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  • Writer's pictureLeslie

A Simple Christmas

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Can you believe that Christmas is less than two months away? I wanted to share how we have simplified our Christmas celebrations over the past four years and what we have given the children as gifts each year.

Christmas 2019

We took a trip to Disney World! This was not a surprise trip, but we did wait to tell the kids until after we had the details finalized. Then we were able to have a countdown paper chain that doubled as décor on our fridge. We spent two days, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, in the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. We stayed at the Art of Animation resort and spent a half day at Disney Springs. We also planned a day at Kennedy Space Center but some of the kids were complaining of earaches, so we ended up coming home early.

We wore matching shirts that featured Christmas lights in the shape of Cinderella Castle. I found Christmas light necklaces that we wore to the park and the girls had Minnie ears that looked like peppermints. “Santa” filled a stocking with candy on Christmas morning which we took to the park with us.

While this was a big-ticket item it created a lot of memories and didn’t bring much stuff into our home. We asked the kids to focus on making a new memory instead of buying souvenirs. The only money we spent was on food and drinks. It was truly a magical experience with over-the-top decorations, “snow” on Main Street, and just having a great time together.

Christmas 2020

A pandemic Christmas. So many things were shut down and we had spent so much time together that we fell into some boring routines, and everyone was feeling a bit depressed. We decided to mix things up by printing out coupons the kids could use all through the year. They were for things like “10 minutes of mom’s/dad’s time”, “pick the family movie”, or “dessert with a parent”. These were gifted in a Christmas card and envelope, so they didn’t get lost. We hung a manilla envelope on the fridge with a quote about family time and then wrote a memory on each coupon as it was used and stuck it in the envelope. We kept the envelope in our family memory box so we could look back on the memories. The kids loved the coupons! We had two rules. One, you couldn’t ask for mom or dad’s time during work/school hours. Two, the first to claim picking the game/movie/dessert was the one we went with.

We also got everyone a paint-by-number and then tried to spend some time on Sunday afternoons working on them. Some of us finished and some didn’t but it was still a lot of fun. I tried to get everyone something they would like but also looked at the skill level of each painting.

Christmas 2021

We realized that experiences together created the most fun memories, so we planned a family date for each month of 2022. On Christmas morning the kids took turns opening gift cards for things like the zoo, a cave tour, a trampoline park, a museum, and an art gallery. We had eleven in all, and we put them all on the calendar so other things couldn’t interfere. We made sure to take a family selfie and write down the kids' memories from that day. We also reminded the kids this was a Christmas present by saying “Merry Christmas” at the start of each date.

This was a lot of fun and had us doing things we normally wouldn’t do together. Our daughter ended up doing marching band that fall so we had to reschedule some things but most of it got done.

Christmas 2022

One of the dates we went on was a Louisville City FC (local USL team) game and the kids just loved it! We had also started watching the Premier League on Peacock and were becoming football/soccer fans, so we bought season tickets for the LouCity 2023 season. We got two seats and with 17 home games everyone got to go at least twice, once with each parent. There were some international friendlies that upped the game number so most of the kids got to go three times. The last home game we got everyone a ticket to close out the season as a family. It was a lot of fun to have a Saturday evening date with one of the kids every week or so. We sometimes ate out before the game but others we got food at the stadium. The kids loved wearing our supporter scarves, learning the players' names, and eating snow cones!

Christmas 2023

It’s a secret! But I will share that the idea came to us back in March and we have been sitting on these plans all year. I can’t wait to see what the kids think about it.

Gifts from other people when you are trying to simplify

You just have to say “thank you” to anyone who gives you, or your child, a gift. You don’t have to keep it, you just have to say, “thank you”, and then figure out what to do with it. Would a friend like it? Does someone at church need it? If those are all “no” answers, then just donate it.

Help your child, right now, come up with a list of items they really need, experiences they would like to have, or a lesson or sport they would like to start or continue. Then you are ready if someone asks you or your child what they would like for Christmas.

Items they might need could include a new laptop or computer for school. Seniors going to college next fall will need dorm room items and a beginning band student might need an instrument. My parents have gotten each of our kids a camp chair, water bottle, and matching blanket for them to take to summer sleepaway camp the Christmas beforehand. Some of these are big-ticket items so be mindful of everyone’s budget. You could say, “Sara is starting French horn lessons soon so she would love any contributions toward her instrument.”

Any kind of lesson or sports fee is a good idea. The giver can wrap something to do with the lesson like a dance leotard or their new piano books, shin guards or a practice net for soccer, or a painter’s smock or a music stand. The giver could also contact the teacher and pay upfront or give the money to the parent to pay for the lessons as they go.

A fun trip is a great gift to give. The giver could wrap a printout of the tickets, a map of the city, or a travel accessory like luggage for the trip. They could also research fun things to do or places to eat at the location.

Gifts for other people

We have tried to cut down on the number of people we buy gifts for by coming to a mutual agreement that we aren’t going to give each other gifts. This is not possible in all instances so we try to gift experiences or something they can consume.

These can include tickets to a zoo, aquarium, or museum near them. A food from your area that they can’t get in theirs. My brother sends me Stephen’s Hot Chocolate from Utah every year and I love it! You could pay for babysitting and a date night out for the parents or give them gift cards to their family’s favorite restaurant.

Things to do at a family Christmas party with no gifts

If you decide to go gift-less for your next family holiday don’t skip getting together. Instead of spending time opening gifts you could watch a favorite holiday movie together or play a group game.

If you do something like a movie, then make it fun wtreats, everyone’s favorite candy, and lots of blankets to snuggle up in. Assign a tech person, and maybe a backup, to be in charge of having the movie available and figuring out the cable situation for the TV or projector.

If you play a game choose something everyone can play or divide up into groups to play age-appropriate games. Only do this if everyone can be a good sport and the likelihood of hurt feelings is low. Some fun options are Outburst, The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow, Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza, Apples to Apples, What Do You Meme? Family edition, or classics like Pictionary or Charades.

Christmas can be simple and still full of fun and traditions with just a few tweaks. What is your favorite Christmas or holiday tradition?

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