7 ways to simplify your holidays

For parents, the most wonderful time of the year can quickly become the most frenzied.

The season designed to renew us can leave us feeling depleted, watching our to-do list swell along with the kids’ wish list. (I am amazed how few seconds it takes from the start of a Nick Jr. commercial to the moment one of my girls cries out, “I want that!”)

This December, I’m trying to stick to the basics: quality time spent together, activities that encourage us to set aside our gadgets and really be present to the moment. We spent an afternoon at Rice Park downtown St. Paul – Jane’s first time skating – and enlisted Jeff Schad, a super-talented (and affordable!) local photographer, to capture the experience for us. It was so much fun! (See photos below.) 

When it comes to Christmas, simpler is often sweeter. Remember Cindy Lou’s observation in Jim Carrey’s The Grinch: “Look around at you and Mom and everyone getting all kerbabbled. Doesn’t it seem superfluous?”

Here are seven ways to simplify your holidays.


1. Purge your home. This is the perfect time to condense the closet and the toy box, donating toys before the influx of new ones. Involving the kids in this effort and directing some of their toys to a family in need can take the edge off their commercial-induced greed.  


2. Prune your tradition list. Traditions have a sneaky way of becoming chores. Holiday rituals are intended to buoy us, not bind us, so if they cease to be fun, they should cease to be. Just because you’re taking one year off gingerbread houses doesn’t mean the tradition will die. It may, in fact, be the best way to preserve it, keeping it from becoming a source of dread. I challenge myself to skip at least one family tradition each season; otherwise, the list threatens to become longer each year, and that’s a problem.


3. Place experiences over products. Quality time together really is the best gift you can give your children – and yourself. (Check out Minnesota Parent’s ongoing calendar of local events and programs for tons of ideas!) To guard against greed, give your child an experience rather than a gadget. Last Christmas, my 8-year-old niece’s favorite gift was horseback riding lessons, which she has enjoyed all year. Encourage a grandparent or godparent to follow suit: a membership to a zoo, museum or nature center; audio books; a hotel overnight; contributing to a vacation. These are dollars well spent – in the name of bonding, not excess.


4. Don’t overschedule. There are more fun holiday activities than days in December, so banish your FOMO and come to terms with the fact that you have to say no more than yes. I’ve come to realize that for young kids – ages 4, 2 and 8 months – one event per day is the perfect amount to allow for some breathing room and processing. As soon as we have two events in a day (let alone three) – and some days we do – I can be sure there will be some rushing on my end and protesting from the kids. 

If it helps, schedule in the downtime every family needs: movie night, pajama day, cookie Saturday. (No shame in using Nestle Tollhouse’s pre-made cookie dough.) These times at home are the best way to recharge.


5. Curb social media. Christmas looks different for every family, and comparison is the quickest way to steal your joy. Seeing the Joneses’ carefully curated, dramatically filtered highlight reel won’t enhance your celebration of the season.


6. Make it musical! You don’t have to be the Osmonds to incorporate some live music into the season. Singing slows you down, immerses you in the present, bonds you with others and adds definite cheer. There’s something hilarious about a toddler with a harmonica. The gift Maria will be receiving from Santa this year that I’m most excited about is a Populele, an easy-to-use ukulele from Popuband.

Given how much she enjoys strumming mindlessly on her secondhand guitar, this instrument should really empower her.


7. Shorten your shopping list. Have you kept someone on the list out of sheer obligation? Even though you’re no longer close? Or she’s no longer a child? Or you no longer have a sense of what he likes? Or you no longer receive something from her? What if you knew your gift was merely adding to his clutter and providing a sense of guilt? What if you knew she wouldn’t even notice the difference if you didn’t give her a present this year? (If this prospect makes you nervous, you can always keep a back-up generic gift on hand – a candle, a blanket, baked goods.) 

While you’re shortening your to-do lists, reconsider your cooking and decorating plans. Can you outsource an entrée? Buy the dessert? Skip some of the decorations you’ll be taking down in a few short weeks? Continue the projects that bring you joy, drop the ones that feel like a burden – and don’t think twice!  

The less time you spend on busy stuff, the more time you can spend with the little ones you love most. Simpler, sweeter. 

 Photos by Jeff Schad Imagery 


Shop the look

On baby boy: Rothschild Little Boys' Double Breasted John John Coat; Black Leather Boots by MiasMoccs

On girls: Rothschild little girls wool coat with velvet; Black Boots by MarjWadeMade 

On Mom: Collectif Winsome Warmth Fit and Flare Coat from Modcloth; Chelsea Crew Off to Oxford Bootie from Modcloth

On Dad: Old Navy Wool-Blend Twill Topcoat for MenDelray Dress Shoe with Combination Tap Sale by Allen Edmonds 



 Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three young children in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at christina@mnparent.com.