12 Tips for an Easier Christmas

12 Tips for an Easier Christmas

I’m glad for two things: I’m glad to be posting again, and I’m also glad that the past few weeks are in my rearview mirror. That was an unplanned break, so thanks for meeting me here again.

Being gone for a while and coming back to the profusion of gift guides, giveaways, recipes, and holiday crafts, it kind of looks like the internet has gone crazy. Don’t people have jobs? Don’t they have work to do? Because I haven’t experienced that level of free time since junior high. Then I remember that some people’s jobs are to take professional pictures of things you could do, but no one expects you to actually do them. It’s for entertainment purposes only, like window shopping.

There are some who say the best way to simplify Christmas is to organize it neatly into several weeks of checklists, but my life does not fall so neatly into an organized plan that way.

I want to keep the merry-making that makes the holidays festive, but still be realistic. Here are 12 tips to make Christmas easier:

1. Handmade does not have to mean DIY. In other words, you do not have to make your own wreath. I have a set of vintage crochet snowflakes that I love, but I didn’t crochet them myself. That would have taken a week, so I bought them on Etsy for $2 each. Some of the gifts I bought were handmade by artisans, and I bought them from fair-trade stores such as SERRV and Trade as One. (Fair trade is becoming easier to find and affordable, so you can feel really good about what you buy.)

2. We’re following an Advent reading plan with the Jesus Storybook Bible. It’s just a few short pages a day. There is no Christmas countdown with individually-wrapped candy in tiny gift boxes or other 24-day commitments. A Jesse tree with special handmade ornaments was never going to happen.

3. Santa does not make wishes come true. He is a jolly man who loves Christmas. He hangs candy canes on our tree. He does not go shopping at Target because he does not have Target at the North Pole. Santa fills stockings with fun little treats like juice boxes, apples, a small toy, and drawing supplies.

4. We give each of our kids one super-fun toy. (Yes, one.) Our extended family gives them more presents. With just one toy for us to choose, we can be thoughtful about it. There is less pressure about topping last year’s gifts, and the kids can remember what they were given.

5. Buy, wrap, and ship gifts early. Even after shortening the list and drawing names, I have a long gift list, but I like to give Christmas presents. This is the most time-consuming part of holiday plans with a lot of potential for things to go wrong. If you lose a shipment in the mail, you need time to resolve issues so you’re not stressed out on the 23rd. You also get to pay less for shipping. I try to get most of my shopping done before Thanksgiving, but I still have a few gifts I need to buy.

reading under the tree

6. Decorate with books and blankets under the tree instead of gifts. If you don’t want Christmas to be all about the gifts, don’t make your kids look at wrapped presents all month. After I wrap the gifts, I put them up at the top of the closet and then bring them out on Christmas. You can find lots of holiday children’s books in this post.

7. You don’t need to “entertain” your friends. I was watching a television show on which the homeowners had renovated their kitchen so they could entertain for the holidays. During the last segment of the show, the homeowner presented a tray of food to his guest and offered, “Lambchop?” I laughed so hard. People, your friends don’t expect you to act like this. (Wednesday we’ll talk about the food and drinks you like to keep on hand for last-minute get-togethers.)

8. Keep family traditions flexible by asking, “What’s best for this year?” It’s okay if you need to skip a year.

9. Limit traveling. If you have spent every Christmas in the car dividing up your holiday between different sides of the family, I think it’s time you get to spend a Christmas at home. Especially if you have kids, traveling during the holidays is hard. It might be too late to change plans for this year, but consider the possibility of staying home next year.

10. Combine your efforts. Christmas baking or simple crafts can become gifts for friends. Last year we made cinnamon ornaments which became the gifts my daughter gave to her friends.

11. Set a cutoff date. At some point, the shopping, events, crafting, and cooking need to stop so you can settle down and enjoy things from the view of the couch. Postpone people’s requests until after Christmas. No more client projects or house projects. Take time to decompress and eat Rice Krispie treats while watching Elf.

12. Do preventive life maintenance. The holidays do not seem to care that life goes on as usual. Stock up on toilet paper. Do some basic car maintenance so you don’t get stranded somewhere. Make sure you have toothpaste. Make soup, not just cookies.

