Daddylibrium and I made a decision last month to simplify Christmas. This includes scaling back on gift giving, committing only to traditions that bring us joy, saying no when that is what our hearts desire and replacing the pursuit of perfection with the pursuit of happiness throughout December.
Before the holiday season started, we set priorities. Our list included zoo lights, Denver’s Christmas parade, ice skating at the outdoor rink downtown, breakfast with Santa, caroling in the neighborhood, baking Christmas cookies, cutting down our Christmas tree, movie nights with apple cider and just having a relaxing season with family and friends.
Our list did not include driving aimlessly around mall parking lots in search of a spot, fighting crowds while looking for the season’s hottest toy and finding the perfect gift for aunt Gertrude.
We also thought about what truly makes our family happy. The things our boys (ages 2 and 4) adore involve doing activities together. They already have a lot of toys. Some, like Legos, bikes, Plasma cars, kiddie tablets and their favorite stuffed toys get plenty of love and use. However most of them grabbed their attention for the first few days and now collect dust and cause us to curse in the night when we step on them in route to helping the kids go to the potty.
We decided to cut back on buying toys and concentrate on items that supported or created activities we could do together. They will each get two gifts from Mom and Dad. This will be rounded out by gifts from grandparents and friends. Eli got one of his Christmas presents, a pair of used hockey skates, early, and we’ve already put them to good use. Our big presents for the kids are used skis found on Craigslist. My hope is that they foster our boys love of winter outdoor activities and lead to great memories of weekends in the mountains for years to come.
We have asked Santa to get the kids Legos (also found via Craigslist), an activity kit for making pipe cleaner art, a big box of crayons, the board game Trouble, an activity kit to make paper bag puppets and some items they need like warm mittens and beach shoes for our upcoming vacation.
Take Your Time Opening Gifts
A strategy we use to keep our holiday enjoyable is that we allow our kids to open one present every 30 minutes to an hour. The kids unwrap a gift and we immediately play with it, read it, etc. This breaks our day into opening presents and spending quality time together. It also prevents the kids from getting into present opening hysteria, which inevitably leads to toddler tears when the last present is unwrapped.
My favorite part of last Christmas was unwrapping four Nerf swords from Auntie Susie and then immediately breaking into a family jousting match.
Santa’s Incomplete List
I am curious to see what will happen when Santa doesn’t bring Eli the battery-operated car he requested. Between the candy (the good stuff – real ring pops, not the organic, dye-free stuff he usually gets), the presents and the quality family time, I suspect the day will still be magical. I grew up lower middle class. My father was a construction worker and my parents had nine children. We had toys each Christmas, but we did not have the abundance that many of my friends had. Still, I have the fondest memories of being with family, eating too many sweets, and getting up Christmas morning and playing games with my brothers.
Size Doesn’t Matter. Happiness Does
We have scaled back in many other ways this year, too. I hung about a third of the Christmas lights as usual. Instead of laboring over the family Christmas card or getting professional pictures taken as I have in years past, I slapped existing pictures into an online template. The cards look fine, it only took a few minutes to create and it freed up time to be doing things with my family.
A friend recently invited me to a cookie exchange. I declined as I didn’t want to commit to a weekend of baking, and I do not want that many tempting cookies in my house.
Over the weekend we were invited to two Christmas parties. I was inclined to get to both, but Daddylibrium strongly suggested we cut down on what would inevitably lead to stress trying to cram in two parties and just enjoy one. We did, and we had a great and relaxing time that wouldn’t have occurred if we had been watching the clock and racing from one party to the next.
Instead of exchanging gifts, my girlfriends and I treat ourselves to a night of dinner, cocktails and conversation at a local restaurant. Due to size, my family has always had a system where you pick a name and purchase a gift for one person. A few years back, Daddylibrium’s family agreed that the adults would not exchange gifts. Our parents and nephews and nieces (who are all out of state) will be getting gift cards, cash or things that are easily purchased and shipped online.
Make Christmas Merry for You
This post isn’t suggesting that you do exactly what we do. Just take a moment to think about what makes you and your family happiest and pursue it. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy the traditions that bring you joy and scratch the rest. If you love shopping and gifts, spend your time enjoying the festive decorations, music, and deals that are to be had at the local mall. If travel makes you happy, consider skipping the gifts and spending the holiday at the beach.
We’ve already had breakfast with Santa, cut down our tree, organized a neighborhood caroling session and checked off various other items on our holiday to-do list. Our holiday cards are ready to be sent and we have a modest amount of gifts ready for our kids.
We’ve already received the best present of all – warm memories with the people we love the most.