Christmas can be an intimidating time for a mom. There are so many expectations from your children, even from fellow parents, to put on the “perfect” Christmas.
So many items on their wish list. So many events. So many craft ideas. So many recipes. So many expectations.
I know that the struggle is real. As mother’s, we can feel obligated to fulfill all our children’s Christmas fantasies. But let me tell you a secret….. your children don’t know what defines a “good” Christmas. To them every little thing will be magic because they are kids! And kids are pros at making life magical.
Don’t worry if you don’t have tons of money to splurge. Don’t feel like a failure of a mom if you aren’t doing DIY crafts and decorations. Don’t apologize for not making 1,000 sugar cookies with your kids on your one weekend off.
In my opinion, simple is more magical. The magic of Christmas is this: that Jesus Christ came to earth to be with us. There is nothing more magical than that.
I want Christmas to point my children to Jesus. To gratitude. To family oriented celebration. To joy and contentment.
So no more overwhelming ourselves to the point of exhaustion and frustration during the holiday’s. Here are 5 simple elements that I really believe need to be part of the Christmas season. I’ve included some ideas under each element to get the wheels rolling, and maybe you can make some of them some long-lasting traditions for your family!
Here’s to a joyful Christmas of celebrating and thankfulness and remembering what we have been given.
Christmas Decorating Day. Make a big deal about initiating the new season. Whether or not you have tons of decorations to put up, make it a celebration! Pick a day you don’t have anything going on and fully enjoy the day with your children. Play Christmas music all day while you decorate.
Make Christmas music & movies special. There is SO much nostalgia with media for me. There’s nothing like pulling out that movie that we watched every year and snuggling on the couch as a family to watch it. There are certain songs that make my heart feel like it’s grown 3 sizes. Save these special songs and movies for this season with your family and make a big deal about enjoying them. On your first official “Christmas” day, whip out a family favorite movie and turn on that Christmas playlist. You’ll be creating memories your kids will never forget.
Tree Picking Day. If your family likes to get a real tree, make it a tradition to take an afternoon to go to the Christmas tree farm, get hot chocolate and maybe go eat together. If you’re low on funds, go home and watch a Christmas movie with some popcorn while you decorate the tree. These will be incredible memories for your family.
Christmas bucket list. Work together with your kids to make a bucket list of things they want to enjoy this season as a family. Encourage them to think of free things, but a few with a small cost wouldn’t hurt if you can afford them. Maybe there is a new Christmas movie coming out and you could go to a Sunday matinee with the family. Maybe they really want to build a snow fort. Maybe they want to go see Santa. Let your kids brainstorm, then do your best to fulfill their Christmas dreams!
Christmas wish lists. The good old Christmas list. To prevent unmet expectations, which is really hard to do this time of year, let your kids know their parameters. My mom always told us we got one “big” present and the rest would be “small”. Small usually meant under $20, while big was something more than that. We knew that we would not get everything on the list, but that it was a list of ideas for her to work with. If your kids believe in Santa, make sure they know that they won’t receive everything on the list but that it’s just for Santa to get ideas and to know what they want. A huge part of guaranteeing a disappointment free Christmas is lowering expectations. If kids know what to expect, they won’t have broken expectations resulting in broken hearts on Christmas day.
Begin Advent. Advent is the preparation of our hearts for the “coming” of Christ. Although Christ has already come, Advent is a traditional way to prepare our hearts for the real reason we celebrate Christmas. It is so good to do this with our kids – to focus on what we are really doing this season. Some people do this every evening for four entire weeks before Christmas. This is a great thing to do for an individual reflective time with God! But as a family it may be more practical to do it once a week for four weeks. My family did it on Sunday evenings, with our last Advent being on Christmas Eve (regardless of day of the week). We lit 5 candles (one for each of the 4 Sundays’, and 1 for Christmas Eve). If you’ve never done Advent, there are so many resources and reading/devotional plans to do as an individual or as a family! Look into it and find something that works great for your family.
