Staying sane at Christmas

by Lesley on December 10, 2012 · 9 comments

in christmas

Funny how Christmas always has me thinking of traditions, more so than any other time of year. Do you find this to be the case for your family too?

Last year I poured out all my mixed feelings about Santa Claus and setting gift limits, a post that I think resonated with a lot of people but probably sounded wacky and strange to others. If you fall in the latter camp, I totally get why: for most families it’s tradition to believe in Santa and to give lots of presents to kids. Last week I was on Ann Voskamp’s blog and she mentioned her family doesn’t really exchange presents. I about gasped in horror at the thought. Instead, every breakfast in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, they pick out gifts for those in need.

I know. I’m not that great of a person either.

But I love what Ann’s trying to do. She wants her kids to be grateful. She wants a peaceful home. She doesn’t want to fall into the consumerism trap during December and miss the anticipation of Jesus. She wants something more for her family. (I highly recommend reading her full post about how to have more grateful kids this Christmas.)

At Mom’s Connection last week a woman spoke about the topic, “Staying Sane for the Holidays.” She said, “Welcome or unwelcome as traditions can be, they bind people together. Traditions are important…they’re like a secret password.”

Since Anna was born I’ve been thinking about what secret passwords I want during the holiday season. What traditions from my own childhood do I want to continue? (Cookie making!) What were things other families did that I always thought would be fun? (New Christmas PJs every year!) What new ideas will emerge on their own? (Home Depot Christmas tree shopping, since we’ve ended up there every year by plan or by chance!) And, most importantly, how can I honor tradition without becoming a crazy person?

Because even though traditions are important, if we’re not careful, they become very stressful. A tradition starts because one year everyone makes gingerbread houses together and has the best time, and then maybe we do it next year too, and suddenly it MUST HAPPEN EVERY YEAR OTHERWISE CHRISTMAS WILL BE A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FAILURE.

I think we’ve tricked ourselves into believing that traditions can guarantee a fun, happy and memorable Christmas season. We start to believe that traditions are what make the Christmas season so special, rather than remembering Christmas is special because it’s Christ’s birthday. Everything we do to celebrate his birthday only adds to the anticipation and longing for what’s to come. 

As the weeks leading up to Christmas become busier and busier, I thought I’d share a list we brainstormed at Mom’s Connection for how to stay sane during the holiday season, and emphasizing Jesus first. I’ve sprinkled in a few of my own ideas throughout.

  • Understand that traditions aren’t what make or break the season.
  • Decide what traditions you like or find meaningful. As your kids get older, let them choose which traditions to keep and which ones to release.
  • Read a devotional about Advent. (I’m reading Enuma Okoro’s new one, and highly recommend!)
  • Have a conversation with your spouse and (older) kids about expectations.
  • Buy your young children a Little People nativity set.
  • Set gift limits-either number of gifts or a dollar limit.
  • Take Ann Voskamp’s idea to create a month-long family brainstorm on chalkboard or bucher paper, “Gifts we already have.” (Example: Each other. Good food to eat. Favorite bike from last Christmas. Our health.)
  • Shop early, shop online, shop on budget.
  • Say no.
  • Let go of disappointments from Christmas’ past.
  • Love the ones you’re with, not the ones you feel you can’t be with.
  • Lower expectations. Why does this year have to look like last year? 10 years ago?
  • Address the stress.
  • Create time and space to simply be together, read books, watch movies, and talk.
Two questions for you:
What’s a favorite, SIMPLE, tradition in your family?
Do you have any tips for how to stay sane during the holiday season?

{Liked this post? I also recommend reading Sarah Bessey’s In Which I Celebrate the Imperfect Christmas  / Christianity Today’s Was the Real St. Nick Better than Santa Claus? / Claire Bone’s How an Artificial Tree Saved Christmas}

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Bree--wow--cool family. Very intentional! I love their idea for birthday "experiences." My grandma always took me out to lunch for my birthday and then I got to pick an outfit or toy from any store I wanted. I loved the experience more than the physical gift- I felt like such a big girl! :)


I just met up with a friend of mine who's in college today and she was telling me that her parents do this ridiculously great thing that her parents do. In addition to gifts, they write a letter to each of their 5 kids telling them all the ways they value and have been proud them in the past year. I'm into that... :)


This has been a really fun Christmas for us so far because of some new traditions! We've been lighting our Advent wreath each night (along with a devotional reading) and singing a song about Jesus bringing Peace, hope and love (sorry, I don't know what it's called). We've also been memorizing all the verses to O' Come O' Come Emmanual and then singing it. We had intentions of doing a Jesse Tree but we fell behind on it, so I didn't stress and just realized that next year (Lord, willing) I'll need to start preparations for it earlier. I ordered an Advent Calendar from Etsy that has scripture and a fun activity for each day and we've also read a ton of books all throughout Advent, most of them are focused on the awaiting and arrival of our Savior and a few are on the real Saint Nicolas. We also have a tradition of honoring St. Nick by leaving chocolate coins (and a few stocking stuffers) in the kids shoes (this is a common tradition because this is what the real St. Nicolas did...I only found out about it a few years ago). Riley knows that Santa Claus is based on St. Nick and that the presents from Christmas are from us!! That said, I've still felt a bit stressed because Christmas is expensive and it can be a real burden on us if we aren't suuuuper strict with our budget....and as much as I don't want it to be about the presents, it still seems to be about that with our extended family! OF course, there is the cookie-making etc and donating presents to kids in need! I'm going to check out Ann Voskamps blog post about grateful kids, it's been a while since I've visited her blog and it's always so full of wisdom!! Thanks for sharing :) PS-I got your Chrismas Card today...SUPER CUTE!!!


Thanks Claire. We celebrated our 25th earlier this year, and I can echo every sentiment you mention!

Claire Baganz Bone
Claire Baganz Bone

Tim, I LOVE what you say about the "perfect" wedding day! I can honestly say that my wedding was one of the WORST days of my life becuase of family drama, but from the get go my husband and I focused on Jesus (what else could we do in the face of what we were dealing with) and made it through the day. We now have a great relationship with my family, three wonderful kids and 12 wonderful, hard, rewarding years of marraige under our belts. I hate what weddings have come to mean (even as I fall for it whenever a friend gets married).

Claire Baganz Bone
Claire Baganz Bone

I wrote about this very thing today! I gave up a bunch of traditions that I hated (and even a couple I didn't) because the holiday was beginning to be about those things instead of Christ. It also made me think about how we do this in our church lives every day, with our programming and music and colors of the pews or whatever.


When you started talking about how some people have envisioned the perfect Christmas and work toward that as if anything but what they envision will be a disaster, it reminded me of how some people look at their wedding day. The analogy holds, I think. Those staking everything on a perfect wedding day miss the fact that the relationship has already begun and will continue to exist after that day. For those looking for the perfect Christmas, they miss that God the Son is eternal and that his offer of a relationship with us lasts long after the Christmas tree has landed in the curb. Tim P.S. Your guest post at my place last week is still getting quite a few hits. It's speaking to a lot of people, Lesley!


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