Repost: 5 reasons I’m not simplifying Christmas this year (updated)

photo-430(Laura’s note: A version of this post ran in November, 2012, and remains an audience favorite. Since 2012 feels like a lifetime ago, I’ve updated it a fair chunk, but the gist remains the same.)

It’s that time of year again — time for a round of blog posts, ebooks and magazine articles on how to simplify Christmas. “Simple” is a powerful word in our culture. There’s a reason Real Simple magazine is called that, as opposed to “Real Easy” or “Real Quick.” “Simple” taps into a narrative that we are all so busy and harried and starved for time that our fantasies require stripping life of all we can and thus achieving happiness through calm (and muted earth tones in our living room decor).

But here’s why I will not be simplifying Christmas this year:

1. Simplifying Christmas implies you were doing too much before. I’ve never channeled Martha Stewart through the holiday season. Most years I’ve done very little baking, crafting, decorating, or even extraneous shopping. I haven’t been throwing elaborate parties. Since these are all enjoyable things to do on occasion, why not use the holiday excuse to give them a try?

2. Christmas comes once a year. Related to the above point. I don’t feel like my life is crazy busy. This is true even though I’ve been traveling extensively this fall and I added a baby to the family since the last time this post ran. Since I don’t feel like the rest of my life is crazy busy, adding a little extra activity during December won’t hurt anything. For the past few years, I’ve been making lists of holiday activities I’d like to try, and each year I update the list based on what was fun the year before or what we missed but want to try. My daughter loved The Nutcracker last year, and is taking dance now, so I’ll be taking her to a matinee while her brothers are still in school. I booked some breakfast-with-Santa tickets in advance because I thought about it ahead of time, and got them before they sold out. I also managed to email the church secretary in time to get my kids roles in the Christmas Eve service. We enjoyed unwrapping a new (well, generally used) Christmas book every day during December, so that’s a go this year too. There’s plenty of time for not doing stuff in January.

3. I enjoy my children’s enthusiasm. We’re in that wonderful stage where we have little kids who are going to be so, so excited for Christmas. Eventually they’ll become cynical teenagers, but right now they’re still into the magic. So we’ll be baking cookies even if it makes a mess. Yes, the stuffers that wind up in stockings are often silly, but it’s so, so fun to see a bulging stocking and pull treasure after treasure out. What, exactly, am I saving my energy for?

4. I’m naturally cheap. Another theme running through “simplify Christmas” literature is that we overspend in December, only to look upon our credit card bills in horror come January. Better to spend less on gifts and give fewer of them. But I have the opposite problem. Back when my 8-year-old was in daycare, I asked the center director what I should get his teachers. She said they’d probably like cash, which warmed my rational economic heart. But when I brought the cards with cash in them on the last day before Christmas, I happened to see that one teacher had kept a list of what each family had given, so she could thank them specifically and I saw that we were giving, by far, the lowest amount on there. I like being generous but have to consciously remind myself that what I consider generous is often way, way below what other people consider generous, and giving appropriate gifts is a social skill I need to learn much as I have learned to make small talk at parties.

5. I like going out. I work at home. Even with my travel, I’m often in my house more often than not. It’s not like I have so many parties that don’t involve bouncy houses that I’m going to the rest of the year. I have a few dressy occasions this December and I’m thrilled. Why would I not go just so I could watch TV?

Will you be simplifying the holidays? Why or why not?

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18 Responses to Repost: 5 reasons I’m not simplifying Christmas this year (updated)


  1. Kim from Philadelphia says:

    I have never found Real Simple magazine to be either 1) very real/ practical ($400 sweaters…really?) or 2) simple – it likes to give airs of being simple but I’m
    not totally on board with that!

    Regarding daycare teacher gifts- daycare teachers are usually grossly underpaid. Considering my son spent a solid 40 hours a week in their care (and they were pretty fabulous), I justified giving them monetary gifts greater than any other family member received- usually $100 for each of the two primary teachers and $50 for the half day helpers.

    • @Kim – I always joke about the $400 linen pants I found in one photo spread. There is *nothing* real simple about $400 linen pants!

      I read Real Simple cover to cover every issue but I always laugh about it because it is so targeted to my (and many readers here) demo — it can read our angst.

      • Ingrid says:

        As my mother always remarked (she lived in Africa for a number of years), linen is for women with staff.

