Sleigh bells ring! Are you listening?

Sorry, did you just ask me something?

In the lane, snow is glistening.

Oh - we still need lights for that shrub.

What a beautiful sight . . .

But I’ve got to bake tonight. Could you take the kids to Winter Wonderland on your own?

Does that sound like you in the lead-up to Christmas? Busy. Distracted. Preoccupied. It’s understandable: what mom doesn’t want to give her family a really great Christmas? All the baking . . . the decorating . . . the shopping . . . that’s sacrificial momma love in action.

And it makes us just a little bit crazy every year.

Have you ever stopped to consider how much "Christmas" is really necessary?

Your hubby and kids might be happier with a little less Christmas and a little more of you – the normal, relaxed you who is able to savour a Silent Night with them more often.

Here are some simple shortcuts that can save you a lot of fuss and bother. Rethinking and simplifying your approach to Christmas might be the key to creating your family’s best Christmas yet!

Re-thinking family activities

Being intentional is often the first casualty of Christmas. So don’t be afraid of looking selfish – it’s not selfish to safeguard your time and energy so you can create the relaxed, Christ-centred Christmas you’ve always wanted for your family. Decide now to put reasonable limits on what you will and won’t do for Christmas.

  • Make sure you sit down and actually ask your family which traditions are important to them. You may discover you’re wearing yourself out each year on activities your family has outgrown. Does your whole family have to choose the tree together, or is decorating it together the real priority – or neither? Does your family really want you to bake nine different kinds of cookies, or will they be happy with a few favourites? Do they care that you make your cookies from scratch, or are they just as happy decorating store-bought cookies?

  • Can you create margin in your calendar by combining two traditions into one? For example, if you always get together with a certain family at Christmas, can you invite them along on your annual visit to Winter Wonderland? (You’ll also save the fuss of having to entertain in your home!)

  • Can you postpone a tradition until the less-hectic days after Christmas? Save that special shopping trip with your girlfriends for the after-Christmas sales and buy for next Christmas, or for birthdays. Could your time-consuming Christmas Day dessert become your "two-days-past-Christmas dessert"? (Sell that idea by hinting there’ll be more to go around!)

  • Can you start new traditions to replace complicated ones? When I replaced our usual Christmas Eve fare with a ridiculously simple Journey to Bethlehem meal (served as an eat-when-you-want buffet), my youngest son pronounced it one of my best Christmas ideas ever. Who’d have thought?

  • Consider making "non-events" a Christmas tradition. As you add all the essential dress rehearsals, work parties and et cetera to your calendar, deliberately pencil in dates for a number of "immediate-family-only events." When the time comes, your "event" may simply be unwinding with a Christmas movie and an early night to bed, but you’ll be glad you reserved that rejuvenating "just us" evening.

Re-thinking gifts for your immediate family

Creating a serene, holy, Christ-centred Christmas is a real accomplishment in our materialistic culture. The prospect of a windfall of gifts distracts kids, and it distracts parents too. Why do we shop as if Christmas is the only time of the year we can give gifts to our kids? Perhaps cutting back a little will restore some sanctity and sanity to your season:

  • Many families use this rhyme as a guideline and give each of their children four gifts: Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

  • Focus on the Family broadcast guest Karen Ehman, co-author of Everyday Confetti, recently shared her tradition of buying three gifts for each of her children: "Jesus got gold, frankincense and myrrh. So, now each year our kids get a gold gift, a frankincense gift and a myrrh gift. . . . Gold is something that was sought after and priceless and precious, so they get one thing they really, really want. Then frankincense was burnt and arose during prayer, so they get one gift that will bring them closer to Christ. Perhaps it’s a new Bible, maybe it’s tickets to their favourite Christian concert. And then on the third gift, the myrrh was a burial spice actually that covered a person from head to toe. So they get one thing to wear on their body."1

  • Kathi Lipp, author of Get Yourself Organized for Christmas, also limits her children’s gifts to three. On a November Focus on the Family broadcast she commented: "I want to buy something significant for my kids, instead of something that they’re going to use once and throw away. . . . We put it into three categories. We [buy] something fun for them. We do some clothes for them and then, we do something that is going to enhance them – maybe it’s spiritually or educationally – and so, maybe we’ll pay for a course that they want to do."2

  • Some families allow their children to write a gift wish list, but with the limitation that they can only write down three or four gift ideas. Having to think carefully about what they want most of all helps kids rein in some of the "Christmas gimmies."