What makes the holidays easier for you?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Welcome back Rachel! Great thoughts about making the time leading up to Christmas easier and more stress-free. I especially like the idea about putting books and blankets under the tree instead of presents. Too late for this year, but I might try that one next year! For some reason, I find that everyone wants to have a final catchup at the end of the year, in the few weeks before Christmas, like we’ll never see each other again :) It’s lovely to spend time with friends and family, but I find the early months of the new year a far better time to relax with friends than right before Christmas.
    Kim @ Extra Organised´s last post…Today’s organising bliss: Possessions that motivate

    • So true! In the Catholic tradition, and many other traditions as well, Christmas day is not just one day, it is an octave of days, and then it stretches out into a whole season! And it lasts until February 2nd, so there is no rush to get everything in by the 25th. If you really think of it as a celebration of a birth, then the preparation (Advent) is like late pregnancy, when you ‘nest’ to get everything ready, and when the baby is born, you rest and relax and enjoy and celebrate!

  2. When my girls were little I used to provide them with a big bag of fiberfill and round up all their little dollhouse-size toys. They would spend hours under the tree making little worlds. At our house the presents come down on Christmas eve.

    One simplifying thought…” if they see it, they will want it.” our girls are teens and we still just stay out of stores with them. We don’t have TV and I remove catalogs from the mail. They have very small wish lists and those wish lists reflect genuine needs or interests. I bought their gifts quite awhile ago and if they went into a mall or saw a catalog now, they would suddenly have big lists and would be disappointed on Christmas Day.

    • Sarah, that is such simple wisdom. Years ago I stopped looking at ads because when I saw IT on sale, I got confused and thought I needed IT. Most of IT is unnecessary plastic items anyway!

      I hope your teens stay unstained by the world and its false wants and wishes.

  3. Thank you, Rachel, for putting common sense and simplicity into this crazy busy time of year… It’s refreshing!

  4. A wonderful post. Re-post it every year the day after……..Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas.

  5. Love this post! I have really simplified Christmas over the last few years and what a relief! I no longer exchange gifts with friends (I’d really rather acknowledge someone’s birthday anyway), for the first time ever I made the choice not to do Christmas cards (I know, gasp!), and everything was done early including shipping. It’s so sad that this beautiful time of year is so stressful and anxious for a lot of people. I avoid that with my simplicity, easy dinner’s during this time such as homemade soups and chili along with crock pot meals. When you simplify it’s much easier to get things done ahead of time and it allows me time to knit and sew and enjoy Christmas movies.

  6. Rachel ~ You’re funny! “Lambchop?” I laughed out loud.
    How do we make the holidays easier?
    A lights only Christmas tree.
    No Christmas cards.
    My husband is a pastor so Christmas is a super crazy time. We decided long ago that keeping Christmas all year is the way to make the 25th special. We set aside expectations and focus on making sure to meet with family at mealtimes. Those are our best memories of all. Not all the stuff.
    Thanks for your list. I love it.
    Susie Davis´s last post…how to help in times like these: school shooting.

    • What’s so crazy about lambchops? They’re great party food on their own stick. You buy a rack of lamb and cut them into individual servings, grill them and serve with a bit of mint jelly.

  7. “Then I remember that some people’s jobs are to take professional pictures of things you could do, but no one expects you to actually do them. It’s for entertainment purposes only, like window shopping.”

    This, my friend, has given me freedom today. Thank you for this post.

    • I concur! This lowers the bar from unobtainable expectations back to regular human-grade expectations.
      I long stopped following blogs that feature insanely up-close photo’s of every perfect meal & crafts to challenge even Martha’s abilities.
      I live a regular life. In suburbia. I buy groceries at a Super WalMart. I wear a faded tshirt around my house that I got 15 or 22 years ago. I eat peanut butter from the jar. I take photo’s that somehow always have my thumb in it. My couch has a permanent dent in from where we sit. The last crafty thing I made was in Girls Scouts circa 1980.
      I don’t “pin” anything or subscribe to higher crafting expectation blogs because that only serves to intimate me from the life I already have (one of which I thoroughly enjoy by the way) to a life less like the one I want.

  8. Glad your voice of reason is back, Rachel! We deliberately keep our Christmas shopping and decorating simple as possible. Limiting the number of gifts given is key. The year our first baby was born we put the brakes on the Christmas day driving everywhere to see everyone. We stay home and have a peaceful day enjoying the gift of sweet little family.

    I will simplify this year by no longer serving trays of lambchops at parties. :)
    Robin from Frugal Family Times´s last post…We’re in "The Loop": Our Newest Gig!

  9. I LOVE 8. Keep family traditions flexible by asking, “What’s best for this year?” It’s okay if you need to skip a year. I have a hard time skipping traditions … normally. But this year I’m pregnant and simply don’t have the energy. It is nice that someone else gets this.

