5 Ways to Simplify Christmas

I declare a mutiny on the rush and stress of the Christmas season.

I’m tired of it. It flies directly in the face of every ideal I hold for what Christmas is actually all about, and this year – I’m doing something about it.

Christmas is a time to slow down, reflect, and worship the tiny babe in the manger who came to earth as Love incarnate.

That’s hard to do when you’re immersed in your exasperation over finding that mythical creature called Mall-Parking-Spot at Christmas-time, or when your calendar during the month of December is harder to manage than the President’s. Too many well-intentioned events, activities, and traditions can easily crowd out that time for properly preparing our hearts for the season.

Here are five ways that our family is choosing to simplify this Christmas season so that we can slow down and savour the beauty and magic of the Emmanuel.

1. Finish Buying/Making Gifts by November 30

Since advent starts at the beginning of December, I want to be totally available and focused on preparing my heart for His coming, and in order to do so I don’t want to have to be rushing around, checking off names on my Christmas list. Plus, it’s easier to give meaningful gifts when you aren’t doing it at the last minute.

Some people advocate opting out of gift-giving altogether, but I strongly believe that the gift-giving tradition can honour Christ if you are intentional about what you give (another blog post altogether!).

If I procrastinate (as per usual) and have to rush at the last minute, at least it will be November instead of Christmas Eve when my attention should be elsewhere. We will save wrapping for later though – it will be a family activity one day in December.

2. Electronic Christmas Cards

I have amassed a rather large amount of guilt each year by the week before Christmas because of the stress and inevitable failure in reaching my Christmas-card-sending goals. Sending Christmas cards – even just photo cards – is a huge commitment of time and energy. You need to take a family photo (a feat in and of itself!), choose a design, have them printed, make a recipient list and gather mailing addresses, address envelopes, stamp them, and get them to a mailbox all before the postal service holiday deadlines! That stresses me out just writing about it.

This year – I’m going to use a photo that we took in the summer with all five of us in front of Lake Louise in Banff, design a little Christmas greeting on it, and post it on my blog (and maybe email the link to a few people). If anyone really wants us on their fridge they can feel free to print it out, but otherwise we will save trees, money, and time by doing it this way!

I’m not knocking regular Christmas cards (I LOVE receiving them), but this year our family is simplifying by going electronic.

3. Choose Simple Decor.

There are some seriously intense holiday decorations out there, but if I recall correctly, Jesus was born in a smelly and dirty barn, not a Martha Stewart Living holiday display.

This year we will put up our mini-lights in the living room as always, along with a Christmas tree a few weeks before Christmas. We will also display our new advent candle wreath for the first time this year, with great excitement, and the beautiful manger scene handcrafted by my grandfather. I’ll probably do a few quality crafts with the kids that will double as decor and holiday memories for years to come.

I have nothing against Christmas decorations – I’m against Christmas decorations that do not ultimately point our hearts back to Christ. This year, we will adorn our homes with simplicity and intention.

4. Celebrate Advent.

I grew up with advent being a time to light a candle once a week during the Sunday morning service, each week of December. This year I want to bring advent home and make it the focus of our days leading up to Christmas.

I discovered an incredible new resource this year called Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands. You get 24 days of Scripture reading, ornament crafts, talking points and extension activities. I bought a copy for myself and am so impressed – I am super excited to do this with my two and four-year-old. I think they will completely love it.

5. Stay Home on Christmas Morning.

In years past, we’ve always done a mad dash from one family to another, beginning on Christmas Eve and ending several days after Christmas. Since our families live just 30 minutes from one another, we’ve often tried to split Christmas Day right down the middle, counting the hours and dividing, trying to spend time with each family equally. One especially crazy year I believe we spent as much time bundling everyone up and driving somewhere as we did relaxing and enjoying the day.

This year, we are staying home on Christmas morning, and visiting one side of the family (who live 2 minutes away) in the afternoon for turkey dinner. We’ll see the other side of the family the day after Christmas. That’s it. And all the parents of small children said AMEN!


There are lots of ways that you can choose to simplify Christmas and focus more on what really matters. Whether you join me in these ideas, or go a different direction altogether, the point is to be intentional about it.

What are you doing to make sure your attention is on the right things this year?

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I'm Beth. I created Red & Honey because I'm obsessed with the wild art of wellness.

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  1. Pam says

    Approaching Christmas 2013, I’m interested to hear your reflections on last year Beth. Did you make all the changes you were hoping to? Which was the most helpful? Grace and peace Pam x

  2. says

    Nice article! You might be interested in my tips for reducing and reusing Christmas garbage–I find that seeing some of that stuff as useful reduces the let-down feeling after gifts are opened.

    One of the most helpful Advent tips I’ve ever seen is to pray whenever you are waiting–for water to boil, for your family to be ready to leave the house, for a traffic light to change, for a bus, for your turn at the cashier, whatever. I have found this so helpful for reminding myself to tune in to Jesus in the midst of this hectic season.

  3. Rachel Boadway says

    Thanks for Truth in the Tinsel link! I’ve been wanting to search out a family advent study and feel like you’ve handed it to me on a silver platter! If you have any others, please feel free to send my way!!

    While we’ve been doing better at pacing ourselves by not attending too many Christmas gatherings, I’ve been wondering more lately about at what point does having your own ‘family time’ hinder you from sharing life with others. Perhaps I need to open my home during this special season to those who are lonely or simply have no where to go. Not to do anything fancy or even in a clean home (because then I for sure would never do it!), but just to show the same love that God shows us. Now to figure out how!

