santa arrested
Photo by Kevin Dooley

Perhaps you’ve got a baby this holiday season, so traveling a long distance through inclement weather sounds like a nightmare.

Maybe your husband’s (or your) workload is unusually heavy this season, so tacking on a bajillion holiday events to your family calendar feels more stressful than fun.

Your son’s homeroom teacher wants all the parents to provide homemade baked goods for the school’s bake sale, but with a busy household to run and three kids to parent, it’s just not feasible.

Or perhaps you’d like to take your daughter to the Nutcracker, and go see the local production of A Christmas Carol, and attend the Rockette’s Radio City Christmas Spectacular as they come through town — but the finances aren’t there to do them all.

It’s okay to say no this Christmas.

Amidst the twinkle of holiday decor and festive ambience of the Christmas flutter, it’s easy to fill our plates to overflowing, and inevitably transform our family’s calendar from fun to painful.

There are so many ways to enjoy the season, but not one family can do them all. How do you choose what to say “yes” to, and what to say “Maybe next year”?

Here are a few ways to filter your choices.

1. Meet the needs of your spouse, kids, and yourself first.

Easier said than done, I know. Focus on your immediate family’s needs first, and ultimately do what’s best for your household. This might mean not traveling six hours away to Aunt Jane’s house like everyone else in your extended family — which might inadvertently lead to hurt feelings.

But what good is it to please these people if your household ultimately suffers? No one’s happy in the end.

2. Don’t spend more than you have.

Draw a line in the sand to never, ever use credit. It’s tempting during the holiday season, but the many months that follow of paying it off is never worth it. You’ll sleep so much better at night.

An easy way to avoid this: Don’t go shopping, especially in malls. Make most of your purchases online, or make your gifts.

3. Do what you can; don’t worry about the rest.

Don’t neglect your responsibilities, of course. But find creative ways to do what you have to do in an easy way, so that you have time and energy to do what you love.

• Buy your bake sale contributions from a local bakery, and shoo away the false guilt that it must be homemade.

• Decide in advance to attend only X number of holiday events, or to fill only X evenings per week with activities. Talk about this as a family, and then draw a line in the sand.

Make a big deal out of those little things that are fun. Make popcorn and turn down the lights for “A Christmas Story” on TV. Play your favorite Christmas tunes and drink hot chocolate while you wrap gifts.

In the end, Christmas is meant to be enjoyed. It’s meant to point our hearts towards God’s grandest gift to us, found in the shoddy manger in Bethlehem. It’s not meant to stress us out.

Bless those around you with a wife, mom, and friend who’s content, at peace, and happy for the holidays. You’ll have a lot more fun, too.

What will you do this Christmas to help you slow down and enjoy the season?

By Tsh, Simple Mom

  • Rene

    Amen :)

  • kendal

    I remember learning, about four years ago, that saying “no” to some things is okay. even to some great things. it was freeing. this year i am also going to say some extra “yeses” to offers of help. my mother-in-law will be visiting. i usually feel so guilty when she helps me, but i am going to believe her this year when she tells me that she WANTS to. i can never be perfect, so i will say no and yes this season!

  • I Live in an Antbed

    Great suggestions! Less is more when we want it to be special. We choose carefully the things that will make the “final cut”. The things we make sure to include are our advent readings each day, family gatherings, and a few things with our church family.

  • Jennifer

    Great post, this is all so true, keep it simple, enjoy the time. I totally agree about the online shopping – the malls are a nightmare. I always try to make sure the kids get enough down time and eat right, too- meltdowns sure don’t add to the holiday fun.

  • Holly

    Tsh! I need help on making a wise decision … how do I gratefully and graciously deal with the influx of crap (I mean, toys) to my home? I have a 3 and 1 year old in the house, so everyone assumes we need more toys! I already feel up to my neck in crap. I hear my mom already got both children rolling suitcases and singing stuffed animals …. HELP!!