  10. Mercedes D. says:

    So glad you’re back! I think your family rocks.

    I love Christmas, and it’s awesome that you are sharing these ideas when we are bombarded with Dursley-ish pressures to ‘get more presents that last year’.

    Merry Happy!

  11. Oh how I have missed your wisdom and common sense. It is so nice to have you posting again! I also enjoy reading what others are doing to simplify Christmas…..and will be implementing many of the wonderful ideas they have given! At our home presents aren’t brought out until Christmas. We have our Nativity set up under the tree. Though I do very much love putting blankets and books too. Will add those next year! For several years now our young daughter makes her Christmas wish list according to these guidelines (I saw them somewhere on the internet): 1 thing she wants, 1 thing she needs, something to wear and something to read. She will also get one small surprise. These guidelines make her Christmas meaningful and not overwhelming.

    My life in general has been about simplifying for several years now. I regularly look for ways to make things easier and more meaningful for our family. It is amazing how much better life has become for all of us.

    Thank you Rachel!


  12. Thank you for the reality check and practical advice! Glad you’re back; I missed your posts! :)

  13. Thank you for such a refreshing look at Christmas (and welcome back!).

    We only give our kids one gift and this year it’s not going to be a thing, it’s going to be an airplane ride at the local airport with a friend who’s a pilot. My side of the family skipped gifts this year in order to have a family portrait taken professionally.

    I limit the craziness by making a terse little list of the Christmas things we want to do and then anything else is just extra fun if we feel like it. The list this year is chop + decorate tree, make cookies together, fill stockings, set up manger scene, Krist Kindle a church family (like Secret Santa), and caroling. That’s it.

    I’m going to put Christmas books under the tree next year – what a great idea! (Currently the only things under there are fallen needles and gifts the children made and wrapped in newspaper the day the tree went up).
    Margo, Thrift at Home´s last post…The 1970s Plaid Blouse

  14. Great post, Rachel. Glad you are back. I was a little worried about you and wondered where you were (hope you were/are OK!).

  15. Such good reminders — simplifying allows us to enjoy the things that make the holidays memorable. Looking at the week of work and school schedules ahead I have decided the attempt to make cookies to share with our great neighbors will have to be a “Happy New Year!” treat instead. And if it doesn’t happen, then a sincere “we are so lucky to have you as neighbors” will have to do! — and what’s so bad about that?! ~ Kat
    Kat B.´s last post…Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

  16. Annette Lessmann says:

    Welcome back, I missed your writings!

    We began simplifying Christmas the year we lost 4 family members in the 8 weeks leading up to the holiday. The very best advice we got was to, “Decide what you want to do and then do just that.” It gave us the freedom to avoid going to too many parties, buying too many gifts, and spending too much money. After 12 years of following this advice I have gotten good at it. We moved last Christmas and didn’t decorate at all. This year we went through all the ornaments and decorations, deciding what would fit in our smaller house and what would go to a charity store. And we decided to paint AFTER the new year has come and gone. Life is simpler this way.

  17. “Then I remember that some people’s jobs are to take professional pictures of things you could do, but no one expects you to actually do them. It’s for entertainment purposes only, like window shopping.”

    This quote actually gave me the opposite reaction as Southern Gal – I need to stop being “inspired” by so many projects on sewing blogs and get off the damned computer and DO some of them. Stop living vicariously through other people’s beautiful homes, and start making my own home beautiful!

    I love cards and the silly annual newsletters – both sending and receiving them. This year, however, I’ve had sick kids most of the month, and I’m in my 3rd trimester with another one … I went the email route for our Christmas card, even though I hate that. It just wasn’t going to happen any other way, and the whole shebang was done in about 30 minutes instead of taking days. Hooray!

  18. Very refreshing! I’m also glad to see you back. I have checked daily :)

  19. I’ve missed your sensible simple posts! Thanks for letting me know I don’t have to do some sort of advent/24 day thing to celebrate Christmas and be a “good” mom! I needed that. :)

  20. Missed you! I am so grateful for this post. I am going to share it with everyone. This year I {kinda] took a year off and chose to buy for a family that really needed it. It'[s not very well received in my family but I feel great — less stress this year for me. I am enjoying my pretty Christmas tree, watching Christmas movies with my family and baking yummy treats to enjoy together. Great post!
    Paige´s last post…10 things my mother taught me

  21. A relief to see your posts again! Welcome back.

  22. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  23. This post reminded me why I like your blog. Thanks!