    • says

      Wow, glad I could help! Hopefully your family will love it :) Opening your home to the lonely sounds so great… and I agree – HOW to do it is the question! Perhaps there’s someone in your church that doesn’t have any family to visit on Christmas? I had a picture book in my childhood about a couple of kids inviting a lonely old man to Christmas dinner and the way it blessed the whole family. That has stuck with me all of these years, and I often wish that sort of thing for us.

  4. says

    This is such an important thing for me to read (I read it last night when you posted it but didn’t comment as I was on my phone). Thank you for writing it. This is our first Christmas at home and I’m going to have a really hard time making it feel special. But I know I definitely need to. I also have a hard time justifying all the Santa stuff that my husband likes to incorporate. I have some Advent candles from last year and really want to check out those links you posted about celebrating Advent. I think that’s what I’ll be putting my focus on this year.

    • says

      Letting go of our childhood Christmas with parents is hard isn’t it? I am ridiculously attached to those memories. Well, maybe it’s not ridiculous. I do need to embrace new traditions though. I hope you are able to do the same. I’m really excited about advent this year. Did you check out that Truth in the Tinsel link? I’ve heard so many amazing things about it, it’s gotta be good.

  5. Alyssa Sampson says

    Ooh I like that Nov. 30 deadline. Kind of like setting clocks ten minutes fast so I have a hope of ever being on time for work/school/whatever! I am definitely more motivated to get my act together over the next two weeks and reward myself with a more relaxed, less guilt-haunted December :)

  6. Marci says

    I don’t know if I’ll have shopping done by the end of November, but that’s because I have a big belly and am doing Chirstmas shopping sllloooowwwwllllyy :). We have also been focusing more on Christian Advent celebrations as a family.

    We have been focusing on simplifying by staying home on Christmas morning. My mom’s side of the family used to have this huge potluck Christmas, with well over 50 people all crowded into the house. I would always make two huge turkeys and do lots of baking too. And I’ve been doing this every Christmas and Thanksgiving since I was 16 years old – two turkeys and lots of baking. And finally, once our daughter was born, I took stock of my mom’s family’s style of doing Christmas….and realized that, for our family, the spirit of peace and joy and Christs love at chirstmas was bgine drowned out by all the booking. I would fall into bed without fail by 6:30pm on Christmas day due to exhaustion. And once our daughter came, I just realized that this was not what I wanted to pass on to her – that Christmas is about hustle and bustle and spending the day cooking and then passing out from exhaustion. As the years have gone by, lots of family members stopped bringing substantial dishes to Christmas too, causing even more stress, with myself and a few other family members pitching in to ‘fill in’ such dishes. Potluck only works if everyone is truly carrying their own weight! Turns out my husband was feeling the same way, so we just kindly told all our family last year that we would no longer be attending the big family Christmas shebang. We decided to do Thanksgiving that way….but not Christmas. Christmas day will be staying at home as a family or going to my husband’s side of the family (they have a very balanced approach to Christmas day and we never leave feeling exhausted, and there is time to read the children the Christmas story and focus our hearts on Christ’s gift to us). So that – in and of itself – hugely simplified Christmas for us :). Christmas day at our house, and occassionally, at my husband’s side of the family’s home.

    And yes, people in my mom’s family gave us grief about the decision, but sometimes, you have to look around and realize how little ears and eyes are going to perceive the holidays as they are growing up, kwim? Everything can’t be done simply because ‘this is how we’ve ALWAYS done it’.

    • says

      Wow, your courage in bucking the status quo is commendable, especially as it pertains to family stuff. That can be difficult! Well done for making an intentional effort to change and teach your daughter a better way. Hope you’re feeling well in this pregnancy!

  7. says

    We’re doing several of these same things to be intentional about keeping Christ in the center of our Christmas. I’m hoping to have all Christmas shopping before Black Friday and then avoid stores until after the New Year!

  8. says

    We’ve been working toward simplifying the details of celebration while deepening the heart of our celebrating for the past eight years and each year we learn and change. Our focus is on the season of advent and it has been so meaningful, yet even that I have had to learn to simplify so that the heart isn’t overshadowed by the details.
    Anyways, loved reading this and I am so with you on the mutiny on the rush and stress!

    • says

      Yes, it’s certainly a journey isn’t it? Each year can bring new depth to this, more focus on the right things. I know that you’ve blogged about advent before, and I hope you do it again, I can learn so much from you in that area!

  9. Nicole S. says

    New to your blog, via Northwest Edible Life. Love it! Amen to simpler Christmas when you have little ones. Mine are 2 and 3 1/2.

  10. Sarah says

    I doubht we’ll be done by the end of November but I am making 80% of our gifts. we are keeping it extra simple this year. Why spend tons of money when half the time the person/child doesn’t use it. Instead of gifts per person we are only doing family gifts. Pinterest has great ideas and has greatly helped us with simple ideas for Christmas

    • says

      For some people handmade can complicate things because it’s a big time investment (ie. me, because i procrastinate!), but if you can do it then by all means – go for it… it’s admirable!

  11. Alyssa Meyer says

    Great post! I love the idea of being done shopping by the end of November… this will be my goal. I am interested in your link Truth in the Tinsel, it wouldn’t open :)

  12. Andrea Wolfe says

    YES!!! Loved this. We feel very much the same way, have for years, really, but never done anything intentional to change it. This year we are planning on staying here on the West Coast for Christmas, just us. Simple family Christmas, simple gifts, time to reflect and not be stressed by the hustle and bustle. And I can’t wait!! As much as we will miss our families, we feel that this will be a wonderful Christmas in it’s own way.
    I really like your idea of having all the gifts made/bought by Nov 30. That would alleviate SO much stress! Thanks for the helpful post! xo

    • says

      I hope you guys do have a fabulous Christmas even though you’ll be alone. Hopefully it will be a chance to get some of your “own” traditions started! Thanks for reading :)

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