This is the 20th Christmas Ben and I have celebrated in our own home, but I feel like I still keep tweaking traditions each year, trying to figure out how to make it more meaningful and memorable, without feeling stressed and frazzled.
In my quest for a calmer Christmas, I came across a book a few years ago called “Simplify Christmas” (which is sadly out of print). It included a list of questions to reflect on what would make this holiday most meaningful.
Even though I read it years ago, I still remember three of the questions, because they led to a huge realization: I didn’t actually like Christmas. I dreaded it every year, and these questions made me realize why.
I return to these three simple questions each year, to keep us on track, and to increase the enjoyment of Christmas, while calming the chaos. And it’s helped! I enjoy Christmas so much more than I used to.
They’re such basic questions, it seems unnecessary to ask them, but sometimes we get so stuck in holiday traditions that we forget why we do them, or stop paying attention to how they really make us feel. Maybe you’ll find these three questions helpful this Christmas, too!
What is your favourite Christmas memory from your childhood?
There were lots of things I loved about Christmas as a child, but when I really narrowed it down, I realized my favourite was our family’s candlelit Christmas meal.
My mom insisted it had to be in the evening, so it would be dark when we ate. There were always candles, we always listened to Frank Mills Christmas piano music, and we always ate fried chicken from Chicken Delight. Coleslaw and dinner rolls are more likely to make me think of Christmas dinner than a summer picnic! But it was the way it was. My mom did not spend Christmas in the kitchen.
When I listed these things the first time, I had a few big revelations: I was spending much more time in the kitchen on Christmas than I wanted to, we did not have enough cozy candlelight moments, and we had no piano Christmas music like the kind I grew up listening to.
I realized these were easy problems to solve! We simplified our Christmas meal by switching from a turkey dinner to roast beef. No bones to pick or mess to clean up like after roasting a turkey, and I could just throw potatoes, carrots, and onions right into the slow cooker, to have everything done at the same time, with no extra dishes. Much less time in the kitchen!!
We bought the Piano Guys Christmas album, which perfectly satisfied the desire deep within me for piano Christmas music.
That left the cozy candlelight glow feeling I loved the most. We were already eating our Christmas dinner by candlelight, but I decided that since it was my favourite, and stood out to me the most from all my childhood memories, we should have more of it. More of what I love = more love!
So we started a little tradition called the Christmas Eve Hot Chocolate Party. We set up a little table by the Christmas tree filled with sweets and hot chocolate (which is more sugar than my kids eat the entire rest of the year, so they think it’s a dream come true), and have a cozy little snack on Christmas Eve. (Bonus: it helps me feel less guilty about the fact that we will never have a sleepover by our Christmas tree. Nothing about that idea appeals to me.)
But the Hot Chocolate Party is magical.
It was incredibly helpful for me to use childhood memories to shift our own family’s traditions. Now that my girls are old enough to have their own Christmas memories from when they were younger, I’ve asked them the same question, and used their answers to make sure we cover all the things that are most special for them. They’ve said things like decorating the tree together as a family, opening presents on Christmas morning (and not waiting until later in the day), setting up our Christmas village ornaments, and decorating gingerbread houses. *Ben is not a fan of gingerbread houses, but preassembled houses are an acceptable compromise. 🙂
What do you enjoy the least about Christmas?
When I thought about how I felt about Christmas as a kid, and how I feel about Christmas as an adult, I realized that all the childhood magic was gone, and was replaced with stress and an overwhelming schedule. I had no time or energy to enjoy Christmas when it arrived, because I was too tired from getting ready for it.
It became clear that I needed to simplify Christmas so I have energy to enjoy it, and room to focus on why we are doing all of this on the first place.
Cutting out the turkey dinner was a great first step, but I needed more ways to eliminate the busyness.
My Christmas stress comes from three places: buying gifts, baking, and so many gatherings and events that I don’t have downtime in between.
I decided to make a strict rule that we would be done shopping by December 1 this year, and it has made the biggest difference. This is happening every year from now on, because it’s something I can control, and it is wonderful to have all our gifts taken care of by December.
Same goes for baking. I shared on social media about how I’m skipping the Christmas baking completely this year, but for next year, the baking will happen very early.
As I made these important deadlines for myself, I realized that I have been cramming all three of the most stressful parts of Christmas into the first three weeks of December! What a horrible idea!
This seems like something I should have figured out years ago, but the problem was I used snow as my motivation. I wanted to feel Christmas-y when I got ready for Christmas, and I don’t feel that way until it snows. But if it happens to be a year with hardly any snow before Christmas, I put off getting things done. I am placing my enjoyment of celebrating the birth of Jesus in the hands of the weather. That seems irresponsible and unpredictable.
I need a new motivation. I can motivate myself to get ready for Christmas early because I want to work first, so I can play later. It has nothing to do with when it snows. It has to do with earning my relaxing Christmas by finishing the work ahead of time.
So next year, I will start early, independent of when it snows, and I will remember that I can’t do everything at once, so I will start early enough that I’m not cramming it in during the busiest stretch.
Except there is no busy stretch this year. Covid took care of the busy schedule for me, and while I am enjoying how relaxed it feels, it’s a good reminder that Christmas without people to celebrate with feels empty. When all the gatherings come back next year (hopefully!), I will be thankful for the perspective this Christmas has given me.
What do you enjoy most about Christmas now?
Happily, my work from the first question has paid off, because I realized this year that what I’m looking forward to most is our Hot Chocolate Party! I love it more than Christmas day itself, and it makes sense, because it includes all the magic from my favourite childhood moments.
Opening presents on Christmas morning feels a bit weird to me, but that’s one of Ben’s meaningful Christmas memories, and I’m happy to get on board with it. Our Hot Chocolate Party is a great way to make sure I get my cozy Christmas-y evening, and he gets his exciting morning. We all get our favourite kinds of Christmas moments wrapped up into one holiday. ❤️
And now I’m really curious how you would answer these questions! What are your best/worst Christmas moments, and your favourite childhood memories?