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For the mom who feels guilty that she’s not doing Elf on the Shelf

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about our Christmas plans. I was sharing how we like to keep Christmas simple and that we don’t do things like give our kids a lot of gifts, go to a lot of Christmas events, give gifts to almost everyone we know, make lots and lots of Christmas treats, send out Christmas cards, or do Elf on the Shelf.

This friend was pretty shocked and almost immediately responded, “You’re such a SCROOGE!!”

Yes, maybe I am. But the truth is, the thought of running ourselves like crazy all during December just so we can “make more memories” feels like the exact opposite of making this “the most wonderful time of the year!”

I know that this friend was mostly just joking, but I have to admit that the comment made me want to defend myself. I wanted to say things like, “But you don’t understand! We DO celebrate Christmas! We really do! And it’s fun and memory-filled and wonderful!”

But for the next few days, instead of just brushing off the Scrooge comment and going back to my simple December, the conversation haunted me.

I started to feel guilt seeping in.

Maybe I’m not doing enough.

Maybe we’re not celebrating Christmas right.

Maybe we should add some more activities or events or gifts or decorations to our to do list.

Maybe I’m saying I want to celebrate a simple Christmas but it’s really just because I’m sort of lazy.

And on and on the thoughts in my brain went.

Instead of staying there stuck in Mommy Guilt, I decided to ask my family for their perspective. So, while driving in the car together one night right after Thanksgiving, I broached the subject:

“Hey guys! I wanted to ask for your opinion on something. Can you tell me honestly what you think about how we celebrated Christmas? What are some traditions you love? Are there things you wish we would do that we don’t do?”

I braced myself for their responses. I was kind of scared as to what sort of Pandora’s Box I was opening, but I really wanted to know the truth.

And I knew that asking my kids was the best way to find out what they really think… because those of you who know my kids personally, you know that honesty is very important to them and they are not ones to sugarcoat how they actually feel about things (which I’m so grateful for — most of the time!!).

Well, their responses shocked me!

“Mom! I LOVE how we do Christmas!”

“I love our stocking tradition!”

“I love that we do things a little differently every year!”

“I love that we focus on making memories as a family!”

And on and on it went. I started to get a little braver and ask them specific questions about specific ways we could celebrate or other ideas of things we could do.

{Helping decorate the tree at Grandma & Grandpa’s house last year!}

I quickly realized that the events and activities and gifts weren’t what was important to them. Instead, they wanted to keep on with our few simple traditions:

  • The Kids Decorating the House — Yes, for the past two years, our kids have put up all the Christmas decorations. They think it is the coolest thing ever, they actually do a really good job of it, and they not letting us see things until it’s all finished and then getting to surprise us with the finished look.
  • Our Advent Countdowns — We have a few Advent Countdowns that they love to use — a chalkboard countdown and a felt wallhanging countdown. First thing in the morning, whoever gets up first gets to mark off the chalkboard and move the felt heart in the wallhanging countdown.
  • Christmas Movies — We love to watch Christmas movies as a family together. Each year, we try to find at least a few new ones and also enjoy a few of our old favorites, too. Their favorite thing is for us to all get on our PJs, make some hot cocoa, and snuggle up with blankets and watch a movie before bed.
  • Christmas Books From the Library — I already told you recently how much we love Christmas Picture books! This is one tradition I hope my kids never grow out of… though I’m guessing they eventually will! 🙁 (Here are some of our favorite Christmas picture books.)
  • Christmas Lights & Hot Cocoa — We research the best Christmas light displays and then take one evening to go check them out. This is best done with PJs on and warm cups of hot cocoa! (This year, we got matching footie PJs and the kids have already declared that everyone must wear theirs for our Christmas Lights viewing evening — including Mom & Dad!)
  • Gingerbread House — We always get a Gingerbread House kit and make it together. Some years are more successful than others. This year, the kit was kind of a bust. But the kids still had fun trying to put it together — even if it was not cooperating very well.
  • Ice Skating Show — Kaitlynn participates in a Christmas Ice Skating Show every year and it’s a big highlight. Not only is it so fun to get to see her performing on ice without the stress of a competition, but it’s an amazing opportunity to get to see other really talented figure skaters!
  • Dollar Store Stockings — This is one of our family’s favorite traditions! We all go to the Dollar Store right before Christmas and everyone gets $6 to spend to buy one item per person (+ tax) for their stocking. We have so much fun trying to split up, hide our purchases, find something creative that no one else would come up with, and pick gifts that people would really love.
  • One Big Giving Project — We choose a giving project to all raise money for during the month of December. The kids do this by doing extra chores or giving some of their money they’ve saved up throughout the year. And then we come up with other ideas of areas we can cut back on so we can add more money to the Giving Project bucket. It’s so much fun and it’s a great way to put our focus on other people rather than ourselves.

