(Laura’s note: This post ran in November, 2012, and remains an audience favorite. Please see the note, below, for another related piece, “Think You’re Too Busy for the Holidays? You’re Not.”)
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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,” even though there’s nothing simple about $400 linen pants, and other such items that make it into the photo spreads. “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. Since I don’t feel like the rest of my life is crazy busy (because I have more time than I think), adding a little extra activity during December won’t hurt anything. I plan to make a List of Holiday Dreams, aka a December bucket list, with traditions I’d like to start. 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 three 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 why should their memories of Christmas be of not baking cookies because mom dislikes cleaning up? 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 7-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. I have three small children who have to be strapped into car seats if I want to go anywhere in the evenings or on weekends, so there isn’t that much of that. 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 two dressy Saturday night parties to attend 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?
In other news: A reader asked for last year’s November newsletter. I Googled it, and found a reprint on BeliefNet: “Think You’re Too Busy For The Holidays? You’re Not.” I sent it to the reader, then realized that I was on Daylle Deanna Schwartz’s page. Daylle had asked me last year if she could reprint it. The sad news here is that I got word via Facebook that Daylle passed away two weeks ago of health issues that had arisen since last year. The truth is, none of us know if this will be our last holiday season. She will be missed.
13 thoughts on “Repost: 5 reasons I’m not simplifying Christmas”
I appreciate how you take what is sort of accepted, common “good” and question it. I don’t think to ask myself whether I need to simplify Christmas- I just read article after article about how to do it and then sort of go along with it. But- you’re right. I don’t get credit card shock in January because we mostly pay for gifts in cash, we draw names among my larger family so I’m not running around buying for all 18 family members on my side, etc etc. Our holiday is already fairly simple enough that a little extra crazy is just fine.
@Katherine – thanks. Yep, sometimes I don’t mind a little extra crazy in my life. The holidays are a good time for it.
I think it depends on what you’re simplifying or what your reality is. I used to have a list of things I enjoyed doing over the holidays every year but all that has been replaced with what others expect me to do over the holidays and what they think the holidays should be. [Others being extended family] This year I’m dumping everyone else’s expectations and going back to my own. I’d much rather spend time in front of the Christmas tree listening to holiday music than endless hours in the kitchen preparing meals with complicated recipes saved only for holidays. To me, You Have More Time Than You Think means that I DO indeed have time to enjoy the things I like to do. If that means dropping things I don’t enjoy doing, so be it. Call me Scrooge…
@Tana – I am all in favor of dumping other people’s expectations (see the post earlier this week on dealing with people who eat your time). Yes, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it! I purposefully try to keep expectations low; I don’t have a recipe I’m “known” for, and we don’t have much extended family around, so there aren’t a whole lot of expectations there. We are all dealing with different situations.
I take the “simplify holidays” articles to mean “stop doing the things you don’t enjoy”. I think it’s not unique to the holidays that people blindly take on projects and accept invitations without thinking for a minute about whether it’s something that would really bring them some benefit or happiness. I just think there are more “opportunities” during the holidays to just blindly accept and go to.
I declined an early evening holiday party because the cost-benefit (to me!) of finding additional childcare and driving 45+ min during rush hour both ways was just not worth it to socialize with people I don’t know well. However, if it was a cherished friend’s party, I’d be all over that “hassle” because it would be worth it.
So maybe there just needs to be more holiday navel-gazing about whether the activities and projects chosen are actually going to be fun rather than going for a purely minimalist holiday?
I feel somewhat similarly, but I’ve written my fair share of posts about keeping Christmas simple.
Why? Because while I might be pretty good at keeping holidays manageable and jolly, I know a lot of other people aren’t. So, I write about how we celebrate Christmas simply. It’s not that I’m simplifying Christmas, it’s that I’ve always kept it simple, and I’m trying to help other people who aren’t quite as good at it.
Like you said in the comments, I think the key is knowing your priorities and making your Christmas work within those bounds (as opposed to doing whatever society/family/women’s magazines expect of you).
I had a brief stint as a preschool teacher, and I was shocked by how much some parents gave for Christmas gifts! I of course appreciated their generosity, but it did make me reconsider the kinds of gifts I give–more token than extravagant. But it was the personal notes that meant most–sure, I appreciated the $100 gift card, but when I received an envelope that didn’t even have my name on it, the gesture was somewhat lost.
@Emily – the holy grail might be combining extravagant with personal. Probably not often achieved!
I really liked this post. I am definitely a default “no-er.” I say no to anything that interferes with naptime, bedtime or I think is likely to induce more stress by bringing the family than fun. In short, I say no to just about everything. But, during the holiday season I try to have one big outing per weekend. Hayride to see Christmas lights, local children’s theater, polar express train ride, breakfast with Santa. I can’t say they have always been fun but it’s good to step out of my comfort zone during the holiday season. I still don’t bake with my kids though. It’s a nightmare and I’m not that ready to leave my comfort zone.
@beth – I’m definitely doing the baking when I have one kid around, not 3. And it will likely be low-key. Sugar cookies are doable. This whole 3-layer meringue cake with homemade caramel bits in Martha Stewart Living? Not so much. But I’m very happy that I just went and ordered a ton of Christmas books to make an advent calendar with. I think the kids will like it and I’ll like it, and perhaps it can be a new holiday tradition…
I do a version of the holiday advent book thing. I check out the books from the library and don’t wrap them but we do several holiday books at bedtime throughout the month of December. I definitely have to reserve them in advance from the library though.
I love this post. This type of thinking and writing is exactly what I liked about 168 hours. Is there really a problem here for most people? No. Enjoy it!
But this may be my attitude because of naturally keeping things simple, so there is plenty of margin to fill in December. I realised a while back that the one part of Christmas that I don’t enjoy is all the presents. I have accepted this, and do keep this part to a minimum. But I love lots and lots of advent traditions. So we go for a ridiculous number of advent calendars — the wrapped pile of books, chocolate calendars, two different computer desktop varieties, and one with pockets containing a card for each date with a Christmas activity on each. Some are very simple, like making a Christmas card for the grandparents, and some are for big events like going to see a show or ice skating. I love it!
Happy Christmas everyone xxx
@Alison – thanks! It’s fun to do extra stuff for the holidays. Not stuff you don’t want to do, but there’s no reason to feel we have to plug into some put-upon narrative.