The Minimalist Guide to the Holidays

As soon as the crisp morning breeze hits your cheek, it seems like it’s just a few weeks before you’re facing the holidays and all the juggling of activities that brings. Trying to homeschool while planning and preparing for the onslaught of company, huge, intricate meals, decorating the house, holiday crafts, homemade Christmas gifts, special holiday ministry events, parties, traveling, entertaining, and holiday correspondence…It’s enough to make you climb back under the covers just thinking about it.  If this sounds like you, read on to discover how to simplify your Christmas with our 5 tips in this minimalist guide to the holidays.

I’m going to make a suggestion: Consider approaching the holidays from a simpler perspective this year. Focus more on making your holidays meaningful and less on doing things as you’ve always done them. There is some comfort in your holiday routines, but don’t get too busy to have the time you need in God’s Word. If you find yourself overwhelmed, spend more time celebrating Christ and less time on all.the.things.

Lower your expectations in terms of activities and gifts.  Consider which of the following 5 tips in our minimalist guide to the holidays could help you relax, enjoy, and celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior!

1. Take a longer break from homeschooling than you usually do.

Our holiday break started the week of Thanksgiving and ran through New Year’s Day.   Yes, that’s about six weeks.  For that period of time, we didn’t do “formal” school. We slept later and participated in church and community events without worrying about late nights and the resulting cranky, sleep-deprived kids.

Just because we didn’t follow our normal homeschool routine doesn’t mean that I couldn’t count many activities as learning activities. We just focused on holiday preparations and service rather than completing math lessons and writing essays. I liked to call it more “hands-on” homeschooling.

Mom and daughter creating a gingerbread house and feet in front of the fire

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Here’s an example of what we did during November and December:

  • planned and made holiday meals/company meals/meals for others (nutrition,  home economics, practical math, life skills, service)
  • read aloud as a family from our curated collection of classic Christmas books (reading, language arts)
  • had daily independent reading time (children’s choice of material for elementary ages while older children caught up or read ahead for the following semester)
  • crafted projects to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and to make gifts for neighbors, friends, family, and others (art, service, practical math, life skills)
  • participated in and attended concerts, cantatas, plays, and other holiday events (music, drama)

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2. Think like a minimalist and scale back on gift-buying.

You watch your budget and carefully plan your spending all year, but somehow it can all go out the window at holiday time. There’s nothing like more month at the end of the money to add stress to your life. And do you or the beneficiaries of your gift-giving even have room to store all that stuff? Ask yourself if you have to buy as many gifts as you do.

Perhaps it is time to change it up:

RELATED POST:  A Homeschooling Family’s Gift Guide

Let your kids help fill the family stockings!

And if you do gifts and fill stockings for everyone, try this idea.  When our kids were about middle elementary ages (wait until they have a little bit of money), we had them contribute to stuffing everyone’s stocking. After the initial shock, it was amazing how much our kids loved doing this.  We were so touched by the thoughtful things they came up with for our and each others’ stockings. We open stockings on Christmas morning at the breakfast table after we eat, and go around one at a time pulling out a small gift for everyone to admire (or share if it’s chocolate). And they just loved (and still love) seeing everyone open their stocking gifts.

Inexpensive but thoughtful gifts a younger or older child could give might include:

  • pencils, markers, pens
  • nail polish
  • chewing gum
  • favorite candy or chocolate
  • small dime-store-type games
  • a mug
  • pair of fuzzy socks
  • box of favorite tea
  • craft or hobby supplies
  • stickers
  • handmade bar of soap
  • protein bar
  • coloring book
  • card game
  • crayons or other art supplies
  • a hand-knitted scarf

The point is taking the time to think about what would please the recipient. You may have to do a little coaching at the beginning, but they’ll catch on.

3. Don’t go to every event you are invited to.

Isn’t it true that every group each member of your family belongs to has a Christmas event?  And not only do you try and attend them all, you sometimes double or even triple-book when they inevitably occur on the same dates. Of course, this will be Zoom events this year! But I optimistically think we’ll face the need to trim our event schedules again. Maybe even next year.

Contrary to what you may have done in the past, you don’t have to attend all. of. the. events, Zoom, or otherwise. Just stop.