  24. When our kids were little, Santa was called “The Christmas Clown.” Just like other clowns, he was a man (or men) who liked to dress up and be happy. The real meaning of Christmas is Jesus, and has nothing to do with Santa. We may have read about the original Saint Nicolas, who is a good man who died long ago.

  25. Love #11 and #12, especially. So easy for the holidays to seem like taking on a whole other part- time job, in addition to all the life-things still going on. We only do one small gift if family member is under 9 or over 90. And this year we’ve focused on one event each weekend, really enjoying that, and not trying to cram in too much. Actually we haven’t decided if we’re going to do cards, yet, still. I get them from a children’s hospital, if I’m going to buy them, so there’s still a benefit in the purchase.
    Glad you’re back, Rachel. I’ve missed seeing Small Notebook in my emails.

  26. Amen.

  27. I can’t choose which of these tips I like best. They are all great. I, too, am glad you’re back. Here’s my tip: Don’t even look at all those blogs created by those who are paid to create things none of us will likely do. They just make me grumpy.
    Rita@thissortaoldlife´s last post…Zooming in

  28. glad you are back!

  29. THIS post is by far the best blog and post I’ve read in a LONG time and I seem to be a self-admitted blog junkie always looking for the “best” way to organize bla,bla,bla! Hats off to you for keeping it real!!!! I esp loved the part about ppl taking pictures of things that are good ideas but you can’t really get them all done. Hello pinterest! (I do love it though!) My husband made the comment that pinterest was for all those people who live by sticky notes and that it was just yet another way to bombard yourself with things to do but that seldom get done and thus create the feeling of being insufficient. Um. He’s right. Again. :-| SO, thank you! I’m sharing this post with so many friends. It’s a wonderful, REAL reminder!!

  30. Yay!! Glad you’re back!

    I like your tips – although I am doing that Truth in the Tinsel advent with Eleanor, and we’re loving it. BUT – I bought the $4 printable ornament option; I am not crazy enough to make a handmade craft every day this month.

    I’d add to your list: don’t try anything new/complex when baking. Stick to familiar favorites. I tried to make homemade gumdrops and, well, 3 days later I’m still trying desperately to get the gummy cement out of my pans. Not even boiling water has been working. :P
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…Christmas Books for Grownups

    • I wonder if Goo Gone would help get the stuff out of the pans? If you use it just make sure you wash super good afterwards to prevent poisoning.

    • Have you tried boiling water with a little bit of Cream of Tartar? An older woman in my church told me about it. You put the water and anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of cream of tartar on to boil (the bigger the pot, the more cream of tartar). I’ve noticed it works best if you simmer it rather than bringing it to a rolling boil. After a couple of minutes, the stuck on stuff will just pop up off the bottom of the pan. I didn’t believe it until I tried it myself; I got desperate one day, and it worked!

  31. I thought I was alone in this mindset but you have so eloquently put what my hearts feels in this post. I love it so much! Sometimes I am tempted to feel like a scrooge b/c people aren’t okay with doing ‘simplicity’ during the holidays. I am so encouraged by your advent readings too. Makes it tangible and allows you to live real life as a Christ follower among your kiddos rather than feel guilty for not planning a butt load of daily activities (not that you can’t do the same thing if you do infact do a Jesse tree or something). I am so thankful for your blog!

  32. I’m so glad you’re back! Merry Christmas! I love shopping fair trade & I love your idea of using blankets and books under the tree. I think that’s a wonderful idea & I hope I remember it when we have kids!

  33. Cre8tive Minxy says:

    I was a single parent with four children who saw the excess of their classmates, neighbors, extended family etc. Keeping up with that was impossible. I had neither the money, the time nor the energy! Instead we baked cookies together, made paper chains & other decorations, did “knock & run” at neighbor’s & friend’s (knock, leave a bag of cookies & run before they answered.) One gift was opened on Christmas eve – it was always new pj’s! They got one main gift – something they truly wanted but never thought they’d get. Plus a few little things – a book or two to read, craft or hobby supplies, cute socks etc. Plus a special “treat” or two. LOL one year each of them got their favorite box of sugary cereal that we didn’t normally buy. Plus a new outfit or two from grandparents/extended family or a new VCR movie or board game. Somehow every year they got what they wanted, everyone was surprised and everyone including me was happy!

    • The sugary cereal reminds me of my husband’s family- his older sister gets him a small bag of sugared orange slices. Every year, every Christmas and every birthday. It’s a sweet bond that the two of them still share, and even though her gifts are never a surprise, he looks forward to them so much!

