interested in hosting foreign exchange students for their holiday breaks. Embrace all your friendships by celebrating in new and unique ways. We look forward to our annual Friendsgiving every year at least as much as the actual holiday!

Serving as a Family

We haven’t started doing this yet, but when our kids are a little older I want to volunteer together around the holidays. Serving at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter would be a lovely reminder that it’s about so much more than just us. Singing carols at nursing homes and hospitals is also awesome. I did this a lot growing up!

One last thought. I think it’s important to emphasize the holiday season as an entire season, not just one day. Young Emily put so much pressure on that one day that she often ended up disappointed on the day of and sad for several days afterward.

So find a few fun seasonal things to do each year that celebrate the whole season.

Plan a fun activity in the days following the actual holiday to keep your spirits high, like go for a winter hike or have a pizza-making party.

If you revived gift cards for the holidays, go out and treat yourself to something you might still need.

Celebrate the freshness of the new year by writing memories and making fun resolutions.

Eat lighter meals and get your body moving to combat depression.

Celebrate the days lengthening and the coming of spring!

Again, I’m just your average person who sometimes suffers from seasonal depression and anxiety. I don’t have all the answers, but I think simplifying our routines and adjusting our expectations of the holidays will lead to a more fulfilling experience for us and our families.

Feel free to share any favorite traditions or tips for beating the winter blues!

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