While listening to my friend explain her simple Christmas traditions, I looked around and felt the spirit of Christmas everywhere. Her home looked, smelled and felt like Christmas. I was intrigued by her family’s interpretation of how to celebrate the holidays without stress and the exhausting busyness.
A simple Christmas sounded like a comforting, freeing idea. I decided to learn how to capture the essence of Christmas without losing the joy of the season.
This was in 1998, so we could not Google ideas, search on Pinterest or shop much online. My visions of what Christmas should look like came from movies, my own experiences, and those of other families. (Imagine that!)
We had only one child at the time and had not given much thought to how we wanted our family to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I began to imagine a simple Christmas and what traditions I wanted to embrace.
With my poofy 90’s hair and a baby on my hip, I wondered, what would our family’s simple Christmas look like?
What is a Simple Christmas?
When we hear the term ‘simple’ it can cause some of us to think vanilla, plain and kind of boring; which it can be. Sometimes plain and boring is good, but that is not the ‘simple’ I wanted for our holidays.
The simple Christmas that appeals to me is humble, authentic and pure without losing the joy and fun that so many of us look forward to.
So how can we have a meaningful, simple Christmas that is still exciting and fun for our family? After all, the birth of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in the history of the world. It calls for a grand celebration. But what does that look like?
How can we keep the origins of Christmas alive without becoming lost in a land of distractions that we don’t want to live in?
With a focus on simple, relevant and special, I set out to develop my family’s Christmas traditions. Even through years of adjustments and age appropriate changes, the spirit of a simple Christmas is what still drives our holidays today.
How do you Simplify Christmas?
Since it was harder to find information on how do you simplify Christmas, I began to read magazines and ask other families, “how do you simplify Christmas without losing its meaning and keeping kids interested?” Of course, the answers were all over the place because every family has its own flavor and threshold for what celebrating Jesus’ birth looks like.
How your family simplifies Christmas can look many ways, but we developed some guiding principles for a simple Christmas that was still a fun celebration.
Here are some thoughts on how to simplify Christmas:
Keep a Christ Centered Christmas
The first thing we did to simplify Christmas was to always keep a Christ centered Christmas and focus on the true meaning of the holidays; regardless of our circumstances or how old our children are. We celebrate Christmas to honor the birth of Jesus. Period. Without the birth of Christ, Christmas would not exist.
The birth of Christ is not just a story, but a real event that happened over 2000 years ago. Jesus was born to save and change us. When we keep a Christ centered Christmas, it is the driving force to help keep the season less stressful and more meaningful.
Focus on Simple Christmas Gifts
While researching, I realized we had already begun planning to lavish our only child with gifts. My gift giving intentions were not bad, but what I thought you did at Christmas; buy and give gifts. Now don’t get me wrong, our family loves giving gifts, but gifts can take over and disrupt a simple Christmas. We decided being intentional about choosing simple Christmas gifts that are meaningful would be better; less commercialized and more authentic.
Our first idea for simple Christmas gifts was to limit how many presents our children received. The idea of only giving each child 3 gifts comes from the wise men visiting the manger and delivering 3 gifts to Jesus. Another newer idea for simple Christmas gifts is the 4 gift challenge: something they want, need, wear or read.
Our gift giving system wasn’t an exact formula but a guideline. It helped us remove some of the anxiety associated with picking out gifts. Each year we made adjustments and showed restraint especially when our kids were small. One rule we still follow is not buying every toy or gadget that our kids or our hearts desire. Simple Christmas gifts are thoughtful instead of impulsive and leave room for character building, gratitude and contentment.
Avoid the Commercialization of Christmas
The second thing I decided to have a simple Christmas was to not get caught up in the commercialization of Christmas. There are many opportunities, despite the intensive focus on shopping, that help shine the light of Christ during the holidays. And there are some commercialized aspects of the holiday that our family has enjoyed. To avoid the commercialization of Christmas, we try to focus on Christ’s birth instead of parties, events, spending and gift giving. We are intentional about what we do and how much money we spend during Christmas.