  34. We’re another on the list of Want, Need, Wear, Read families. We try to keep it to a reasonable level and our 4.5 year old has asked for very few (and not costly) things. When I was a kid we got one outfit and one toy from Mom & Dad and a stocking and toy from Santa, and one gift for the whole family. I think we’ll adopt something like this as the kids grow up.
    Welcome back – I hope the cause of your unplanned blogging break is all taken care of and not long-lasting :)
    Merry Christmas!

  35. Great tips, thank you for sharing them.
    Happy Holidays!

  36. Nice tips, especially like books under the tree. I make peace with myself over the hand made , sustainable gift and decorations by just making one or two decorations a year. Staying home and doing a little crafting even if only making paper snowflakes is a great way to bring some sanity and calm to the Xmas frenzy. Granted I think summer Christmas is more laid back in general – too nice outside to go over the top decorating inside!
    I am working on “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read “as the basis for my daughters Xmas expectations. We also use this time of year as an opportunity to have a spring clean out pre Xmas – it helps put into perspective how much we already have and seems to help curb the urge to spend.

  37. Glad to have you back! There aren’t many blogs that I subscribe to that I think “it’s been awhile that they’ve posted-I hope everything’s ok”, but yours is definitely one! I love your first tidbit of advice “DIY doesn’t mean that I did it”. I just realized this today as I was making plates of goodies for family and friends. I realized that my list of goodies for each plate had gotten quite long and remembered that my friend down the road has been making and selling pumpkin rolls. Her husband is in school full time now and has cut his hours at work so she’s doing anything she can to keep them afloat. I can help her out by patronizing her and she can more than help me out by providing a treat for my goodie plates!

  38. Oh so good to hear “the voice of reason”… we celebrate very similar Christmases… Merry without the insanity!!!

  39. Welcome back! Missed you and your easy, non-cluttering ideas. Hope everything is well with you and yours. So happy for today’s post!

  40. So glad to see you are back!
    Just this morning I decided that Wednesday would be my cut-off date: what’s not done by then isn’t getting done (or else I will feel I need to make “just one more batch” of cookies). Thanks, as always, for your to-the-point advice!
    Kristin @ Young & Southern´s last post…Are you readyyyyyy?

  41. Tambra Dunn says:

    Missed you!!! I love the idea of setting a cut off date. Mine is now set for Sunday.

  42. So glad you are BACK! =)
    Thanks for sharing these ideas. I especially liked the idea of a cut-off date…haven’t heard of this one before but it makes sense.

  43. Great tips. I wish more people around me embraced this simple mindset during the holidays! I have gotten blank stares from friends when I’ve told them that I am only buying 1 or 2 toys for Christmas for the kids. They can’t believe it. Glad I’m not alone.

  44. THANK YOU! If I see another picture of a Jesse Tree I think I’ll scream.

    I’ve been following your blog for several months but this is my first time commenting. Glad you’re back!
    Laura Christine´s last post…Menu Plan Monday, Perfect Health Diet Edition, Part 2

  45. We have Birthday Season before we have Christmas Season – and then we have Christmas TWICE! So there’s very clear rules about presents, timings of tree raising, when things are put under the tree, rituals and the like. The tree goes up the day after my oldest’s birthday (so 6th Dec), the children decorate the tree themselves, and *I* don’t touch it! We only decorate with lights (and to be honest, they stay up all year!) and these enormous bells that my partner and I both only just fit under. And because my children are relatively small still, and lack impulse control – and maybe because their mother is a bit of a slacker – presents are wrapped when the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve (Blues Brothers movie, nice glass of Baileys and milk). In the lead up to the big day, the Christmas Books are under the tree along with birthday lego constructions and all sorts of other random bits the Chief Decorators think is essential. I find it hard to do Christmas shopping before birthday party season is over, so I do leave that til the last minute.