Each of these are very simple ideas. They don’t require a lot of extra effort ahead of time. They don’t cost much money. But they are things we all love to enjoy together.

This is the stuff that memories are made of in our house. It works for us. And I’m going to celebrate that — without any Mommy Guilt!

And I issue the same encouragement to you, mamas: You can celebrate however you want to celebrate.

This is not a post knocking doing Elf on the Shelf or sending Christmas Cards or making all handmade gifts or giving lots of gifts or putting up lots of decorations or participating in lots of activities in December. If those things are your jam, please, by all means, DO THEM.

But if you’re feeling guilty that you’re not doing enough, STOP.

Step back and really ask yourself, “Why am I feeling guilty?” Is it because I think we need to “do Christmas like other people do” or because you don’t want to be seen as the Slacker Mom?

Do what works for your own family. Do what is special and memorable for your own kids. Do what works for your schedule and capacity.

And don’t apologize if it looks very different from how another family celebrates Christmas.

After all, kids survived for hundreds of years without an Elf on the Shelf. I think you’ll be okay! 🙂

P.S. Read last year’s post on Why We Simplified Christmas.

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  • Rachelle says:

    I love your honesty and perspective! Merry Christmas!

  • MB says:

    i asked my son, 10 or so at the time, what he looked forward to most at Christmas (other than opening his gifts!) and he responded that he loved cutting out paper snowflakes to put on our windows while drinking hot cocoa and listening to Christmas music. Nothing fancy, nothing elaborate, just time spent together.

  • Jennie says:

    Two years ago, I had the 1st of 2 life changing surgeries in December around NYC. I normally still have things to do on Christmas Eve. (The life of chronic illness in me and my kiddo).

    We left a few days early and took some time to see NYC in her glory at Christmas. Beautiful. And managed to snag tickets to Wicked. My oldest had seen it my youngest fell in love with theater.

    Christmas was scaled back that year. For a multitude of reasons. But we enjoyed it so. Even in the midst of recovery, it was truly a beautiful Christmas.

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the workd’s view of Christmas. The hustle. The shopping. Like you, we pick a few things that we hold dear, our traditions now, the rest for us is fluff. Different things work for different families.

    I started feeling that nagging again. Not doing enough. Buying enough. Thank you for your well timed, heartfelt words.

  • Pamela says:

    YES! Also, I remind myself that just because we enjoy doing something one year doesn’t mean that it *has to* become an iron-clad tradition. There are some things I look forward to but sometimes just seeing what comes up and sounds fun is awesome too!

  • Sarah Blake says:

    That sounds about how much we do, and our kids and family love it! We have an advent calendar with things to do, but aside from making and delivering cookies, they are really simple. Sometimes we watch a Christmas movie, sometimes it’s a specific prayer of thankfulness or for those in need, and some say, “Just enjoy the season!”

  • Anna says:

    I can relate to a simpler Christmas this year.

    This year we still haven’t put up the tree. Our kids are 12 and 13 and don’t want hardly any gifts. It feels like we are cancelling Christmas. And my husband and I are starting to feel guilty. But I am really not stressed out this year. I’ve been reading story books to them almost everyday (thanks Crystal for the reminder)and they are doing a gum advent calendar (punch out a piece of Dentyne-style gum a day).