Do Simple Acts of Kindness during Christmas
The third thing we decided to simplify Christmas was to look around and see who may be sad or suffering during Christmas and reach out to them in some way. There are many ways to demonstrate simple acts of kindness individually or with our kids. We just need to notice the needs of others. For our family, simple acts of kindness have included bringing meals and toys to families, filling boxes for Operation Christmas Child, visiting nursing homes and inviting others to join us for lunch.
How to Celebrate Christmas with Family
Our family has maintained the emphasis on celebrating a simple Christmas that is still fun. Here are 5 tips on how to celebrate Christmas with family and enjoy a simple Christmas that honors the birth of Christ:
- Read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible. Reading the Bible with your children is a special experience that connects you on a deeper level. This intimacy is magnified when it is the story of Jesus’ birth. When our kids were young, on Christmas Eve we would sit together and use animated voices and stuffed animals to tell the story. We love to read from the book of Luke but the story can also be found in the book of Matthew. When our children got older, we let them take turns reading from the Bible and performing their own version of the story. Once our children hit the teenage years, we pried phones away and made them sit and act interested even though they had heard the story many times before!
My friend Ann says her family does not open one gift until the cinnamon rolls are in the oven and the story of Jesus’ birth is read from the Bible.
- Have a birthday party for Jesus. Every Christmas Eve, we would bake a cake for Jesus and decorate it. When our kids were younger, we would have a special birthday party with candles, balloons and party plates. Now that they are older, we either bake or buy a treat but still acknowledge that Jesus’ birth is the big deal. This birthday party for Jesus continues to remind us why we celebrate the holidays and keeps the focus on a simple Christmas.
- Make Christmas morning an exciting time in your home. Our kids would sit outside our bedroom waiting for the designated time they were allowed to wake us up. Everyone has to wait because the opening of gifts is a family activity where we learn to share, be patient and happy for each other. Although we were conscious of a gift guideline, we worked to make gifts fair but still a fun part of the day. The number of gifts does not have to dictate the experience to the point that it becomes stressful. Gifts can be grouped or even reduced if a big gift is involved. A particular number of gifts is not a hard rule in our home (although we do stay in the 3-4 range), but serves to keep the focus on quality and not quantity.
My friend Shelly says Christmas morning is a special time. Someone in the family runs to the nativity scene and turns baby Jesus over, and the celebration that Jesus is alive begins. Christmas morning is still one of their favorite times.
- Have a Family Sharing Time. Christmas afternoon always involves family sharing time. When our kids were younger, they would put on a talent show. The whole family was required to sit in the lined-up chairs and watch our kids, usually in Christmas costumes, sing and dance to Christmas carols. We have joined with another family and put on a live nativity. As my kids got older, a Karaoke machine was brought in for the entertainment. We also pray, visit and express gratitude. Now our family goes on a long walk and participation is required! Family sharing time requires little effort. It is a great way to have intentional time and conversation with those we love and really fits the definition of a simple Christmas tradition.
- Take a Family Vacation or Another Experience Gift for Kids. One Christmas when my kids were teenagers, we did not exchange gifts. On Christmas Eve we announced that in lieu of gifts, we were leaving on a family vacation. It was an exciting and different way to celebrate and became our first experience gift for our kids. After a quick Christmas lunch, we grabbed our bags and headed out for a few days. I was worried they would be disappointed but it was a wonderful time together and they did not miss getting gifts. (well, most of them didn’t!) There are many experience gifts for kids that can loosen the stress of gift giving and help teach what a simple Christmas is.
Hope you enjoyed reading these 5 tips on how to celebrate Christmas with family.
A simple Christmas can be accomplished in many ways; what matters most is that we intentionally focus on Jesus during this special time of year. I would love to hear about your simple Christmas traditions and what your family does to celebrate the birth of Jesus!
Mary Rooney Armand loves to write inspiring, faith based stories. She focuses on helping others grow in their intimacy with Christ and thrive in their personal relationships. Mary lives in New Orleans with her husband Cory and four children. Besides writing, she teaches Bible Studies and leads small groups. In 2020 she created ButterflyLiving and a Bible Study titled “Identity” which is available on Amazon. To learn more visit maryarmand.com.