  46. Welcome back Rachel! Great to see you back here.

    Christmas is always that time of year I try to avoid the shops. Okay, here’s how I go about it. I do a couple of really big necessity shopping/grocery days before it shows up. So, about a month before, I’m stocked up on shampoo, soap, deodourant, tinned goods… all the stuff that will see me through the silly season.
    Then if I’ve got a pay week a few days before ‘the Orgy of Greed'(aka: Christmas Eve/Day), I go to a big shopping centre where there’s all the shops I normally go to with my blue shopping trolley, a soft-pack esky and a list of what I need. For me, this is like going into battle; and I act as though nothing else in the world matters. I’m not there socially, I’m there to get the stuff and get home as I travel by bus; so it’s harder for me to get things done. This year, I have to buy a feeder for the fish – because I’m going away for a few days – get some 70 photos printed up (I’m getting them done at K-Mart through their 1 hour kiosk) of my bird who died 8th, December (what a time for a pet to die! My poor Little Miss Stevie, she was 7 3/4 and died from heart failure… sweet little thing.
    Then, I’ve gotta get about 10 things at Coles… this last thing will take about an hour. I’m hoping to be home around lunch time. I’m giving myself around 3 hours to get all this done. If it takes longer, well, good I don’t mind.

    The good thing is that all my Christmas shopping was finished over 2 weeks ago. The last Christmas gift has yet to be wrapped up and the last hand-made gift (hand-painted clothes pegs for my brother and his fiance by me) were varnished and wrapped up just last week. So, that’s it for me. Everyone else has been bought for. The last gift is for me… 2 calendars for next year. :D

  47. Great reminders for each of us Rachel!
    Last night we invited another family to come for dinner. They arrived at 3 so that we could take a hike in a local park and then we had homemade macaroni and cheese for supper and brownies with whipped cream topped with crushed candy canes. Super easy….and seriously yummy. I’m learning simple homemade food is best. And it looks even better when you set a pretty table. I don’t do Christmas baking and you probably won’t find many food recipes on my blog. But, I do confess…I like to decorate. And that’s okay for me. It’s a creative outlet for me and we love to sit at night and enjoy the prettiness. We give few gifts and that alone has removed most of the stress of the holiday. For me…it’s about doing what I enjoy and what make Christmas meaningful…not about what YOU do….or what I mistakenly think you are expecting me to do. That’s the biggest one to get sorted out.
    Glad to have you back in my inbox. You were missed!

  48. Love this. One thing that helps me a lot is to make myself think about exactly when I will do it. It’s easy and fun and I have three free evenings this week? Great. It has to be done in three steps with setup time before and drying time in between, and I have plans 5/7 days? Not gonna happen. I also think about what the investment is. It might not be the end of the world if I spend $4 and don’t get around to the project, but if there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to sink a lot of money and then quit in the middle, it’s not a good idea. Pinterest is very seductive, and I have to be careful not to amass various projects without finishing any.

  49. You were missed! And prayed for. And a blessed Christmas to be thankful for to you and yours.


  51. I tend to do more for our immediate family of 5 at Christmas because my Christmases growing up were a little dysfunctional. I tend to over compensate a bit to make sure our kids have great memories at the holidays. We do a Jesse Tree because it means a lot to me. Mostly, we just enjoy nights by the fireplace, cozy meals, and simple movie nights. This year I limited our gatherings to just 2. Parties end up stressing me the most with the expense to participate, and all the nights out. You have many great ideas here that I am going to consider.

  52. Kara Moore says:

    I could not love this post more. I want you to know you are my simple Christmas guru. I am extremely pregnant this year (I’ll be 37 weeks on Friday!) and I keep telling people that this year I am just “showing up.” I’ve mentally made a list of things I need to do for it to feel like a good Christmas for the last couple years, as you once suggested, to simplify my mental to-do list. The byproduct of that is that I’ve become joyfully flexible about traditions, which is so freeing. AND I got all my shopping done before Thanksgiving — mostly because I knew I’d be worthless once I crossed into the final weeks of pregnancy. I can’t thank you enough for all your commonsense advice over the years.

  53. Just when I’m wondering when we might hear from Small Notebook again, here you are! Joy!
    Love these tips, Rachel.
    Especially your take on Santa – perfect.
    And I find setting the Cutoff Date works very well for me – a real necessary one.
    Thank you for all your wise and helpful tips.
    Merry merry Christmas!

  54. One thing I did this year that really helped us was baking a large batch of one of our favorite cookies and splitting it into small bags for our friends at church. It saved money, since almost everything was on hand already. It saved time, since as a favorite I can whip it up pretty quickly now. It saved sanity, because my 2-year-old loves to help in the kitchen she could “help” with this gift. I made enough for 8 families and some to keep in about 3 hours on Saturday afternoon. I was tempted to make a variety of cookies but decided to keep it *simple*.

