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Simplifying the Holidays

Simplifying the Holidays

By Chris Jordan

‘Tis the season.

I’ll admit it. I struggle with this time of year. Striking a balance has never been easy for me. My list of things that I tell myself I “have” to do contains more things than can possibly be accomplished in 25 days, even if I gave up the rest of my life. Yet I feel enormously guilty for all of the things that get left by the wayside.

Then there is the gift giving. I don’t know if it is just me, but the presents were so much easier to buy when the children were younger. They were less expensive and came in HUGE boxes that filled up underneath the tree, and the entire room, without breaking the bank. Now that the kids are older? The size of the present has decreased proportionally with the price tag of said present.

Why can’t Apple package their products in GIGANTIC-assed boxes? Why? An iTouch isn’t a stocking stuffer. I want it to come in a box the size that the Little Tykes Cozy Coupe comes in. For the uninitiated, that would be approximately a 4ft x 4ft x 4ft box. Is that too much to ask? Is it Apple?

I have been known to go overboard on Christmas presents in the past. Okay, a lot overboard. And if I am going to be all Dr Phil on myself for minute I can trace this back to my own childhood, one in which I really did not get presents past the age of 5 or 6. I never had that excited Christmas morning that my friends had. From my friends I would hear about all the fabulous gifts they got. And it wasn’t necessarily that they got tons of gifts, or really expensive things that stuck with me, it was more the fact that someone cared enough to think about them and get them a gift. That was what I was envious about. Of course then I went and married someone who didn’t believe in gift giving either.

Anyway, enough delving into my tortured crazy inner workings. All of that was just to say that while I can logically trace the roots of my over zealous Christmasness (is so a word), I seem to be unable to stop myself. I always want more. More cookies! More baking! More presents! More holiday music! More candles! More decorations! More photos with Santa! MORE! MORE!! MORE!!! We will squeeze every last drop of Christmas spirit out of this holiday, even if it kills us. Or more specifically, turns me into a shrill harpy, ticking items of an agenda like a drill sergeant, while wearing holiday-themed clothing. (I kid about that last part.)

This year, however, I have to reign it in.

I don’t want to stop the things that we all love, which really are the low-key ones where we spend time together. I want to stop the frenzy that surrounds it all. And I have to cut back on the gift-giving, but at this point I am unsure how to cut back drastically and not have anyone be disappointed. Aside from money issue, I think that having less presents will make them appreciate the ones they do get more. I hope that it will cut down on the amount of unused things that just clutter up the house after the holidays.

Does anyone else have experience doing something similar? I am curious how you went about simplifying the season, not just spending less money, but all aspects of the holiday season.

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Sylvia

    December 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Last year was the first year I HAD to scale back on gifts for my then 7 and 4 year old. It wasn’t because of any conscious decision it was simply because of NO income. My husband had lost his job (construction) and I was a stay at home mom with no income to speak of. It was horrible that we couldn’t even afford ANY gifts for our kids when they were used to getting most everything on their lists. I dreaded Christmas morning, I felt like a failure. We had to choose between gifts and living expenses. Easy choice really…food and roof wins!

    I thought for sure that my kids would go crying when they encountered a bare tree (we at least had a tree…yay!) but something really cool happened. My kids saw there was nothing under the tree and although somewhat disappointed they just reveled in the glow of Christmas lights and snuggled up with mom and dad. I was amazed that they were so accepting of the lack of presents. It ended up being the most memorable Christmas morning thus far.

    With all of that said, my main point here is that kids will be disappointed with less (or no) presents but they will surprise you. I want to give my kids the world but when it comes down to it….being with the ones you love ends up being enough. 😉

  • Ally

    December 2, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    My kids are young, but we decided that since they have a lot of grandparents and other relatives we don’t buy them gifts. Instead we take a trip. Most of the time it’s around Christmas and sometimes it’s after. Our kids love going to places and I hope in the future they will look back and appreciate this more than a few toys. 