    It’s a different season in life. But I’m finding that I have more time to cuddle with my kids and really listen to them more. We’ll get to visit grandparents for Christmas for the first time in 5 yrs too. And for this year, that is more than good enough.

  • Suzanne says:

    I have to laugh because what you’re doing seems like a lot to me! We did make lots of treats at our house and part of that was sharing them with others. We agree completely that books and movies are one of our favorite things! Sometimes we did cards. Sometimes we did gingerbread houses. Sometimes we went to a Christmas show. We usually went to church. If I could go back I would buy less gifts and less decorations!

    • Ha! 😉 I’m definitely a believer in doing what works for you and your family! For us, this feels so simple and the perfect fit for us this year, but I totally get that it wouldn’t work for everyone or in every season!

    • Theresa says:

      I thought it seemed like a lot as well! And I refuse to do Elf on the Shelf. Anything that requires me to do something everyday is not happening. Also, the elf is super creepy looking.

  • Sarah Hilfer says:

    I am looking for a good list of family Christmas movies and would love to know which ones your kids enjoy! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  • lynn m. says:

    honestly i hate elf on a shelf. it seems like commercialism at its finest. christmas is to each’s own, for the true meaning. We have had to scale back a lot on Christmas the past two Christmases since I have been diagnosed with lupus. I try to focus on what it really is about, being with each other and celebrating Jesus’ birth.

    I love your site and so many times I want to be able to send you some of my fierceness so you can just tell people to get lost and love yourself for exactly who you are. If it works for you and your family that is what matters.

  • Eileen says:

    I love this post! I’m learning to embrace just being my low-key self and sticking to what works for my family, we are so much happier having a simple Christmas! Thank you so much for your kind encouragement to just be ourselves!

  • Amelia says:

    It sounds like you have a very full Christmas to me. : ) The dollar store Christmas stocking sounds so fun! Also the big giving project is perfect I think for the true meaning of Christmas! Wow, what a blessed family you have. I’m 56 now, my daughters are 23 to 34. I’m a veteran homeschool mom (still learning!) *big smile*. I have heard so many comparisons…I remember sitting at a homeschool skating day and was hearing moms comparing and competing on all of the academic and clubby type class things they were all doing. The busyness and competition made my heart sad back then, I knew that these women were falling into a herd mentality, The Emperor’s New Clothes, instead of keeping their homeschools sweet and simple. I think keeping things simple and sweet is the way to go. Dr. Moore’s wife, Dorothy had written and I always reiterated….K.I.S.S. “Keep it simple sweetie!” I think you are doing a Bravissimo job! We didn’t go crazy with stuff, and our now adult daughters came out well adjusted as you can see our oldest daughter helping with the Pearl Harbor vets on my blog etc. We still love making cookies and watching good ol’ 40s movies, especially the Christmas ones! : )

    I also have a sermon link on my blog by a pastor who is quite firm in a humorous but dry way on keeping things simple and Christ centered at Christmas and a link to my previous blog on ‘Don’t be a Heelot’ from the old 40s movie, ‘Meet John Doe’.

    Your article is much needed for all. I hope folks will stop and take a deep breath and enjoy their Christmas as you have and just do-s what they wants to do-s.


  • Justina says:

    We totally grabbed a book you recommended from the library. We all loved it! We had 3 kids in 3 years (our oldest is 4 now), so your simpIicity posts have been so encouraging! The best present you can give is your presence. Being all there when you’re having family time. That’s what I loved and still do! And if you haven’t listened to Acapella’s, It’s About the Cross, it’s an amazing song with a beautiful perspective on Christmas. Merry Christmas! I have been reading your blog for 8+ years, and your blog has been an incredible gift! And it keeps on giving! Thank you for all you do!

  • Sarah says:

    The first Christmas was simple so it makes sense to keep it that way ❤️. We have the same countdown chalkboard and one of our four kids gets to pick a name for Jesus to do our countdown each day. Merry Christmas to your family!

