Inside: How might you slow down and make space for a joy-filled, simple Christmas that is, above all, about delighting in these people you share life with?
It’s one of my favourite childhood memories.
Each Christmas Eve after late mass, fun snacks, and opening one gift each, the little kids and my dad were tucked into bed and my mom and I would get to work. She pulled bag after bag out of her closet – she’d have to work quick and hard to find all the hidden treasures that had been tucked away over the past year without rhyme or order amongst sweaters and the boxes of Toffifee and After Eights that she would pull out over the holidays to the delight of us all.
It was stocking time.
The JOY of a Simple Christmas
Our big family shared a low-key Christmas but it was full of love, connection, and simple tradition.
I’d lay the stockings out side by side on the couch and fill them up excitedly for my little brothers and sisters. My mom would fill mine once I’d left her, past midnight, and headed off to bed myself. I’d help her lay out the boxes of labelled lifesavers and family gifts from Santa upon the iron wood-stove that would keep us all toasty the following morning.
Our giant raggedy Christmas tree stood sentinel in the corner, filling up the entire front entrance and proudly displaying years of handmade felt and paper ornaments, a few glittery bulbs sprinkled throughout the motley mix. This was no Pinterest-worthy tree but one that was hunted down in sub-freezing weather and carried home with devotion and determination.
I don’t know if my parents ever struggled with feeling they didn’t offer us enough, but we knew we were loved.
They bought a savings bond at the start of each new year to save for the following Christmas. They avoided debt and knew without planning, it would be easy for a family of our size to eat up every bit of income that came in the door. Our gifts were few but thoughtful.
I still remember many of the gifts I received over the years; one year Santa brought me a handmade doll crib with a Baby Alive sleeping inside. Mine was white but I secretly wanted my sister’s Black baby doll. One year I received a delicate diamond ring, another a portable stereo. One year a set of downhill skis with second-hand boots, still another a Driver’s Training coupon tucked into a hand-spun Beatles compilation recorded by my dad and his best friend.
Each gift told me they saw who I was and what mattered to me in that season of my life.
Every Christmas morning bright and early, tired and bedraggled, we’d all gather together wrapped in quilts. For breakfast year after year, we ate the same mandarin oranges and oatmeal-blueberry muffins and they feel as synonymous with Christmas now as snowmen or Silent Night.
My Favourite Simple Christmas Tradition
And of course, there were the Christmas stockings. I remember the delight of unloading my stocking with care. Item by item, slowly, carefully, so as not to lose a single treasure amidst the hubbub of wrapping or excited kids. And at the bottom of the toe, where it always hid, lay a special ornament handpicked by my mom that would form my own collection so that one day I could share a slow and simple, joy-filled Christmas with my own little family.
I continue the tradition long after both my parents are buried, my childhood home sold.
Our trees are far smaller and we hunt them down in the grocery store parking lot instead of the woods but they smell just the same. My kids and I string the lights and hang our eclectic collection of ornaments including many they handmade in their younger days. I have a few simple decorations that go up each year but for the most part, the frosty panes and the tree, peppered with red berries that draw the deer and birds to eat, just outside our living room window, are decoration enough.
We decide as a family what we want to eat each year – sometimes we each take a role in pulling together a turkey dinner; some years we choose lasagna and salad. I make some simple desserts or my girls jump in to roll and bake. We watch the same movies over and over and my husband laughs at the same parts every year. We have no real plans for the holidays apart from family game nights and special treats, laughing and connecting.
There Was No Debt, No Frenzy, No Pressure To Keep Up
I start collecting gifts and stocking stuffers early in the year like my mom before me, on a budget; no last-minute hunting and gathering for me. As in my childhood, we attend a candle-lit service, eat snacks together and open one gift on Christmas eve. And after everyone in the house has gone off to bed, I turn on the lights of my little fir tree and fill stockings for my own babies, half-grown up now.
As I work, I think of my mom. I think about how much I love her and miss her. About the simple joy of filling stockings with her on Christmas eve. I think of my dad in his orange tuque and how hard he worked to provide for us all. How he’d take us skidooing in arctic temperatures and warm our icy little hands in his.
I think about how my parents were imperfect people just like me and how they loved fiercely. I think about how our holidays, like the rest of our life, were simple, imperfect by today’s social media standards, yet oh so beautiful.
And I hope that when my kids are all grown up with families of their own, even if they opt to celebrate the holidays more extravagantly than me, one of their favourite holiday memories will be the Christmas stockings their mama filled up with care.
I wonder, as you enter into a season of social expectation and bustle, what are the most important traditions or memories you want to pass along to your children? I invite you to join me in considering how you want to slow down and simplify this year to make space for a joy-filled holiday that is, above all, about connecting with and delighting in your favourite people.
Now What? If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift that “gives back” this holiday, all profit from my Winter Mindfulness Journal, part of the 52 Mondays Series, helps fund two art scholarships in my son’s name. You might also glean ideas from this Conscious Gift Guide.
*This post was first published November, 2017 at Simple As That