    • teresa

      i feel your pain and we only have one child – a 3 year old – with many toys. i mean how many trains, train tracks, cars, etc does one child need???!!!

      we have a rule in our house that everyone knows about – NO STUFFED ANIMALS!!! also, we do tell them that they don’t even need to buy gifts for our little guy but most people insist so we make a suggestion of either gift cards towards a children’s clothing store b/c we all know how much 3 year olds can grow in a short span of time or we suggest experiences like going out for ice cream one afternoon or going for a sleigh ride. you’d likely be surprised at how almost relieved people are to hear suggestions like this b/c the pressure is off wondering what the heck a 3 year old wants or likes plus the ice cream trip or the sleigh ride doesn’t have to happen during christmas – it can be after the new year when all the hullaballoo is over!

      it’s just a conversation – i mean, we’re all adults right?! :o)

      i once saw a sign in our favorite bookstore in the children’s section that read: “IF A CHILD IS LEFT UNATTENDED IN THE READING AREA, THAT CHILD WILL BE GIVEN A PUPPY AND AN ESPRESSO” :o) the rule in our house about stuffed animals goes” “IF YOU BRING A STUFFED ANIMAL INTO OUR HOUSE, YOU WILL LEAVE WITH 3 OF THEM!”

      good luck!!!

      • Holly

        This is all very good. I’ve tried most of it — do your parents think you’re crazy? Mine think I’m absolutely whacky with all my “fewer toys” notions. I mentioned that they could just buy us a swing set, but they’d rather spend the same amount of money on small toys with bells and whistles (that’s a TON of toys). Thanks for commiserating, Teresa!

        • Kathy

          for what it’s worth, I said thank you on behalf of the kids, but no plastic wrap was removed (“that’s nice, isn’t it, Honey, No we are not going to open it right now.” and move on to the next thing.) And then I returned some things after
          Christmas. Not sure if you could get by with this,but they givers rarely noticed, and if they did I just explained my reason: no batteries, noisy toys, or thing of many pieces unless it was Legos. But we can ALWAYS appreciate the love that went into the gift.

    • Diane

      Similar to Teresa’s strategy, I sent a very nicely worded email to both sets of grandparents requesting specific presents. They will spread the word to aunts and cousins, who all might think I’m wacky but will still smile and do as I wish. None of the requests are expensive or hard to find. Most of the presents requested are art supplies (fingerpaint, watercolors, stickers, paper, etc) which are great because they get used up and also can be stored away and pulled out during or particularly cold day. I also was very clear that while some toys are very tempting for toddlers, we want no toys that require batteries. We try to avoid toys that count/read/scream/roar for us (at least for as long as we can) and the “no battery” request draws a very clearly defined line. I have twin 2 year olds and one on the way and if I allowed it to happen we would absolutely drown in toys (crap). So I guess my suggestions boils down to carefully worded well intended polite communication. It’s worked (at least for the most part) for us!

      • Betsy

        I have twin 3.5-year-olds and a 5 -year-old. One request I’ve made to both sets of grandparents is to stick to group-themed toys and avoid strife-inducing toys; in other words, give the kids games, art supplies, puzzles–things that all three can do at the same time if they want to. Whenever we get one or two of something, but not three, and it’s a toy that can only be played with by one child at a time, then there’s strife. They’ve been respectful of that and that small tip helps us avoid LOTS of junky stuff. We tend to get books, Legos/blocks, clothing, and the aforementioned games/puzzles/art stuff…. Each kid gets to open something, but the toys can be played with by all.

  • Sara

    Thank you, I needed to read that! It is okay to say “no” remembering how to make the little things warm and fuzzy special. Teaching the kids how to have a five star taste with a that is simple and sweet not fancy and over done and over spent!!

  • Mindy

    Such a great post…thanks for the reminders!

  • Karen

    We feel out of it anymore when it comes to the Christmas shopping rush here in the US. Living overseas much of the time makes it a little different, even though they do celebrate Christmas, it is more about traditions and family than consumerism.

