I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. I love the shimmering beauty and festive spirit of Christmas: the sparkling lights, the joy-filled carols, the alluring packages carefully arranged under a twinkling tree. What I don’t love so much is the heavy weight of expectation I place on myself to make the holidays bright and meaningful for those around me.
Over the past few years, as I’ve embraced simplicity in my home and schedule, I’ve become aware of how easily I still fall prey to the trappings of consumerism at Christmastime, with its messages of “more, more, more” and “bigger is better” — the dark side of this otherwise merry holiday.
I finally began to make some changes that helped me cut back on spending and alleviate some of my burdensome gift-giving expectations.
I started at school. Though we donate money at the beginning of the year toward class gifts for the teachers’ birthdays, Christmas, and Teacher Appreciation Week, I still felt compelled to buy or create a unique and special gift not just for one but all of my children’s teachers for the holidays. One year, I spent hours making matching sets of coasters and clipboards, appropriately decorated for each teacher. They were a hit, and I was bolstered by the praise and thanks I received. But then, it dawned on me: Was that why I went to all the effort in the first place? To gain acceptance and affirmation for myself? That was hardly in line with the true spirit of giving.
So, I scaled back — way back — and determined that my anonymous contribution to the class gift was sufficient. My gift from now on was to be the gift of one-less-thing. This lined up perfectly with my personal philosophy and hopefully gave a bit of space to the teachers as well.
The next area of gift-giving I let go of was harder because it dealt with those closer to me: my friends. Gift giving is a love language I enjoy bestowing on those I care about, but finding the perfect expression of my love for and my knowledge of my friends was becoming time-consuming at Christmas, when I had five children and other family to shop or create for.
Instead of focusing my gift-giving energy on my friends at Christmastime, I decided to redirect it to the celebration of their birthdays. In this way, I have the whole year to happen upon just the right thing for each of my friends, and because their birthdays are all spread out over the year, I don’t have to worry about feeling overwhelmed, eliminating the stress of mass gift-giving. With a few exceptions, I’ve made these birthday gifts into one-on-one outings for breakfast or lunch, giving the gift of time and conversation during this busy season of our lives as moms.
Finally, I identified another area where I can move gift-giving off my plate for the holidays: baking for my neighbors. We have five families on our street, and I have always baked assorted goods for them at Christmastime. But some years, finding time to bake ended up as a night-before-Christmas-Eve baking frenzy. After all, Christmas is usually one big feasting celebration, and no one needs to receive another plate of cookies to add to their table. So, I decided to celebrate my neighbors in November, the month of gratitude, with harvest treats and notes of thanks for their help and friendship throughout the year.
By eliminating the stress and overwhelm of gift-giving at Christmas, I can concentrate more fully on the wonder of God’s greatest gift to us, not wrapped in gold or silver but in a common swaddling cloth — our Redeemer Jesus. He who would grow up to save the world from sin by giving His life for us on the cross — no other gift can compare.
This post by Aimee Mae Wiley first appeared on (in)courage in 2018.
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Jan Dinsmore-Czechowsky says
What wonderful and thought-filled ways to still acknowledge others while keeping the focus on Jesus. Thanks
Penny Cobb says
This spoke to my heart this morning. I have long wrestled with my love of giving and my distaste for materialistic Christmas. Throw in my chronic people pleasing habit and you have a miserable holiday Grinch. We have gradually scaled back on gifts and began gifting experiences. Realizing the time we give to be fully present is the most precious gift is so freeing. Thank you for sharing your heart and encouragement.
Mark Scott says
This article on, “Simple Christmas” is very nice. I understand the stress and the need to “down size,” but I would like to just insert that Christmas IS about gift giving: God gave us the greatest gift of the Messiah. Shouldn’t that motivate us to want to give something to others at this time of year? Just a thought
Nora K says
I appreciate the practical and tangible thoughts here that help eliminate a season of stress
and chaos, when in fact it’s about simplicity of the lowly manger. If we can spread the good news pf Christ
to those around us and words of gratitude, then I think that is the best Christmas gift one can receive.
Ann Hesson says
I look forward to Christmas time – gift giving, making cookies and treats and spending time with family and friends. I used to feel overwhelmed with everything that (we think) needs to be done for Christmas, but over the years I’ve become very organized. I start my Christmas shopping early or shop year round (not waiting to the last minute which can be stressful) – there is no better joy than buying that perfect gift for a friend or family member, knowing how happy it will make them – to me it’s not a burden. Buying all the ingredients for your cookies/treats ahead of time helps to keep things on track. Set one or two nights aside for baking. The holiday can still be joyous and simple if you change your attitude – if you feel you’re obligated to bake, buy gifts….then of course you’re going to dread Christmas time. Stay organized and not think that it’s a burden – it’s the most wonderful time of the year!!! Don’t skimp or deprive your friends, family and whoever else of the joy of the season!
Jane H says
I love the “move-baking-for-the-neighbors-to-November” idea. Pumpkin bread tastes better then anyway! And it really would remove one stress from this already stressful, yet joyous, time of the year. I hope to remember to put that into practice next year.
Missy Robinson says
I really love the way you have spread out the spirit of Christmas throughout the year – I’ve tried to do the same. Have a quiet and joyful season!
Aimee, these are all great ideas! This year, though, I’m actually resurrecting the “take treats to neighbors” theme. It will be my way for reaching out to new neighbors I haven’t met and old neighbors I never see. The pandemic is the culprit! I’m a bit lonely and I’m thinking some if them might be, too. I’m having cards printed with a picture of our house in the snow. I’ll put our name, address, phone number and email address on the cards. I’m hoping a few people reach back, once I reach out. I’ll make my deliveries wearing a mask and I’ll stay outside.
Nancy Ruegg says
I too love your idea of moving some gift-giving from Christmastime to thanksgiving, and making them gratitude gifts. Handwritten notes of appreciation and encouragement are also a great idea. They may very well provide long-term benefit for the recipient, as they remember your kinds words for years to come. Thank you, Aimee, for sharing your insights and ideas for a more meaningful, worshipful Christmas!
Beth Williams says
I agree that we lose sight of true meaning of Christmas – Christ born in a stable. All you hear from Halloween to Christmas is about buying the right gift. Honestly most people don’t need a more stuff. The last few years I have done the angel tree & senior angel tree. Those people are asking for a need-nice clothes, warm blanket, etc. That may be the only gift they get. One year, living out of state for college, a choir director got me an unusual gift. She had bought part of a chicken in my name through World Vision. That spoke to me more than anything else. She was willing to help others in dire need. I also love the idea of Thanksgiving gifts. We seem to gloss over Thanksgiving day. I believe more people would rather receive a nice basket with homemade goodies & a note of thanks for what they’ve done at Thanksgiving than anything else. It would make me see the impact I’ve made in your life.