  • Julie

    December 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Well, I have an answer to the “the iPod box is too small” issue – nested presents! A handful of times in my childhood I gave or recieved the box that you unwrapped to find another box inside, that opened to find another box, until after a few layers you get to the actual present. It’s a great way to amuse yourself, and either amuse or frustrate the kids, depending on their personality. And if you really want to keep them guessing, you do a couple of big boxes. One of which contains an iPod! The other of which contains socks! 🙂

  • Liz

    December 2, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I have a similar history with Christmas as yours. Because I felt so left out of all the fun and hoopla surrounding the day, I tend to overdo it with my own kid. This year I’m really trying to focus more on handmade gifts and gifts of experience. There’s still going to be way too much stuff under the tree, but most of it will be books, art materials, things I’ve made for him or games we can play as a family. I also learned the hard way to fill the advent calendar with edible treats only. A Hot Wheels car one morning followed by a pencil the next just leads to tantrums.

  • cagey

    December 2, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    THANK YOU for sharing that you go overboard sometimes. In the past, I have gone overboard, too. And then, I read all these posts from bloggers who hold back on “spoiling” their kids and limit the gifts to 3 and one of them has to be a book. Gulp.

    The problem is, it is just too much FUN watching little kids tear into gifts. I try to resist going overboard. I do.

    This year, I have done better and have really tried to do a Miss Cleo on gifts. I look at a potential gift and genuinely try to gauge how long/far into the future my kids will play with it.

    In general, though – to answer your question…. I usually keep the holiday season simple. I have found that if we don’t have a million different projects (be it baking or crafts) that it ends up we just enjoy the season for what it means to us – music and lights.

  • Katy

    December 2, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    I have a huge family, so three years ago, when money got tight, we switched to Secret Santa for everyone but the kids, and one year the limit was like $15, so everyone did handmade things which was really fun and entertaining (not everyone is so crafty, but that made it more fun)

    For the kids, each one gets to pick one favorite holiday activity and then we may add an additional one or two as needed (like if one is really short or we as a family are inspired)

    And we buy just two or three presents for the kids, because again, big family. They always get tired of opening presents because there are just so. many. people.

  • Maggie

    December 3, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Not to sound trite, but your holidays will be simplified soon enough once your kids all get older. Enjoy it now. Once no one else wants to help with the decorating, baking, etc. it gets very hard to be motivated. 

  • Nikki

    December 22, 2010 at 7:14 am

    We decided not to exchange grown-up gifts with my husbands side of the family this year.  Instead, we spent that time/money on a local family we ‘adopted.’  Our children got a good lesson about giving and taking care of others.  They questioned why we were buying what seem like necessities to us (cleaning supplies, canned goods, underwear/socks).  But they also had so much fun shopping for the children of the family.  A new tradition has been started for our family.

  • sarah

    December 22, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I have felt guilty over Xmas/birthday presents for a couple of years. My husband strictly enforces a $50 limit on kids presents due to our financial situation – which now that they are ranging from 4-9yrs, makes things extremely difficult. The first thing on every birthday/xmas wish list is a Wii, or an Ipod/Ipad, DS or some other electronic device or game that costs way over $50. Although we have a massively large extended family, they have a $20 limit on their presents and the kids will end up with 3 presents per kid in total. One from us, one from one side of the family and one from the other. They try hard not to show it, but are slightly disappointed every year with the books, cards, board games that they get. Mind you, my mother gave my sons a packet of lollies each for their birthdays and they thought it was the BEST GIFT EVER, so what do I know! My husband doesn’t believe in expensive presents either – for as long as I can remember my Xmas present has been a box of chocolates. We keep it super simple here!

  • Melani

    December 22, 2010 at 10:05 am

    My daughter was born on 12/22 so that’s what ends up causing me to go overboard.  Two of my sisters have birthdays in December and I remember my mom just grabbing a present under the tree and handing it to them saying Happy Birthday.  They hated it and so now I’m completely obsessive about making her birthday separate and special and exactly as expensive as her brother’s was in April.  Only problem? He wants EVERYTHING and she asks for some tiny item and that’s it. 

    I’ve been in the process of lowering the amount I spend at Christmas and really trying to purchase only what I know they will love and care for.  This year, they’re each getting 3 gifts One main gift and 2 small ones.  But here it is, 3 days before and I’m struggling with myself that it’s. not. enough. I’m fighting the urge to go shop some more.  It’s not the kids at all–I know its all on me. Sigh. 