  55. So glad you are back. I missed you.
    We started this when the kids were very young. It is very easy for all kids to get the gimmies. We really worked hard to keep our kids away from that but it did seep in. So on Christmas day we would go to Denny’s for hamburgers. There were people there that were getting a free dinner because they were homeless. This opened up our kids eyes to the fact that there were people that did not get a toy, do not have homes, or could not got someplace fancy for dinner.
    The kids are in their 20’s & 30’s now and we still do hamburgers for Christmas day dinner. We have been drawing names for a few years now. That has saved money, returns, and crazy shopping for our expanding families. We don’t have any grandkids yet but when they come along they will get all the love we can give them but not all the toys money can buy.
    Your ideas are great and I hope that everyone develops their own simple traditions and leave the crazy behind.
    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  56. It’s so good to “see” you again, Rachel! I’m glad that you and your voice of reason are back.
    Living overseas away from extended family, our Christmases over the last many years have been necessarily (and delightfully) simple. This year, we will be spending our first Christmas in the US in 7 years, and while I’m looking forward to it, I’m dreading all of the crazy hoopla that goes along with it. So good to read your tips and be reminded of some good ways to turn down the chaos and quiet our spirits for the holiday.
    Morgan´s last post…Heart Lessons from a 5-year-old

  57. Gracias, Gracias, Gracias…

  58. Welcome back Rachel! I had been praying for you and your family since it was such a long time you were away. Hope everything is well.

    Thank you for all your wonderful and helpful posts. I have enjoyed reading them all!

  59. I love this list. So many good and practical ideas!
    Gaye @CalmHealthySexy´s last post…Let Go – and Hold On – This Christmas

  60. Amen to number 9- limit travel! I chronically struggle with wanting to be two places at once, wearing out my family in the process. Not this year!
    Katherine@YeOldCollegeTry´s last post…Remembering

  61. Danielle S. says:

    Three things:
    Have batteries on hand
    and a phillips head screwdriver
    and at some point, just be DONE buying presents. I am having a hard time with this last step… it is time to put down the credit card and just WALK AWAY AND ENJOY!

  62. Welcome back, I’ve missed your posts. You are one of my top three favorite blogs! Loved this post as well, thank you for sharing such great tips!

  63. Great tips! I especially like the one about evaluating each year regarding traditions. We did consider skipping the traditional Christmas dinner (basically a repeat of Thanksgiving) but in the end decided it was worth the effort. Christmas is the one time of year when the whole family (or most of it) is together. It needs to be special. But we didn’t do it because “we’ve always done it that way”. We considered whether it was the best option and decided it was. Traditions aren’t meant to add stress.

  64. God bless you. I needed to read this. I have three children ages 6, 3, and 16 months, and somebody has been sick on and off since Thanksgiving. Getting up any Christmas decorations was a feat this year.

    On Christmas Day, we’re having pizza that we buy early on Christmas Eve day and reheat in the oven. If I’m making a nice breakfast and a birthday cake for Jesus, everything else is going to be easy. =)

  65. Welcome back, I for one have missed you. What has changed for us this year? We were robbed for the second time in a year and this time they actually took mor ethan I thought they would have. Of course the flat screen went but the old TV from 1998 is working wonderfully and we decided not to replace the flat screen. They took my camera and something told me to replace the ‘card’ to download all those pictures of the important things in life. They even hit the fridge: took my last caffiene free diet cola, some apples I was waiting to dehydrate for apple chips, a bag of boost for the laundry and my coffee maker. Yes, my coffee maker. We replaced the camera and coffee maker with very cheap ones, replaced the window (they cut around the place where the latches lock in a double pane window and lifted the window to crawl in) for the second time and lived life in fear, jumping at every sound. Then we put up our tree where the TV sat and moved on to brighter pastures. If I let the fear rule me it will always rule me and I said NO. We will have a very Merry Christmas with few presents (windows are not cheap) and homemade things like apple and pear chips along with hot pepper jelly and strawberry/blackberry jam (I love to make jam, all homemade and no corn syrup) on that bread I make at this time of year. I may even make a pie…….Who knows? But I am free of that fear, am in the process of getting rid of all that dread by getting rid of the ‘stuff’ that has tied me down and I am happy, yes happy. And that feels happy. Merry Christmas to all, keep your children close and shower them with I love you’s. And yes, eat that piece of fudge, I won’t tell.

  66. Thank you for this post. Every year I say that I’m going to be done early enough to actually enjoy the season and every year I’m running around like a mad woman trying to get everything done. Very stressful! It’s too late for this year for most of what I would like to change, but I love your list and will be discussing changes for next year with my family as part of a New Year reflection/goals/planning time for next year. One thing I’m going to suggest is that there are no extracurricular activities (sports, scouts, etc) during the 2 weeks leading up to Christmas. Both of my kids (11 and 7) have activities this week! It’s time to just say NO to all of that and spend more quality time with our family and friends.