Everyone picks one toy and one book to give to charity. You know as well as I do that your kids do NOT need any more toys. But, I’m not one of those moms that can just forgo the toys completely. If you are a mom that wants to do that I salute you! But personally I just loved the gifts too much as a kid and I LOVE buying them. In order to counteract the crazy that happens after Christmas ever year, have your kids pick some things to give away. Depending on how many kids you have and how much junk, YOU can pick how much and what they need to give away. But whatever you pick, stick to your guns and give specific numbers of each item that they need to put in the donation box. It’s a great way to remind kids that stuff is not the most important thing in the world and that others don’t have as much as we do. This may be a great time for you to talk to your kids about how some people don’t have as much as we do (“some people” and “we” is super relative, I know! But there will always be some people with more than us and some people with less!). This is why we must have a generous spirit and willing to part with what we have been given to help others.
Fill stockings for homeless people to keep in the back of your car. This is one thing that I so badly want to do, but I honestly don’t have enough extra money right now to accomplish this. A great idea would be if each of your kid’s went without one gift this year so you can use the money to buy a stocking full of gifts for each kid, then throughout the Christmas season each of them can take a turn giving theirs to a homeless person! There are plenty of ideas on Pinterest for filling these stockings, but they are mostly necessities such as: deodorant, gloves, hats, chapstick, toothpaste, toothbrushes, reusable water bottles, and a gas station or fast food gift card.
Adopt a family in your community. I’m not sure how common this is anymore, but there are several help centers and ministries that can let you know what families are in need in your area and let you “host” Christmas for them. That means that you are given the ages and genders of each child in the family and a wish list (the parents may request some foods as well to get them through the holiday). Then you can buy them gifts and wrap them and take them to their house sometime during the season. I’ve done this twice now and although it is a little awkward, it is also a really great way to bless the families. If you prefer, you can give the gifts privately to the parents so that they can give them to the kids themselves on Christmas morning.
Christmas GIVE lists. While every kid knows what a Christmas WISH list is, not many have probably made a GIVE list. Encourage your kids, no matter how young or old, to write down a list of people they love. Their family members, teachers, friends, aunts/uncles, grandparents, cousins, mailman, pastor… whoever they want to put on their list is fine. Then have them think of one thing they can do for that person this season that is kind or helpful. Maybe they want to buy a little gift! Maybe the would like to make a gift or craft for them Maybe they can go help that person with something. Maybe they can make cookies or draw a picture. Help your kids think of something to give to each person they care about this season to remind them that it’s not all about them and their desires this Christmas.
Christmas boxes for Samaritans Purse. I have always loved filling my Christmas boxes! Samaritans Purse hosts a fabulous ministry called “Operation Christmas Child”. You can fill a shoe box with gifts and necessities for a girl or boy of a certain age range. Then you find a drop-off location closest to you and the box will get sent to 3rd world country for a little boy or girl in need to enjoy for Christmas! I loved doing this when I was a kid and always picked the age range to send to a girl the same age as me. Another great part of this ministry is that you are welcome to write a letter and send a picture of your family, and sometimes the kids will write back to you.
Bake cookies and take to your neighbors. I absolutely love doing this. While this may have been common back in the day, our neighbors were absolutely beside themselves when we dropped off cookies the first Christmas after we moved onto the block. If you have the time to do this, it’s also a great way to invite your neighbors to your church’s Christmas services.
Help give out food or Christmas boxes at your local shelter or food bank. Depending on where you live, there are likely several opportunities to get involved. Our small town hands out Christmas boxes (boxes filled with your typical holiday food and some basic food items) and it is a whole town effort to collect all the food items and then to pass them out and make sure nobody gets more than one box. I’ve also helped distribute meals at homeless shelter’s, but depending on where you live you may or may not be able to get to one. It’s really good for our children to see people in need and recognize their blessings, but something we don’t talk about as much is that our kids need to see that those people are just like them! It’s not about thinking “Wow, poor people. Glad I have what I have.” It’s about getting to know people from another walk of life and letting those people know that they have worth.
