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The Minimalist Guide to the Holidays

  |   Holidays, Music Study, Teaching - all grades, Time Mangagement   |   6 Comments

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, 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.

But you aren’t in the middle of things YET.  Before holiday mode hits, consider approaching the holidays from a simpler perspective this year. Follow our 5 tip minimalist guide to the holidays to help you relax, enjoy and celebrate.


1. Take a longer break from homeschooling.

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 resulting cranky, sleep-deprived kids.

Just because we didn’t follow our routine doesn’t mean that I couldn’t count many activities as school.   We just focused on holiday preparations and service rather than completing math lessons and writing essays. 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,  service)
  • read aloud as a family from our collection of classic Christmas books
  • had daily independent reading time (children’s choice of material for youngers, olders 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)
  • participated in and attended concerts, cantatas, plays and other holiday events (music/drama)


2.  Scale back on gift-buying.

You watch your budget and carefully plan your spending all year, but somehow it all goes out the window at holiday time. Ask yourself if you REALLY have to buy as many gifts as you do.  Perhaps it is time to change it up:

  • decide to forgo spending so much on gifts for your kids and instead bless another family with a life-giving gift from Samaritan’s Purse’s Christmas catalog 
  • give everyone a spending limit
  • make gifts instead of buying them
  • do “family” gifts for your siblings and their kids instead of individual gifts
  • choose names for gift buying instead of getting everyone something


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.

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

Look at the calendar and plan ahead to have a manageable schedule, planning in down time so you aren’t running somewhere different every night of the week.


4. Simplify the meals.

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 they can’t have Thanksgiving without. =D (If you have a large family you might have to take a vote instead.)

I have vivid memories of starting preparations for Christmas breakfast after getting home from Christmas Eve services and being up until 1:00 am or later making this particular item that we had to have for Christmas morning, while readying a 25 pound turkey for the oven at the crack of dawn the next day.

Now, 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.

So rather than having special menus for Christmas Eve and every meal on Christmas, we focus on one main meal.

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

Make your crockpot your friend for November and December, and keep those regular meals extra simple and light to help compensate for the heavier eating that usually happens at all of the holiday events.


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, cooking together, crafting together, playing board games and watching holiday movies.  You are allowed to plan relaxation time into your schedule and say “no” to those things that will put you over the edge.

REIGN IN YOUR HOLIDAY TO DOS.  Use the time and money you save to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones and to peacefully celebrate!



  • Liz Downer | Nov 21, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    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 🙂

    • Dana | Nov 21, 2016 at 10:41 pm

      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. 🙂

  • Kathryn Salvi | Nov 21, 2016 at 10:49 am

    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…?

    • Dana | Nov 21, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      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.

  • Dana | Dec 5, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    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.

  • Denise M | Dec 4, 2015 at 3:26 am

    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.

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