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An Intentional over Minimal Holiday Season

Last year, in 2019, I was cringing as my 4 year old son distributed his multi-page Christmas list to his Grandma, knowing full well that said Grandma had already purchased him multiple gifts and would feel the need to check every item off his list. Meanwhile, I was gently encouraging family and friends who asked what to buy my kids to consider gifting them an experience or subscription – something non-material that would provide us with some entertainment value over the long winter. My husband and I succeeded last year in personally managing to keep Santa in line, striving to take to heart advice I had read which suggested following a ‘three gifts per child’ guideline. Just as Jesus received three gifts – one from each wise man – that amount felt “right” for us. In the end, we netted out with 2-3 gifts for each boy from Santa, and 2-3 from Mom and Dad. There was no complaining on their behalf (likely due to Grandma’s aforementioned gift-giving passion), so that was that!

The thing is, it doesn’t feel right to me this year to say, “We are having a minimalist Christmas – let’s scale back on the crazy number of presents” – I mean, I don’t want to go crazy with it – but I also want to give myself permission this year to find enjoyment in what we can. This just doesn’t feel like the year to tell grandmas and grandpas that we don’t need presents – if that’s what’s going to bring them joy in a time when they might not be able to see and celebrate in-person with their grandchildren. So what if, instead, we just made sure we are intentional? If someone wants to mail a gift this year, can we open it together via Zoom? Can we start a new, virtual tradition that adds quality time to that material gift?

With what time, energy and money we do have to spend this year, let’s make our decisions intentional. Take the time to reflect and think, “What would I want my kids/spouse/etc. remember most about Christmas/Thanksgiving/Hanukah this year?”. Is it having the time to bake cookies together – letting them make a total sprinkle and sugar disaster of the kitchen – because you have the time to clean it up this year? Is it investing in some special game or electronic for the family because you’ll be locked up a bit more this winter and have to enjoy it together? Is it sitting quietly at home on Christmas Eve, staring at the glowing tree, sipping cocoa and talking about Christmas memories – choosing not to spend this time frantically wrapping an excessive amount of presents in a mad dash to the finish line? If you were given the time and space to enjoy the holidays in the most life-giving way possible, what would you do? I think this is the year to try – because never before (and hopefully never again) will we have such a built-in reason to “opt out” of some of the crazy.

Intention means defining what is important to you and seeing that through. Don’t just think about it though, actually talk about it with your spouse and family. What is your goal? Do you want to feel less stressed, less rushed, less committed? Do you want to have less gifts to try to fit into your house after the holidays are over? Do you want to spend less money or acquire less debt? Teach gift-giving over gift-receiving? Everyone’s goals and intentions will look different – it’s about identifying what will make you feel happy and joyful to have done more (or less) of this year.

I also think this year, more than ever, might be a year that we all try to compensate – for the loss of normalcy, traditions, physical presence and more – by buying each other more material gifts than ever before. It’s like we’re going to try to make up for the lack of parties, social gatherings and seeing each other, by sending whatever we can possibly get online for a good price and free shipping. Stop. Be intentional. The last thing you want to give to your family and friends is stress – and more clutter, more unneeded belongings, is stressful.

Further reading:

Top Three Tips for a Less-Excessive Christmas with Kids

5 Intangible Gift Ideas for Kids and for Adults

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