  • Rosanna says:

    Thank you for this post! We started simplifying Christmas around our house about 5 years ago. We do some of the similar things that you do. This year, though, I’ve kind of been feeling like maybe we aren’t doing enough or that maybe I’m a bit of a scrooge. Yet, I know that simplifying things have made things a lot more peaceful.

  • Claire says:

    I thought we might be the only ones left in this country without an Elf on the Shelf! I have chosen to skip this new “tradition” because I feel it puts all the emphasis on all the wrong things – focusing on Santa and what you are getting for Christmas. We try to keep our focus a little more Christ-centered and also just family-centered. Driving around looking a lights, reading good books, lighting our advent candles at dinner, etc. I have a few complaints here and there from my kids about not having an Elf (like it’s a pet or something!), but on the whole I find the peace we get from removing the materialistic and self-centered focus it encourages worth it. Enjoy your advent as a family, Crystal!

    • Annie says:

      Great insights, Claire! I’m truly glad the Elf on a Shelf didn’t exist when my children were young for the very reasons you describe.

    • Amy says:

      I agree with you! We are in the minority (we don’t do Santa either) but I’m very happy with our choices. Keeps it simpler and helps us focus on the birth of Jesus.

  • sdr says:

    I don’t do the Elf. I think it’s stupid and a marketing ploy…I also hate the blog posts on what antics the Elf is up to (seriously…spraying flour all over your kitchen to show the naughty Elf baking?? I’ve got no time to clean that up. ).

    Maybe I’m a bad person but a few years ago my 8 year old asked about the Elf. I told him that if it was really magical would they have a big pile of them for sale at Toys R Us? Santa is magical (we do Santa) and they’re not selling him anywhere and you don’t have to buy a Santa to get in on it. He totally got it! But we agreed to keep the secret in case any of his friends believed in the Elf.

  • Wendy says:

    It’s interesting what we define as simple. We have an Elf because for me it is simple and the kids have so much fun with it. I want to go see a nice display of Christmas lights, but that isn’t simple to me. I need to find a place (neighborhoods are hit and miss with lights around here), find a night that we’d rather do that vs something at home and that works with my husband’s schedule and the winter forecast. My point is, simple looks different to different people. Isn’t it so much more relaxing to discover what is simple and fulfilling to your own family? It helps to make the holidays so much more joyful. Great job making that a priority for your family.

    • Kate says:

      So true! My “simple” this year included a trip to the tree farm to cut our own tree. This wouldn’t have been a simple task just a few years ago. “Simple” this year does not include baking/decorating cookies, because it leads to parental frustration/guilt over my kids eating too much junk over the festive season. Each family/parent must find their own balance between festive fun and peace.

  • sfephanie says:

    Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing. Guilt at Christmas is not fun and we end up missing what is really important. We have a new lab puppy who chews on everything, we have chosen not put put our 7 foot tree up. We know she would chew the branches so we figured we do not need the stress of having it up. It actually feels good not to worry. We will put up a two foot tree on a table and leave it at that. All the other decorations are up, so we are satisfied.

    We also bought a lot less gifts and that feels better too. Simple feels so much better.

  • Crystal, your posts about simple Christmases have inspired and encouraged me so much.

    This year, we’ve skipped the parties and non-relative gift exchanges, and have focused on snuggling in and reading Christmas books by the tree instead.

    We also go to a Christmas play every year (sometimes more than one!) and we spend Christmas Eve or Day completely at home by ourselves, hanging out in our living room, slowly opening gifts, eating cinnamon rolls, and moving as slowly as we want for the entire day.

    Thank you for this article. I think people (including myself!) need to be reminded that it’s perfectly wonderful to do the things we love and not get FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or FODS (Fear of Disappointing Someone) about the rest!

  • Christine says:

    This was such a relief to read! We are doing a small number of gifts for our girls, and we decided not to do Elf on the Shelf this year (or in the future). In my heart, I know that this is best for our family, and we are making fun memories doing other things important to us!

    Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family!