  2. Jess says:

    I love reading your blog Laura! You have really helped me change the stories I tell myself about motherhood:). I have 4 kids too- ages 4-12, 3 boys and 1 girl:)

    I simplify the holidays in a sense. The last 3 years I have asked each member of our family(dad and all 4 kids) to answer these 4 questions: 1. What is one meal you want to eat over the holidays? (Yes hotdogs and pancakes are often top choices but that’s ok. We can eat those spaced between more nutritious choices). 2. Pick a family you would like to invite over or do an activity with. 3. What is one Christmas craft you’d like to do( I have a binder of a dozen or so ideas). 4. Pick one activity you want to do(swimming, bowling, sledding, ice fishing, sleigh ride).
    We have never actually crossed every single choice off the ‘list’. That’s ok. The kids remember what we did do and are more then happy that they had a choice and that some of their choices happened.

    • @Jess- that sounds like a good strategy. You wind up focusing your effort on what you know matters to your kids, rather than what they don’t care about.

      I talked to the kids some about the upcoming holidays, and they remembered the elf and the books. I enjoyed the books (I do not like the elf) but since they like both they’ll both be returning this year.

  3. beth says:

    I am generally and under-doer (my default is always no) so saying yes during the holidays is not really overdoing. I enjoy the small amount of busyness we add to the season. It helps mark it as something special/different than normal.

  4. Ana says:

    Like you, I’m an under-spender and an under-doer. My life is (by design) very uncomplicated and I like making gingerbread cookies & putting up our small tree, so what’s the harm? Our family only does presents for the kids, so there isn’t even that much to spend—they are happy with quantity over quality at this age, so individually wrapped books, crayon boxes, etc… makes them deliriously happy. I wish I had a fancy party to go to, both of our workplaces do simple at-work no-spouse events and we just haven’t been invited to anything other than casual open-house style parties.

  5. Ahlia says:

    We tried the literary advent thing last year and loved it. I can’t wait to do it again this year. And yes, I am all for the magic this time of year has to offer… I’m a little concerned it may not get cold enough in the North East to snow though, but its still a magical time of year.

  6. GirlFriday says:

    I love this! I think it goes hand-in-hand with the Norwegian concept of “Koselig”: why would I stay home alone when there are opportunities to spend time with other people? It might be cold/expensive/take effort, but I think it’s worth it. And if you’re more of a homebody, that’s fine too. Everyone can celebrate the season in the way they see fit.

  7. Shelley uoung says:

    Thank you for providing a much more realistic narrative about the holidays! I like to do the few things that we do because I get joy from seeing the joy in my kids faces. I do work on changing the intense “I want” to “how can I help those less fortunate” and the meaning of the season etc. but we do what we can and try not to feel too guilty about the rest.

    By the way, I am somewhat cheap by nature, too, but I definitely overspend on my kids’ day care school teachers and public school teachers. They make so little but they do so much. I’ve found if I’m uncomfortable with what I’m spending – and it’s usually in gift cards – then I’ve just barely spent enough.

  8. Thank you for always challenging common misconceptions and beliefs that we start to buy into just because it’s all the rage. You’re so right! I am in the same camp as you. I am an under-spender and live fairly simply, so why not celebrate as much as we can? I think there is a big difference between celebrating big (events! family! food!) and celebrating perfectly (perfectly prepared recipes, picture-perfect holiday ensembles on Christmas Eve, Pinterest crafts!), and people tend to group them together.
    I do love the magic at this time of year, and I think Santa and God can easily be on the same team 🙂

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  10. Rebecca says:

    Christmas is my very favoritist time of the year. We decorate early, I actually do some baking, we read Christmas stories, we do huge stockings, we do the movies and the Christmas CD’s. I am unapologetic about this and have never tried to “simplify” (and this may sound awful but I don’t visit anyone who doesn’t do Christmas during this season, it bums me out). It’s great to read about someone who feels the same way about savoring this too-short season

  11. “Eventually they’ll become cynical teenagers…” Not a certainty at all! My two (18 and 16, a boy and a girl) are tons of fun to be around, and not a bit cynical. On Thanksgiving, when I said good-night to my son, he responded excitedly, “Christmas season begins tomorrow!” 🙂
    Just don’t want you to talk yourself into a self-fulfilling prophecy!
    ~ Merry, Happy!

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  14. Rachel says:

    I write about simplifying, we are a minimalist-ish family of 5 in a 2 bed condo, and this describes our holiday plans too. My kids are so much fun right now (6, 3 and 1) and I know this particular brand of holiday joy will not last forever. Plus, we keep things pretty basic most of the year so we can really enjoy the holidays with mess baking parties, Polar Express rides and evening walks to see the holiday lights.
    Related: my baby just turned 1 and started sleeping 12 hours in a crib on his own. I’ve got the energy to celebrate!

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