Visit a nursing home to talk and sings some carols. It saddens me every time I drive past our local nursing home because I know that there are elderly folks in there that have been totally forgotten or neglected by their families. For most of them, all it would take would be an hour or two chatting with them and maybe singing a carol or two. They just want to be remembered and have someone come just to SEE them. I’m sure hearing your children’s laughter would be a great way to life their spirits this season.
Don’t be afraid to say no. Christmas can get so crazy busy and overwhelming. But who says you have to do everything? This year, choose to prioritize Christmas events that you really want to enjoy and let yourself participate fully in those! Figure out what will be best for your family (and what events your ENTIRE family can do together) and say yes to those. Maybe you could even bake a pie, or help decorate, or maybe even host something yourself. With Christmas, quality over quantity still applies.
Participate in one of your church’s Christmas programs. The kid’s pageant. The choir. The Christmas Eve service. If there is an event, sign up to make a dessert or do the nursery or play the piano. Like my above point, if you aren’t doing too many things overall, then you will have the ability to fully participate! Although I think it applies all year round, to me there is nothing more sad than being so busy at Christmas that you don’t even get to enjoy any of it. Don’t let your kids see you being stressed and exhausted at Christmas time. Let them see you smiling, laughing, singing, participating and celebrating. There’s no greater gift you can give your kids this Christmas than to ENJOY the season with them.
Host a Christmas Party. Of course, this won’t be able to happen every year. There will be many seasons of life where this is flat out out of the question. But if there’s a year where your life is stable and everything is sound, host a party! Maybe you could just invite a family you are close to for dinner and games. Or you could let your kids have a party with their friends. Maybe it will just be a party for YOU and YOUR friends while you have snazzy appetizers and drink wine. Being with friends will help your whole family to relax and remember the things you are thankful for.
Get into the Christmas spirit. Yes, adulthood sucks a lot of joy out of us. But I believe that we all have the ability to retrieve those old feelings of good old Christmas cheer from our childhood. Even if it just means reliving some of the nostalgia. Maybe you need to grab an old Christmas movie, toy, or decoration from your parent’s house. Maybe you need to make an old recipe or repeat an old tradition. Whatever it looks like for you, take the time to get yourself, as a mama, into the spirit. Let yourself enjoy and celebrate and let your kids see you doing this. It really is a blessing to your whole family if you can enjoy the season just as much as they are.
Keep Christmas Eve simple. You’ve spent an entire season running here and there to different events and parties, decorating, eating, shopping, wrapping, checking your to-do list twice. On Christmas Eve, I would encourage you to take a time of reflection. Stop the crazy for the evening and talk to your kids about the true meaning of Christmas. Shut off the social media and turn down the lights. Enjoy the tree and some Christmas music. Turn on the fireplace if you have one. Make some hot drinks and have a light dinner (since you’ll probably be stuffing your face tomorrow). Take the evening to remember WHO you are celebrating and go to bed early if possible (at least the kid’s… we know you’ll be up late “Santa”).
Write a list of thankfulness. There is nothing more humbling than thinking of all the things you are grateful for. You could have your kids make lists, or you could sit around the tree and just share things as a family. Tell each other what you are thankful for. Make sure your kids recognize that they are blessed and that being able to celebrate Christmas is a blessing in and of itself.
Listen to Christmas hymns together. If you’re musical, sit around the piano and sing together in beautiful harmony! If that’s not your family’s thing, play some over the stereo and bask in the memories that each song brings.
Go to a local Christmas Eve service. Whether or not you regularly attend church, Christmas is one of those times of year that just doesn’t seem right without going to a service. Check out what options are around your area and take the family.
Read the Christmas story together. I will never forget the years as a very small child when we would sit at our candlelit dinner table and my daddy would read the entire Christmas story from the book of Luke. It settled all of our hearts and even as little ones we knew that it was a time of reverence, quiet and reflection. Take the evening to remember the reason for our joy.
Start the morning with hot chocolate to fill up bellies. We all know that kids don’t want breakfast before presents. They won’t ever notice they are hungry until every gift is unwrapped. I heard of another family doing this and thought it seemed like a fabulous idea. Make a crockpot of hot chocolate or cider before the kids wake up (unless your whole family drinks coffee – then a pot of coffee it is!). Make it a tradition that everyone grabs a cup and sits around the living room before you start opening presents.
