(Laura’s note: A version of this post ran in November, 2012, and then another version in November, 2015. It remains an audience favorite.)
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 (though there is nothing simple about $400 linen pants, and other such things that have wound up in the Real Simple fashion pages). “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 is why I will not be simplifying Christmas this year:
1. Simplifying Christmas implies you were doing too much before. Inherent in the “I’m so busy! I must scale back!” narrative is the humble brag that you have been filling every minute. The demand for your time is so high that you never get a respite! But…really? I’m pretty sure most of us are less busy than we think we are. Someone out there is filling all that Facebook real estate and streaming all those Netflix shows. And finding time to read this blog post and the articles on simplifying Christmas! As for me, I know 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, or attending all that many of them either. 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 will be traveling a fair amount in December. And I added another baby to the family since the first 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. And so, this year, I bought Nutcracker tickets for my three big kids. I booked some breakfast-with-Santa tickets, thankfully snagging them in the 5 minutes before they sold out. I emailed the church secretary in time to get my kids roles in the Christmas Eve service. I will be singing in a Christmas concert, and going to a Christmas party in NYC. There’s plenty of time for not doing stuff in January.
3. I enjoy my children’s enthusiasm. We’re (still!) 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. Watching my almost-3-year-old put “ordaments” on the tree is good for all kinds of entertainment. We’ll be baking cookies. We’ll be reading Christmas stories. We’ll even welcome that &*^% elf again. Yes, the stuffers that wind up in stockings are often silly, but it is 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 all 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. I am a chronic underbuyer who on a good day is “frugal” and on a bad day is the woman whose 2-year-old shows up at church with holes in his pants and his shirt. Back when my now-10-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 what we would be giving was, by far, the lowest amount on there. I like the thought of 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 quite excited about them. Why would I not go just so I could watch TV?
Will you be “simplifying” the holidays? Why or why not?
*I want to give a shout out to the December issue of Martha Stewart Living, which was just incredible. I found myself really hoping she’d invite me to her Bedford Christmas party (featured in the issue) or that I might make that Montana family’s acquaintance and be invited to their mid-winter bonfire under those big skies.
18 thoughts on “5 reasons I won’t be simplifying Christmas this year”
I’m cutting back AND piling on! Because I had hand surgery several weeks ago, I’m not yet released from occupational therapy (soon!), my grip is not what it should be, and I’m supposed to avoid falling (and catching myself with my injured hand), I haven’t been practicing with my church choir and handbell choir, so I’m not performing at our concerts this year.
Because I’m retiring in a couple of weeks, my time will be freed up, and I’ll be released from therapy (next week!), I have tickets to a lights exhibit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, tickets to a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life at the IMAX theater in White River State Park, and I intend to attend a nearby Christkindlmarkt and skate on a temporary ice rink near our house (I hope I don’t fall!) – all things I haven’t done in the past. I have a 5K to run this weekend, too.
And by gosh, I’m going to bake cookies, too!
I’m trying to figure out how/where to put up our tree – we have FOUR cats and a large dog (not by choice), and I don’t want them to knock it down, chew on the wires, break the ornaments, etc. Heavy sigh. It may be relegated to a bedroom. A baby gate isn’t high enough to keep out the cats, darn it.
@Ruth – oh, good for you for attempting the cookies with an injured hand!
I love Christmas markets. Maybe I need to add that to my list. We were in Germany for Christmas many years ago, but managed to arrive in villages for the day AFTER the markets closed most times.
Because I won’t be singing with our church choir and orchestra, I bought a ticket to the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra’s song along Messiah concert!. They have 4 soloists, and the audience songs the choral parts! What a concept!
This has always been one of my favorite posts!
@beth – thanks! Of course, I may be simplifying Christmas by repurposing my holiday posts 🙂
Maybe simplifying is just code for not doing things we don’t like or enjoy? Or doing what we want with the season, not what advertisers (who fund those glossy magazines) try to get us to do, or, haha, just an excuse to sell an overpriced solution, like the Container Store does for clutter. I don’t know, but I don’t really think about cutting back during the holidays, either, even though it’s also a busy time professionally. Like you say, since I am doing things I enjoy, it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
@Meghan – I am certainly in favor of not doing stuff one doesn’t want to do. But I suspect if people have a lot of commitments they don’t really want to do, that may not be a holiday-specific phenomenon.
Ha, probably so. They need to read 168 Hours, then!
A few years ago I decided that our version of simplification would be going all in for just a week. Part of this was decided because I just couldn’t have end of semester and final exam things going on, and really didn’t want to, during holiday celebrations. I wanted to have a clean break between end of semester and celebrating the holiday. So I now get final grades done ASAP and that is our signal to go get the Christmas tree and start our traditions of making handprint ornaments and such. It’s worked great for us.
First time I read this post, and it really made me think about all the holiday stuff… I’m a more religious-kind-of-Christmas person (catholic), but it’s definitely true that this season comes with special activities that only happen once a year. So I’ll make a list about holiday activities too, thanks for the idea! It can easily become a family tradition 🙂
Even though I tend to get sucked into some minimalist ideas . . . I love everything about this post!
Some things just don’t need to be simplified.
I also loved the December issue of Living magazine… and had the exact sentiment of wishing to be invited to her Bedford Christmas party. Or at least a fly on the wall!
@Anne- I think she had me at the cold oysters, served on the front porch.
Ohhh….I love this sentiment! I LOVE Christmas and most things associated with it but also on my own terms, you know? My favorite parts are usually things like frosting cookies with my husband and son while we watch the classic tv specials (Charlie Brown, Rudolph, etc.) or wrapping presents next to the Christmas tree. But I also start prepping in late October so December can mostly be for the enjoyable stuff and not the stress!
Our holidays are much more enjoyable with some planning ahead – In October or November, I schedule a music performance (or Nutcracker) for us all to attend, and any local holiday events for the kids. This year they are going to ‘breakfast and crafts with Santa’ and a Holiday Art Workshop which we signed up for back in September 😉 I order their ‘December pajamas’ and any new Book Advent books in early November and aim to wrap all of the Book Advent books before December starts. (In the past I’ve wrapped just a few and scrambled to get ahead of it in December and that was stressful and not enjoyable.) Planning out all these fun things pretty far in advance really makes a huge difference to how magical and fun the holiday feels to me (and to the kids, of course). Also now that we have kids (and an enthusiastic neighborhood), we feel some “pressure” to get all the holiday decorations up by the end of Thanksgiving weekend, which actually is nice to get that all done in a short period of time instead of letting it drag out through the beginning of December. Ali Edwards, a popular scrapbooker, runs a project called “December Daily” where you create a scrapbook in real time during the holidays, and she advocates actually setting it up ahead of time so you’re just popping in your photos and writing a few words as you go. The idea is that you’ll have a completed scrapbook by the end of the month. Doing this ahead of time also helps me think through our holiday “activity schedule” early and gets me excited for the holidays.
@ARC – I love the idea of December pajamas. One problem of giving holiday pajamas for Christmas is that they don’t get much use! I may look into that for next year…
Christmas is my favorite time of the year. This year, I have started a new business and am thrilled to have the time in December to plan wonderful and meaningful activities with friends and loved ones. I agree with you – we shouldn’t use “busyness” as an excuse for sitting on the sidelines during this wonderful season. Personally, I’m getting rid of the activities and practices that no longer suit my lifestyle and embracing long-forgotten and new ideas that provide joy while building relationships and memories. Thank you and happy holidays.