    Having some turmoil in extended family and lack of finances for us to travel far means that we will likely be celebrating Christmas just the four of us. I’m okay with it! There is a proverb about having very little with contentment than a big feast with strife. I’m paraphrasing, but that is exactly how I am feeling about it!

  • Donna

    Tsh, I am there. This year I’m keeping it simple. Usually I decorate the whole house, but this time I’m only putting up a few decorations. The only tree we will have this year is a simple wire table top tree with some ornaments from my husband’s grandma – memories. I want to focus on the season of Jesus and family and friends around me. Thanks!

  • teresa

    i have a rule – if it doesn’t bring me joy during the holiday season, i just don’t do it. plain and simple.

    about 10 years ago, i stopped sending out my usual 75 holiday cards b/c it started to feel like a huge chore and i never looked forward to it. i send out maybe 6 now to very special family and friends who i never see. and i love sending those ones and love getting cards back from those very same people.

    tradition, family, togetherness and both peaceful quiet and joyful noise are what makes the holidays so special – don’t forget that. :o)


  • Wanda


    Thank you!

    I feel like a big jumbled up pile of NO’s!
    What a relief to see…’s ok to say no and to do what fits my circumstances best.
    I guess I just needed to see it in writing, friend.


  • Caroline

    I echo your last statements. This season is so meant to be enjoyed and should be focus on worship, love, and gratitude (not stress!). Worship is uplifting and joyful, not burdensome. Great suggestions here; thank you!

  • JD

    I love that we’ve always kept Christmas pretty low-key and simple, no more Christmas parties, just one family get-together on Christmas Eve, and a quiet, laid back Christmas morning when the kids eventually crawl out of bed around 9am.

    The only time I remember getting stressed out for the holidays was the year that we made the mistake of waiting until Christmas Eve to wrap presents. Not too bright on our part… but life goes on.

    Even the office parties have been transformed. We used to get together for a Christmas “Yankee Swap”, and now, we contribute to a local women/children’s shelter instead.

    I’d still like to improve on the “less stuff” area, but I think after our trip to Africa next year, that will likely change.

  • erin beth

    Oh. My. Goodness.

    I needed to hear this today. Good reminder.


  • Living the Balanced Life

    Yep! Saying No is crucial to balancing out your life. There is no way we can do everything that we are presented with. Pick the best, leave the rest!

  • Holley Gerth

    Tsh, you are a wonderful grace-giver. Thanks for this early Christmas present, the permission to say “no” (and by doing so say “yes” to what’s best).

  • Shari

    So true…thanks for this insight. After this weekend/holiday drama it is nice to breath again and not worry so much about overachieving at Christmas…

  • Amy Sullivan

    We want to do it all and be it all. Thanks for giving us permission to rethink that attitude! Oh, and your photo is perfect!

  • Galen Pearl

    This is such good advice! I have always had the most decorated house on the block, inside and out, with enough lights to set the house on fire. I have a big open house (read lots of people in a small house). Last year, I realized that I was not enjoying all the decorating. I was nagging the kids to help. I was stressed about the party. I was spending too much on too many things. I was not in the holiday spirit!

    So this year things are different. I moved the annual open house to the summer and last July we had Christmas in July with a fun BBQ garden party. I told my kids that we would have whatever decorations they chose to put up. I will help but I will not do it by myself and I will not nag. (My youngest is 18, so they are quite capable of doing this.)

    So while it’s true that our holiday might not be as glittery and festive, I am feeling relaxed and excited about the true meaning of Christmas, and looking forward to a fun family time.

    Thanks for injecting some sanity into the season!

  • Anonymous

    A timely reminder, thank you.

  • Paula@Motherhood Outloud

    Amen! With a newborn addition this year (along with our other 2) we are working on simple. Love your suggestion about shopping online instead of in stores/malls. That is one thing that cuts my stress level immensely and keeps me from impulse buying just “one more thing” I see.

    We are also going to schedule days at home. We’ll plan fun stuff (like Christmas movies or reading special Christmas books) but there will be days when we don’t go anywhere. Working on enjoying ourselves and keeping our sanity as we celebrate!

