It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of holiday traditions. We all want to make memories that last a lifetime and instill a sense of holiday tradition in our kids. But, are we making ourselves stressed and unpleasant for the entire month instead? Do our children remember the great times ice skating or making cookies and latkes or do they remember hustling from one exhausting holiday activity to the next?
Holiday Expectations versus Holiday Reality
My sister-in-law called me last year to talk about her annual holiday party always held on Christmas Eve. She didn’t want to do the elaborate affair with full bar, finger foods, and hot hors d’oeuvres served on the half hour. I told her not to, then. She explained how much work it was to move furniture, bake 8 different types of cookies, and clean everything in addition to doing food prep. I said “Don’t do it, then.” She explained how her kids and husband couldn’t stand her for the entire month of December because she was so stressed. I repeated that she didn’t have to do it.
“But everyone expects me to,” she replied.
I will admit that her party on Christmas Eve had been part of our plans for 25 years. We go to church as a family, come home so the kids can grab comfortable clothes, and off we go to spend the rest of the evening with our family and selected friends. Her guilt shone through loud and clear. It was a lot of work. I suggested a pajama party with baked pasta and cookies watching Christmas movies. Easy to make, no maintenance needed, everyone relaxes. She compromised with a cross between the two; it was too big a change to make in one year.
Simplifying Holiday Traditions
Before we had kids, my husband and I would run to everyone’s homes trying to fit in as many parties and celebrations as we could. The first Christmas after we married, we did the same. The second Christmas was exhausting. Our running had not changed, but we now had a 9 month old in a car seat. The third Christmas was even worse. As we strapped our 6-month-old into her car carrier and buckled our 21-month-old into her car seat in the blowing snow between stops, I remembering looking at each other and asking, “Why are we doing all this? This has got to change.”
Our family was not thrilled with our decision to stop touring Southeastern Wisconsin every Christmas, but this is where our traditions started. When starting a family, money is tight and fortunately, we had already made one good decision. Before the birth of our children, we decided that our kids would get 3 gifts and a stocking each year. Period. We decided on this even before their first Christmas. This would have been a much tougher adjustment at 9 or 10 years old.
We still went overboard trying to fit in every Christmas tradition you can imagine until one Christmas, as we struggled through cookie decoration, I looked at my kids and realized they weren’t enjoying it either.
It was too much. Too much fun, you say? Yes, too much, but it wasn’t fun. Holiday tradition had become a chore. My husband and I had a revelation. Why not ask the kids which traditions they wanted?
We ask them to write down 3 things they absolutely want to do this Christmas. Joy of joys, some of them overlapped and cookie making was not one of them.
Sledding, yes. Visit Christmas lights, yes. Sponsor a needy family, yes. Shop for a tree, yes. Watch a Christmas movie at home and a Christmas movie in the theatre, yes.
We repeat the process every December and enjoy its simplicity. We plan ahead and everyone is on board.