  • Ann says:

    I love the dollar store stocking idea. We may have to adopt that next year. You are making wonderful memories with your kids.
    We stopped sending out Christmas cards for a few years then I tried to start it back up last year. It was way too stressful. It brought me no joy. So I’m not doing it again. I may make a few cards for some special people in my life, but that’s it. Everyone else will have to look at my Merry Christmas post on facebook.
    I come from a big family and we don’t exchange gifts between us. There are too many of us; it would never work. I see so many people stressing and shopping like crazy for tons of people, just to be getting them something. I’ve never been into gifting stuff (usually stuff people don’t need) just for the sake of getting them something. The gift of love and time is so much better.

  • Val In MN says:

    Crystal I think you do plenty of celebrating and memory making from what you listed – I don’t see a scrooge at all!!

    Enjoy your families and celebrate as you choose – it is all that really matters.

    Happy Holiday Season and thank you for all that you share!

    PS. I don’t even know what Elf on the Shelf is – ha!!

  • Samantha says:

    But….your traditions sound so fun to me! You sound like you do waaay more than we do so I must be a Scrooge too?. I do gifts because I love that part, but my kids mainly enjoy the things that are free an involve spending time together. I learn so much from them and what it means to appreciate what really matters.

  • Jeanie says:

    Our Christmas has changed a lot the last few years. We celebrate simply with people that are important to us ,and not all family. Our kids are content and don’t have huge expensive lists.Sometimes we have to step back and see it’s not the amount spent or number of gifts but the thought behind them. I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

  • Mary says:

    I’m a 61yo reader and I’m sorry I had to go google “elf on the shelf”! I think my son who is in his 20’s summed it up nicely last year. He said, “Sorry I didn’t put anything under the tree for ya’ll, but I know as a family we don’t like stuff and instead we like family experiences so I am taking everyone to a baseball game this summer.” It was so much fun looking forward to that and just being together.
    Sweet mamas, take it from this old mama-it’s not the stuff, it’s time to sit down with your little ones as you read Christmas stories to them, make popcorn watch a Christmas movie, make cookies (or whatever your traditions are)-it’s about making room in your nest for the birth of our Savior. Making room for Him is what it’s about. He can’t come into your nest, if there’s too much stuff around.
    Merry Christmas

  • Emily F. says:

    I’ve had morning sickness or a 5-6 month old baby every Christmas since we’ve been married. That has helped us keep things small and not overwhelming. I try to cut the things that stress us out (no Zoo Festival of Lights or Train display this year) but keep the things that bless other people (gifts for neighbors and Christmas Cards, even though they are kind of exhausting). I’d love to have a Cookie Exchange again sometime, but I’m content not to make it happen every year.

  • Sorry it's so long! says:

    Our simple Christmas includes:

    1) Driving to look at Christmas lights. Our neighborhood does it big time (West Texas). We decorate our house inside and put up a tree too.

    2) Christmas music playing from time to time. We’re using Alexa (echo dot) this year for that.

    3) I love to give gifts. Our tree is magical with lots of cheer underneath. It’s my love language. I think its a rare love language, because it seems not many care to receive or give gifts anymore. To me, that makes the joy of Christmas. I love to bless others with gifts and show God’s love to them. We give ornaments to our mail carrier and milkman. We try to do little gifts for the neighborhood. And send them out to our relatives too. They are small items and are fancy spurlges they wouldn’t normally buy. Special organic, bath scrub or something. Another example is Wondermade Marshmallows…they are expensive as marshmallows go, but they are fancy and delicious and make the perfect addition to wintery hot cocoa (bonus, no corn syrup).

    4) Although, having said that, we don’t get to eat holiday treats. Our family eats very strictly for health concerns and so we try not to emphasize on the food of the season. No Christmas candy or desserts for us. We do make our own version of hot chocolate (no marshmallows) that is super healthy. Our traditions HAVE to be non-food related, which is harder than it seems! Anyone else in this boat?