  67. Glad you are back, love to read your posts!

  68. Great stuff to hear and remember. One goal I’ve had for this year is to take on one project at a time. I enjoy making handmade gifts and baking and getting into all the special projects–but this year I’m not making a big list of everything that “must” be done. I’m just taking it day by day and finishing one project before starting the next. That way I can have fun with each instead of being distracted by the end goal of a “perfect” Christmas day. We’ve also given up on any sort of daily advent calendar. We have an advent wreath on the table, and we light the candles most nights. But since it’s the same for a whole week, it doesn’t matter if we skip a day or two now and then. My son recognizes it’s the same setup we see at church, and sometimes he asks his own questions about it that end up with some good discussions, but we don’t have a planned out devotional to go with it.

  69. We have always tried to keep Christmas simple. The first year of our marriage, we had a table top Christmas tree with handmade ornaments, and far away from all of our family. This year, we have a regular sized fake Christmas tree, with ornaments from all seasons of life. We still live far away from family, but we try to do some of the simpler things.
    All nieces and nephews got gift cards from various stores. E- cards to some friends, cardstore cards for family and others. I like cardstore because we pay a reasonable price and they send them. (We’re overseas, so it definitely saves on international postage to the US!) The only thing left is a little bit shopping for those of us here, and prep for our Christmas dinner with our coworkers.

  70. Lisa Jervis says:

    Rachel, We did your tip last year about the books and blankets and it was great! Really made the morning of a bit more exciting since the kids had not been staring at the parcels for weeks ahead. Plus I am not worrying about whether some sneaky little guy will tear everything apart the second I step in the shower! Thanks for all of your great posts. Merry Christmas!

  71. Thanks for this post! In my family growing up, we got quite a few gifts under the tree, BUT the gifts were mostly little, simple, inexpensive things. To this day as an adult, little things thrill me! I tell my husband how fortunate he is to have a wife so thrilled by little things – a cool flavored lip balm in my stocking will wow me! : ) No need for fancy jewelry or other big or special items. Me and my husband (we don’t have kids) usually don’t get wrapped gifts for each other to place under the tree, but rather just get each other little things for our stockings. It works for us just fine.

  72. You have such beautiful ideas for Christmas and I’ll keep them in mind as I plan for next year’s Christmas.

    I gave birth two months ago and, needless to say, I’ve been too wrapped up in providing for the baby’s needs to have a “proper” Christmas with the family. But we do have a tree! A small one, but still a tree. :)

    One good thing about having a baby this Christmas is we can stay put this year. No travelling. :)
    Nicky´s last post…countdown to a year older

  73. This year I put away all my “nice” ornaments and we are making ours together. Not in a “I can’t believe I have to have this dorky tree because I have Little Children At Home” way. Just enjoying it and making a big fun mess while doing it. The ornaments are made of pretty scrapbook paper, and some are terribly lopsided and loaded with glue… but my 4YO is unbearably proud of hers. How I love this time, this lopsided, under-decorated, let’s try anything month!

    I think our motto this year is “Put a Pom-Pom on It!”

  74. Impressed by your take on Santa, I quoted it on my Facebook page — and mentioned the source.

  75. This year, I donated most of my Christmas decorations in November. I realized they stressed me out & that I felt pressured to mega-decorate my house like my mom did during my growing-up years. It was so liberating to let go of those things.
    Each year, I hope to implement a new idea/thought for simplifying. I want this season to be joyful, but I often allow perfectionism to rob me of this gift. Thankfully, there’s grace…and next year to give it another go.

  76. Really nice ideas. Just reading your thoughts, I feel less pressured!

    The holidays are rough for me with 4 family birthdays in November and December. Each year I cut back more in terms of shopping, decorating, and traveling. I try to do the same things every year: same gifts for teachers, same spot to take photos, same baking. Keeping things “automatic” eliminates the stress of decision-making.

  77. This is a really wonderful list. This Christmas was wonderfully low-key. We had dinner at home after our daughter opened the few gifts waiting for her under the tree. She had only one gift from mommy and daddy, the rest were from her grandparents and aunt. We choose to not exchange gifts. This made for a very relaxing day.

  78. Next year, I’m going to buy frozen pizza or a similar easy treat for Christmas dinner. We will have four young children next year and it just needs to be special and simple. And it can turn into a fun tradition, fine with me! ;)