  • Mandi Bozarth

    Thank you. I needed to read that today. After Thanksgiving I tend to go into crazy mama overdrive and try to make everything perfect. This year I vow to keep it simple — starting right now.

  • Kathy

    I am glad for this post! I have too many times looked at the cards wishing you “Peace and Joy at this holiday season” and felt like is was a cruel, sarcastic joke. Where are MY quiet sleigh rides? Where are MY peaceful candlelit evenings? Yeah, right! The pretty pictures don’t tell of hours baking, shopping, wrapping, planning, and stressing between the concerts and Christmas programs, all while trying to maintain the same laundry, meal preparation, and child training that comes with everyday life. The unrealistic fantasy needs to be taken down! Thank you so much for voicing this, and for giving real practical suggestions. I too have learned to say no and to only do what makes sense for my family. This is the first Christmas in a long time that I am singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.

  • Courtney(WomenLivingWell)

    Great post! I love this line:

    “In the end, Christmas is meant to be enjoyed. It’s meant to point our hearts towards God’s grandest gift to us, found in the shoddy manger in Bethlehem. It’s not meant to stress us out.”

    These are my sentiments exactly!!! So I started a December Challenge on exactly this here:

    Can’t wait to meet you at Relevant!

  • Gabe

    I love this post, this is what we’ve been working on for a few years now. Three years ago I was nine months pregnant (with our 5th baby), we knew we would have to cut back and keep Christmas quiet. You know what? It was one of the best Christmases we’d ever had! We were able to repeat the experience last year when we had another baby just six weeks before Christmas. We’ve continued in trying to keep the focus of Christmas on Christ, and building our family to glorify HIM. With six kids we are able to have a fun holiday season with plenty of opportunities to build wonderful memories without all of the stress or spending a small fortune!

  • Briana

    Oh thank you thank you! THis is just what I am trying to do this year, but any encouragement I can get is super helpful!

  • SueTR

    Thank you !!!
    I am sooooo all for this this year but unfortunately am battling my hubby who has to do EVERYTHING that we have done for 100 years and keep strictly to the “alternate family” schedule (ie. thanksgiving @ my family, xmas w his…then switch the next year). And every year it gets worse.

    I have made suggestions, comments, hints….nothing doing, his family thinks I’m “different” (well, she’s creative you know…) we have to have presents for everyone and will be dragging our 9yo twins on a 3 hour drive after lunch on Xmas to have dinner w his family. .. I would rather stay at our home together just the four of us but as far as he’s concerned, the holidays should be spent with FAMILY no matter what…evidently the 3 other people he lives with are in a different category.

    Any suggestions as to how to deal would be most appreciated….simplify is not in his vocabulary.

  • Nora

    Great Post!
    But don’t forget the other way round, be paitient with others if they don’t have the time to bake or come to a visit.
    We will stay at home this christmas for the first time and I’m really looking forward to it.
    There is still plenty of time to visit family in January when they are not stressed because they have to prepare things and get stressed because we can only stay one night and erverybody wants to see our little child.

  • Bryony Boxer

    Wonderful advice, and so very timely.

    Like many women, I tend to have a hard time saying no. Thank you for reminding me it’s OK!

  • priest’s wife

    These are wonderful tips! I try to imagine that silent night 2,000 years ago- are my plans in line with that?

  • Katie C.

    I am so happy I found this article and the associated websites. I have bookmarked them and will continue to come back for reminders of how to handle holiday stress and expectations. Need to slow down and enjoy/soak up the Advent season with my family and simplify where I can. Thanks!

  • Melissa | 2x2_Momma

    Great tips! I especially love the one about doing what you can do and shooing away the guilt that says you need to do more — it’s so hard to say “this is enough” when you keep thinking of other things you could do. But who has the time for that?

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  • CherylK

    I agree with everyone that this is an excellent, timely post. We’ve cut waaaaay back and I can’t tell you how great it is. With four children and eight grandchildren it was just getting insane! And guess what…..they still love us!

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