Opt out of the frenzy and Say Yes to a Simple Christmas

say yes to a simple Christmas

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 favorite 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 labeled 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 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.

This is still my favorite 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 joy-filled, slow and simple Christmas with my own little family.

And I continue the tradition long after both my parents are buried; my childhood home sold.


Krista xo

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11 comments on “Opt out of the frenzy and Say Yes to a Simple Christmas

  1. Oh, this one is a tear-jerker for me, Krista. Although Mom passed in 2016, I find myself more sad and easily brought to tears this past while. I, too, was blessed with a loving upbringing in spite of restricted finances. My most memorable gift was Elvis’ Blue Hawaii 33 LP. I had to wear my parents down for permission to go see the movie, and then Dad (I think. In hindsight, I think Mom used to let him take credit for mutual decisions.) bought the album for me.

  2. I love this–thank you for the reminder, Krista. My parents had to make things stretch for many kids on a tight budget too…my mother always had a knack for figuring out how to get most of us something we *really* wanted. I remember a leather backpack in high school that I thought there was no way they could afford to get me. I used it until it finally fell apart about 10 years ago. Now I find myself celebrating Hanukkah every year with my Jewish husband and our kids. That can get overwhelming too, but every year we have a night when we give home-made presents, and we give to charities on another. Those are the nights that stand out the most to me every year.

    • Erin, thank you for sharing. Love that you held onto that bag for a long time. My dad, in the years before he died, started giving to charities in my kids’ names at Christmas. We didn’t have much – but even our “not much” was abundance in comparison to the need in this big world and I love that he was walking out his values:)

  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to tone down Christmas, like a lot? My family tends to buy lots of gifts and I’m guilty too. I want Christmas to be more simple and less about stuff. But I feel like now my kids kind of expect it. And that makes me sad.

    • Hi Martha, one thing that I have always done and which may help you begin paring down is to set a clear limit on gifts (we always chose 3 per child) and on the number of items for a stocking (if you fill stockings). This limit encourages intentionality.

      Siblings/your kiddos could still do their own gift exchange depending on their ages and if they have money. My husband and I don’t buy for each other and we opt out of all family and work exchanges.

      If extended family will find this painful – and you don’t want to go cold turkey (although you may be incredibly relieved to do so)- you might suggest a gift exchange for extended family which means only one extra gift each, or suggest a charitable donation in kids’ names, or a gift of experience (ex. a museum pass for the family or trip to the water park instead of more stuff).

      I hope this helps!

  4. Loved your post, thank you for sharing your stories, they are beautiful. One thing I remember, my mom used to write out the gift tags “Love Santa”, and I do that now. And always will. Even though this is a (very, very) small thing, it helps ease the kids growing up fast. Have a wonderful Christmas season. Michelle t

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