  • Kathie

    December 22, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I was reading a blog somewhere…not sure where it was…and the mother said that her kids get 4 presents. It went like this, “Want It”, “Need It”, “Wear It”, “Read It”. I really liked that idea and as our 6 month old baby gets older my husband and I have decided to adopt this mantra. Because at the end of the day…it’s about the season and not about the gifts.

    Isabel: I LOVE that.

  • Lucinda

    December 22, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Did I go overboard on presents this year?  Probably.  With that said, they each have about 5-6 gifts from us and a stocking filled with stuff.  I don’t know how that compares to other families and I don’t really care.

    If I’m having fun, I do it–baking, charity, looking at lights, shopping (mostly online!), etc.  If we get stressed, we stop.  We don’t worry too much about specific traditions although some have developed over the year.  I want  my kids to remember that joyfully giving is at the center of all this because we were joyfully given a gift first.

  • Kris

    December 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    We’ve always had the rule of 3 presents……. that’s all Jesus got! And I totally agree, it was more exciting with the BIG BOXES.

  • Jen

    December 22, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    I am in a similar situation to you, Chris… I totally try hard not to overcompensate for the cr*ppy christmas’s I had as a child (the worst one of which was the Christmas my parents split up. Yes, ON christmas day. So, my mum became totally anti-christmas, and we ‘did things’ instead of having a family Christmas. Also she was a single mom on minimum wage bringing up two kids in London, England… expensive!

    Coming from a totally dysfunctional family who never speak to each other, my kids don’t get deluged in presents at Christmas, as no one sees each other. So the kids get presents from my mum, and my in-laws, and us. Self-limiting 🙂 My in-laws live on the other side of the world and thus presents are small (postage) and inexpensive (Customs & Excise charges). But they are very well chosen.

    I thus try not to totally overdo it with my kids as a result. I have to stop myself but I totally remember the sense of disappointment as I got a packet of socks and a packet of underwear. Their stockings are always over-stuffed (Santa no longer leaves underwear, I found that slightly creepy!). Santa leaves a big present, we get them a couple of small things (books, etc). They don’t actually get that spoilt, in the scheme of things (nothing as big-ticket as a DSi or such, something like a big Lego model is as exciting as it gets). I also pick one thing on each kid’s Santa list and get their brother/sister to get it for them, that way they get something they really want from someone who cares, rather than some fat man in a suit 😉

    When they are older? I intend to switch to experiences. Although I did feel slightly cheated as a child, I also feel the best christmas’s I had were 1) the one we spent on a desert island in Venezuala, and 2) the one we volunteered in a soup kitchen for the local elderly respite care centre. We were teenagers for both experiences, and it was insane but brilliant. Venezuala was brilliant (the year following my parents’ split, so as to have a ‘clear break’ from tradition), and the following year was the soup kitchen. I’d certainly recommend the latter as an eye-opener for your kids, and make them realise how lucky they really are. It worked for me, and I certainly never whinged about a present again!

  • Katie

    December 22, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Every year as we look under the tree, my mother and I tell each other that NEXT year we are NOT going to go overboard – and then NEXT year comes, and Voila! It is Deju Vu, standing next to each other talking about how we aren’t going overboard. All I can say in my defense is that I am utterly insane. There is no defense grandma. She is just an over-indulger to everything her grandbabies want – because now that none of her kids are living at home, she can AFFORD to have over-indulgent Christmas’s. Sigh.

  • Cheryl

    December 22, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    I will second what Kathy said…we do four presents (all of us, my husband and I included)–something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. I saw this on someone else’s blog a few years ago and it seemed like a perfect solution. You can be creative…a few years ago my “something to wear” was a diamond ring!! This year my daughter’s “something to wear” is a messenger/computer bag.

  • Monica

    December 27, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    My husband and I have always just set a dollar amount that we will spend on each child. So as they got older (our oldest is now 22) and their christmas list was more expensive, their number of gifts just decreased. So a child may have received only one or two gifts to another childs 6 or 7 gifts. They all understand we have a dollar limit and never complain (well mostly never). Setting a dollar limit every year has kept us from going over budget. Andwhen the kids were young the jolly fat man only was allowed to give 1 gift, sometimes the most wanted gift sometimes not. Maybe a bit selfish on my part but I was not giving Santa all the glory. When the kids were very little they would say “where are our gifts from mom & dad”? This after opening all “Santa’s” gifts.