Make stockings from “Santa”. A post has been going around social media lately talking about the problem with Santa, and I vividly remember this from my childhood. Some of my friends were getting TV’s, five American Girl dolls, huge kitchen sets, even pets, and their parents told them they were from Santa! And here I was getting one toy, usually a good toy but STILL just one toy from Santa. I was young, but I definitely noticed. However, my parents had enough money to spoil us a little bit. I can’t imagine how those kids felt who weren’t getting anything from Santa and probably were confused and hurt and felt jipped. This post going around right now suggests that if you are going to do Santa, tell your children that their stocking is from Santa. A stocking full of candy and small goodies. Then the big presents come from you. I love this idea, even though I don’t plan to do Santa with my kids. If you are, I suggest that you do this as well.
Mystery wrapping paper. I am absolutely in LOVE with this idea and can’t wait until my children are old enough to comprehend this! Each Christmas, choose one wrapping paper for each kid. They have to open their stockings first to know which gifts are theirs because they will NOT be labeled “to/from”! It’s a mystery until the bottom of the stocking, which will have a little clipping of the wrapping paper at the bottom. This eliminates the desire to snoop and shake their presents until Christmas day.
Make gift opening an all-day affair. Now, my family had 8 kids so this was easy for us. This may not work for you, or maybe you would enjoy spacing out the gifts. But there is nothing that bothers me more at a Christmas gathering than everyone ripping open their gifts all at once and talking over each other. There is no thankfulness, appreciation or recognition for the loved one who gave the gift. My family did a cycle each year. Stockings were a free for all… we could even open them before mom and dad were awake! But presents were ONLY once mom and dad were awake, and we had to go one at a time all watching the designated opener. My parents also made us go youngest to oldest, which I thought was cool. With 10 people total, we went from the baby to Dad (one gift each) and then when that cycle was through we took a break to clean up, drink coffee, snuggle, relax. Then a little while later we would beg mom to do another cycle. It made the presents last until at least early afternoon and gave us time to appreciate each gift for awhile longer before rushing on to the next. I loved the sense of gratitude, patience and togetherness that this tradition brought our family every Christmas morning.
Need + Wear + Want + Read. I’m not sure if I will do this, and I’m sure you could choose whichever categories you wanted, but I’ve heard of a lot of families that do this. Each kid only gets 4 gifts total (aside from stockings)! One that they need, one that they wear, one that they want and one that they read. I love the concept, but personally I may change the categories. Like for my child this year I did: Read + Create + Play + Snuggle. Though they are all technically “want” items, I got him some books, art supplies, one big toy and a stuffed animal. I love the idea of limiting gifts and having designated categories so that kid’s know what to expect, as well as limiting mom’s so we don’t go overboard on the shopping. 🙂 EX: “Ugh! That toy is perfect for *kid*! But I already got him his toy. I guess it’ll have to wait until next year.”
Special Christmas Morning Breakfast. My family always did this, and I guess it started with my paternal Grandmother. After some gift opening had happened, we had a late morning (10:30-11) breakfast. It was a whole event in and of itself. Orange juice, coffee, grapefruit, green scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage patties, toast, and dinner rolls baked into the shape of a Christmas tree (complete with green icing and cherry’s on top of each roll!). The whole thing was so fun and something to look forward to every single year. I didn’t even like half of the food as a kid, but it was still fun! I would suggest making ONE traditional meal every Christmas that is uniquely yours. It could be on Christmas eve, or any meal on Christmas day. Have your kids help you pick out different favorite foods and recipe ideas, and at least one special Christmas dish, and make a brand new tradition.
Watch Christmas movie. When all the gifts are through and everything is cleaned up, start a fire in the fireplace and turn on a Christmas movie for the whole family to watch.
Play a game together as a family. After gifts, a giant meal and a movie everyone will probably be feeling a little groggy and maybe restless. Finish off the evening with some competition! Make some popcorn or pizza
What are your family’s favorite Christmas traditions?