A Simple Christmas

This weekend, Stephanie at Keeper of the Home is hosting a “Simply Celebrating Christmas” carnival
 We keep Christmas fairly simple in our home. As I mentioned before, we don’t start off with a big “Christmas rush” right after Thanksgiving. We typically spend the days following Thanksgiving merely enjoying the blessings of family and friends.

Soon, though, we do begin celebrating the season of Advent; usually on the last Sunday in November. Each year, our Advent activities tend to look a bit different, as our family changes. We always have some form of Advent readings and singing in the evening, usually using materials from Creative Communications. We don’t stress about having things “just right” (the perfect book, candles, calendars, etc). We just use what is at hand, and feels appropriate during this time.It has been fun this year to see Gen really focus on our Advent readings and songs. She listens intently to the scripture reading, as she sits on Daddy’s lap while he reads from the Bible. She will often interject a thought or two, when there is a word or topic she recognizes from our previous Bible reading times (from over the past year). She also loves the singing! (Many of our resources offer an emphasis on music, such as daily excerpts from hymns celebrating the coming of Christ, or how all God’s creation worships Him.)

During the day, we often have instrumental Christmas music playing in our home (usually from Pandora). We also occasionally enjoy singing Christmas carols around the table after dinner is done, too.
December 6th (today!) is St. Nicholas Day. Calvin, especially, has enjoyed studying him these past few years. Over the years, we have been discussing how to incorporate this holiday more into our lives. We love being able to give Gen a balanced perspective of this historical figure, without the “commercialized Santa Claus” filling our Christmas season. We have been telling her about the real St. Nicholas, and when she notices “Santa” in the stores, we tell her that “Sometimes people like to pretend.” (We prefer to take this pleasant, but realistic approach, rather than something that is either wishy-washy or extreme.)

This automatically takes away part of the busyness many people encounter with this season. We’re not rushing our child to the mall to have her photo taken with “Santa,” or urging Christmas “wish lists.” Our season is more of a timeless sense of celebrating Christ’s birth, and of sharing that joy with others.

I had a friend years ago that would celebrate St. Nicholas day with her young children, by opening their stockings and the majority of their gifts. Christmas day was reserved for reading the account of Christmas from the Bible and visiting family members (who often gave gifts of their own that day). It simplified Christmas morning for them (not spending the morning opening gifts, and then rushing to the car), but it also placed the focus away from gifts, and toward Christ.
During this early part of Advent, I am often preparing homemade Christmas gifts for close family members, and we enjoy brainstorming ideas together. Trips to the library are fun times for checking out books of creative gift ideas (as we “smuggle” them out; hiding the titles from each other!) If you haven’t heard of Advent Conspiracy yet, I highly encourage you to consider it! We usually start tossing around gift ideas earlier in the year, but this is when the real creating/preparing is done. You can get some great ideas at Rethinking Christmas.  

I also start preparing Christmas cards during this time. I keep our list small, since I like to write a tiny hand-written note in each one. (There is just something special about a handwritten note, in what often becomes a generic gesture!) I also don’t spend the money on professional photos. (I know they would be a beautiful treasure, but I don’t stress that it hasn’t been in our budget.) I sort through our photos from the past few months, and find one or two that I like. Then I order them online using free coupon codes from local drugstores. (Free is nice!) I usually get the cards from the Dollar store, making sure that they have a Biblical representation of Christmas.
Our decorations usually go up during the weekend that is about 12 days before Christmas. We often put on some Christmas music or an old Christmas movie, and heat up a pot of tea or cider. We haven’t always had the space or budget for a large Christmas tree, so they are a special treasure! One affordable option we found was an herb “tree-shaped” topiary from Trader Joe’s grocery store. Last year’s tree was rosemary. When I remember to water it, this makes a festive and sustainable option. We were later able to pluck off some rosemary sprigs to use in our cooking. (Although my heart does go out for all those lovely, local tree farms!)

We each pick out a few of our favorite ornaments from our collection to place on our “tree.” Other ornaments are scattered around our home, often displayed from hanging garlands above windows and doorways, in glass bowls on tables, or hanging from doorknobs. I also pull out the sets of Christmas-print kitchen towels, and we hang up the stockings. (We live in a small space, so decorating isn’t a big chore.)

The last few days before Christmas, I usually bake a batch or two of Christmas cookies (usually enough to share with neighbors or friends). I don’t make every version of our favorite holiday desserts anymore (our kitchen used to be full of fudge, various cookies, and pies). It was festive, but overwhelming, and rather unnecessary! (Not to mention, filled with food coloring and sprinkles.) Now, I just choose a couple simple recipes, such as a wholesome gingerbread with freshly whipped cream or cranberry shortbread.

We strive not to fill our lives with busyness during this season.  A low-key Christmas gathering or two with friends or family, and a candle-lit contemplative service at church, is all that gets put on our calendar. We live in a city with myriad holiday activities, but don’t end up attending most of them. (One favorite event since my childhood has been attending the Christmas Ships for my birthday, if possible.)
One of our favorite moments is attending a Christmas Eve service. This may sound odd, but in years past, we’ve simplified things by attending a candlelight worship service at a reputable church close to our home, in the times that we have lived a farther drive away from our home church. There is definitely something to be said for worshipping with your own church family, but it was wonderful to avoid a long evening through traffic jams in the city.

At this point, it feels like Christmas is just getting started! Jesus is born! We keep our Christmas decorations up through the Twelve Days of Christmas, until Epiphany (celebrating the visit of the Magi), which is a fun way to enter the new year, and get full enjoyment out of their beauty.

Blessings to you!

Clip art courtesy of Antique Clip Art.
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2 comments to A Simple Christmas

  • Katie

    I so enjoy your thoughtfulness in approaching everyday life with children :) I wanted to mention that if you have a Picture People (photo studio often located in the mall) nearby, you can sign up for their email updates and get coupons for free picture packages. They never charge a sitting fee, and I have gotten a coupon it seems like nearly once a month for a free 8×10, free photo package (an 8×10, two 5x7s, and I think 12 wallets), and other goodies just by being on their free email list (not to be confused with paying for their Smile Club, which costs money!). We have gotten several nice, free family portraits since our daughter was born in June. You may or may not be able to find something usable for Christmas cards, but as you mention, the photos are a wonderful family keepsake and so I thought I'd put the suggestion out there.

    Keep up the great work :)



  • […] family loves celebrating St. Nicholas day, instead of the commercialized “Santa Claus” idea that is so prevalent these days. We […]

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