  • Consider plumping up kids’ Christmas stockings with practical items like toothbrushes, combs, hair ties and fun shoelaces. Who says the whole stocking needs to be filled with unique (a.k.a. hard-to-find) gifts?

If all that gift wrapping leaves you unravelled:

  • Surprise your kids with a special DVD to watch on Christmas Eve while you retreat to the bedroom to get an early start on wrapping gifts.

  • Entice Grandma or Aunty to come and wrap gifts at your house while you’re out and about with the kids. Tape a named gift tag to each gift so your Christmas helper knows who each gift is for.

  • Keep and re-use your gift tags each year. It will save you a little work, and the kids will consider the familiar tags another fun Christmas tradition.

  • Don’t feel you need to wrap large gifts. There’s still huge excitement for kids in finding the gift beside the tree on Christmas morning. (Until then, perhaps hide it in the garage under a sheet, or have a neighbour store it for you.)

Re-thinking gifts for your extended family

If your family tree is showing some impressive growth, you’re likely not the only one in your family who’d love to prune back the long list of gifts to find for nieces, nephews and cousins. Perhaps this is the year to relieve everyone's gift-buying burden by suggesting one of these alternatives:

  • Agree to exchange a single gift per family, instead of buying individual gifts. Puzzles, movie passes, sports gear and board games make great gifts a whole family can enjoy. To ensure your gift will be a hit, search online for award-winning toys from associations like Parents’ Choice Awards and recognized board game critics.

  • Create a secret Santa gift exchange and buy one fabulous gift for one special person.

  • Exchange cookies instead of a gifts. To reduce time and effort even further, exchange just key ingredients, along with the recipe, and let each recipient bake their cookies whenever they need something fresh on hand.

  • Make it a mission-minded Christmas for your extended family and pool your group purchasing power to make a world of difference for someone in real need. Consider gifts to World Vision or Compassion International, or fill Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for next Christmas.

    Alternatively, you might choose to bless someone closer to home. Perhaps contribute to a missions trip for a family member, or if someone in your extended family has a severe permanent disability, contribute to a Registered Disability Savings Plan for them. It’s not only a practical act of love, it’s also money smart too, since contributions attract additional government funds.

Re-thinking decorating and entertaining

When it comes to decorating and entertaining, moms are easily tempted to overdo it. Be honest about who you’re really serving. Do your husband or kids care about the fancy, time-consuming ideas you saw on Pinterest? Not likely. Admit that you’re recreating them primarily to please yourself – a good reason to ensure you don't shortchange your family as you go about it. Here are some shortcuts to help you deck the halls and fill the buffet table, and still retain some Christmas cheer:

  • Put up your favourite, must-have Christmas decorations first. Decide to add the rest of your decorations only if you have time and energy. Pack your favourites away together for quick access next year.

  • Remember that parties and family gatherings don’t have to be a sit-down meal. Try an after-dinner event and serve finger food, or host a dessert evening. Your friends and family may appreciate the chance to circulate a little more. If it lessens your burden, ask a guest to bring the centrepiece for the table or mantel instead of contributing to the food.

  • Got a student in the family who doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on gifts? They may be thrilled to "gift" you a few hours of babysitting, house cleaning or hanging decorations before your big event.

  • Decide now on a special dish you could bring to all the parties you’re invited to, then there’s no need to think of something different for each event. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of ingredients on hand.

  • By mid-December it's easy to become so busy preparing for what lies ahead, meals your family needs today get forgotten! Cook and freeze extra casseroles and stews now, so you’ll have quick and easy meals on hand for your most hectic days of the season.

However you decide to celebrate Christmas, just remember that you don't have to recreate your mother's Christmas, your mother-in-law's Christmas, or your best friend's Christmas. Create the kind of Christmas that's right for your family in this season of your life!

  1. Hear Karen Ehman on the Focus on the Family radio broadcast Simplifying and De-Stressing Your Holidays.
  2. Hear Kathi Lipp on the Focus on the Family radio broadcast Getting Organized for Christmas.

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2015 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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