    5) We just started a new thing this year which I hope to turn into a yearly gig. Puzzles! I was given two (700 piece) Christmas puzzles this year. We are planning to work on them tomorrow and complete them by Christmas.

    6) We are apart of a couple of homeschool groups and each had a party. We made gingerbread houses at one and blessing bags for the homeless at the other. We try to limit our events.

    7) We light the Advent candle and do a study on it each Sunday. Sacred Holidays is the one we are using this year. It’s a fun one for the kids.

    That’s about it. 🙂

    We don’t:
    We don’t do Elf on the Shelf.

    We don’t go to all the parties we are invited to.

    We don’t get Christmas books to read everyday.

    We don’t even watch Christmas movies…Lol. We don’t have a TV, so we would all have to watch from a tiny Chromebook screen…Which we may do still this season. We just seem to not get around to it.

    We don’t always get around to Christmas cards. It’s hit or miss.

    We don’t eat holiday treats or make them to deliver.

    There are a lot of things we don’t do and there is nothing wrong or Scrooge about it! 😀

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  • Mandie says:

    This post actually made me feel guilty for absolutely loving and doing all the Christmas things we love. Having had a childhood without these fun things because of parents who felt they were unnecessary and unbiblical, I delight in cherishing all the “magic” of Christmas with my own children. I ached for that “magic” as a child. We do have the elf on the shelf, we do bake a crazy amount of stuff and take it to others, we do lots of thrift store/yard sale gifts, we do advent calendars, we do small treasures in our shoes on St. Nicholas Day, we do send cards and watch too many Christmas cartoons. And I actually think we are happier for it.

    • Please, please, please don’t feel guilty!!! That was the LAST thing I wanted to do with this post!! I think it’s fantastic that you do all of that — because if it brings you and your family joy, you totally should!!

      As I said in the post: “Do what works for your own family. Do what is special and memorable for your own kids. Do what works for your schedule and capacity. And don’t apologize if it looks very different from how another family celebrates Christmas.”

    • Lisa says:

      The key point is the things you’re doing bring you joy and make you happier. I’ve always interpreted the advice to simplify Christmas as being intentional about how you celebrate and doing only things that fill you up rather than out of obligation. Sounds like you’re there. That’s super awesome!!

      My parents weren’t as strict as your sound but we didn’t do Santa, Christmas stockings, or a lot of outward celebrating. Many religious and family reasons too complicated to go into here. I’m an only child and we didn’t live near extended family so holidays were just the three of us and a bit boring. Anyway, as a parent I’ve also tried to bring a little more magic into my kids’ holiday. We don’t do Santa or Elf on the Shelf for a variety of reasons but that’s because we’re being true to our intentions. Neither my husband or I practice the faiths in which we were raised so we’ve had to find our own ways to celebrate and observe the season. I completely understand where you’re coming from!

      Simplifying can sometimes be it’s own prison. This year, for example, our kids are getting more presents from us than in the past. Usually we give them 3 -4 things or fewer depending on the price point. (We had a glorious few years of Lego set, video game, small toy for each, and DONE!) This year we’re up to 6-7 each which was stressing me out because I felt like we were giving more than we *should*. Then I stepped back, gave myself a stern talking to, and realized it’s okay. We’re giving them what they’ve asked for which are mostly lower ticket items. When I took a closer I look I realize we’re NOT being excessive or betraying our values. Next year they might have only one thing each under the tree (which has happened before). There aren’t any Rules governing how we do this. I needed to get a grip and go about celebrating how I see fit.

      • I’ve always interpreted the advice to simplify Christmas as being intentional about how you celebrate and doing only things that fill you up rather than out of obligation. <---- YES!!!!

  • Chelsea says:

    I just want to reiterate that it’s totally fine to do Elf on the Shelf! It seems like people have strong feelings one way or the other- we haven’t done it but I do think it’s a cute idea! We don’t have one but I do enjoy seeing the posts on what other people’s elves, shepherds, or whatever little dolls are “up to.”