Look at the calendar and plan ahead to have a manageable schedule, planning in downtime. 

single christmas ball on a tree reminds us to be a minimalist this year for Christmas

4. Simplify all the meals. Holiday and otherwise.

Growing up, at Thanksgiving and Christmas we had to have so many different dishes that it was exhausting and expensive for all involved.  Instead, at our house, everyone chooses ONE dish that means “Thanksgiving Dinner” to them. If you have a large family you might have to take a vote instead!

I have vivid childhood memories of getting home from Christmas Eve services and starting preparations for an elaborate Christmas breakfast.  And being up until 1:00 am or later making this braided coffee cake/bread thing that we had to have for Christmas morning. Then we got up way too early the next morning to wrestle a 25-pound turkey into the oven.

Not anymore! Nowadays, Christmas breakfast is something simple we can make together. And we have a later, large meal for Christmas dinner so the turkey doesn’t have to start cooking so early. We’ve even been known to skip the turkey altogether or cook just a turkey breast instead of messing with the entire bird. And we eat leftovers for the evening meal.

Make it easier on yourself and everybody else!

I’m all for family traditions, but don’t try to do so many that you are exhausted. Pick and choose.

Additionally, make the crockpot and Instapot your friends for November and December.  Believe me, those dump-everything-in-and-go meals make things so much easier in December!  And when possible, keep those regular meals extra simple and light to help compensate for the heavier eating that usually happens at this time of year!

5.  Slow down and savor the time.

Take some time for yourself during these busy days.

  • Meet a friend for coffee. 
  • Go for a walk outside by yourself as often as possible.
  • Trade childcare time with a friend so you can shop, clean, or cook by yourself or with your husband without the kids. Make it into a date!
  • Read a book. (Not a school book.)

In his book,  In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honore wrote:

“It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better… It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

Make the choice to SLOW DOWN and SAVOR. Enjoy being together with your loved ones. Talk with your kids about Who and why you’re celebrating. Cook and craft together. Play board games. Watch holiday movies. Make memories! Don’t forget: you are allowed to plan relaxation time into your schedule and say “no” to those things that will put you over the edge.

THIS YEAR, REIGN IN YOUR HOLIDAY TO-DOS.  Instead, use the time, money, and energy you save to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones and to celebrate the birth of our Redeemer!

Life doesn’t have to be so crazy!

Would you like more ideas about how to bring your kids’ homeschooling to life while still balancing your other responsibilities?

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  1. You are a kindred spirit of mine. I thank you for the reminder to just Be and enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. Last night I just down with my girls, 15 and 13, and asked them about their favorite holiday traditions and outings. I listened and realized the things they like to do are simple, and family orientated. No need to get fancy and go lots of places. This was a wonderful addition to my ‘In Box.’ Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family 🙂

    1. Thank you Liz! I’m so happy that this post was encouraging to you. I’m always surprised at my kids’ answers when I ask questions like that, too! The simple things are often their favorites. Thanks for YOUR encouragement. 🙂

  2. Dear Dana, I’m convinced that all the busyness is just so many substitutes for what our hearts are really craving-meaningful, significant connection with God and others…
    Thank you for a reminder of that and such practical suggestions to keep that focus! It’s one thing to know what’s important, but a whole ‘nother thing to figure out how to make it happen…?

    1. Dear Kathryn, I love your wise, insightful observation about the nature of busyness, and you’re very welcome for the suggestions. I agree that ‘making it happen’ is definitely the hardest part. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  3. Thank you for the reminder. This year seems to be a breaking point of sorts for everyone in the house. There are commitments I cannot back out of now, but I know how I can change it for next year. My husband the same thing. Our oldest daughter at home has said she has too much on her plate. We allowed it, she wanted to do so much. Now we are helping her figure out how and what to pair down.

    1. Dear Denise, you are very welcome! Father, I pray for your peace to be upon Denise and her family in spite of all of the to-dos on their lists this year. Help them to know if there are others who can help or take over some of their many responsibilities and help them not to lose sight of You this year. Please provide them meaningful worship, true fellowship, and special family times in the midst of lots of activity. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

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