    I love the emphasis of giving at Christmas so I try to let my kids help me pick out and wrap gifts. That’s a little hard since I grew up learning presents needed to be wrapped perfectly with the most expensive foil paper. Not it our house (sorry Mom!) 🙂

    We also enjoy Christmas lights, local church Christmas programs, reading Christmas books, making a cake for Jesus’ birthday, and listening to plenty of Christmas music. We love this time of year! We also love keeping it simple.

  • Beth says:

    Sigh. I wish I could figure out a way to simplify ours-yours sounds heavenly. I am an introvert, my husband and kids are not, so they have all kinds of energy to go do a bunch of stuff. Combine that with the fact that both sides of our extended families live in the same town, it gets exhausting. My husband does his best to encourage me to take down time etc, but then I feel bad about saying yes to some family get togethers and no to others.

  • I’m completely lazy when it comes to elf on the shelf or santa. I just can’t keep up with it all. 😀 I think that whatever traditions a family adopts will be what they grow accustomed to and love.

  • Bethany says:

    We put up our tree today so when I saw this post I got excited. You do way more than our family and we have a lot of fun! My son decorated the tree this year for the first time and all three of my kids decided to put stuffed animals up. They are ages 5, 3 and 2. We have done the movie night, gingerbread house, Charlie Brown Christmas book and lights in our neighborhood. There are five of us in our family and each of us will open one present Christmas morning. To make thing easier we do a Christmas exchange list with extended family so we don’t have to buy everyone a gift. Now that the kids are getting older we try to make sure they really understand the reason for the season, Jesus. Sometimes as adults we forget but it always helps me when my children remind me. They can only do that if we tell them. Thanks for the post! P.s. I do not understand the concept of elf on the shelf.

  • Carmen N says:

    We decorate the house and tree together the weekend after Thanksgiving. We have a coloring advent calendar, but this year haven’t been too good about keeping up.

    We don’t do Elf on a Shelf. I’ve seen so many ideas where he does “naughty” things …and I just wasn’t enamored with the whole idea. This year I purchased a “Shepherd on the Search” instead ( – no affiliation; I just love this idea). The kit comes with a small stuffed shepherd who moves around your house, searching for the nativity. Our 6 yo caught on right away and now she and her father alternate who hides him each day.

  • AM says:

    One thing we did this year (and I hope to keep doing it!) was to spread Christmas throughout December. We got together with my family the 1st weekend in December and my husband’s family this weekend. We had a special meal, exchanged gifts and got to enjoy good company in a special, non-rushed way. And, for the first time ever, we will get to be at home, with our kids (7 and 8) waking up in their own beds and enjoying Christmas Eve and Day at home with no travel, no driving around, etc. This has been the best Christmas season for me in ages. I have had the energy and excitement to do some traditions we’d missed, my whole family is healthy (no colds–a first!) and we get to focus on our family.

  • Bethany Ulrich says:

    Thank you for posting this! Our families celebrate Christmas very similarly. 🙂 What are some of your families favorite Christmas movies? I have loved reading some of your children’s favorite chapter books to my kiddos, so I value your opinion. Thanks and Merry Christmas!!

  • LOVE this! It seems several commenter have completely missed the point 🙁 I love your idea to ask your family. I was recently accused of taking all the fun out of Christmas (because we celebrate simply and don’t do elf on the shelf or Santa). I relayed the comment to my husband and my 7 year old overheard. He was very indignant, and interjected “What?! Our Christmas is too fun!”

    It sounds like your family has some beautiful traditions and are building wonderful memories together.

  • Susan says:

    I had to laugh because elf on a shelf was the featured amazon ad below the post for me!

  • Stephanie says:

    I asked my children what their favorite Christmas traditions are:
    – getting the Christmas tree & decorating while Daddy is at work to surprise him
    – cookies for breakfast (yeah, they’re here so that’s going to happen at least a few times in December)
    – watching the Christmas parade
    – watching Christmas movies in our pjs with hot cocoa
    – watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special (this is what happens when Mommy & Daddy are geeks)

    I love our quirky non-traditional Christmas. It works for us, and for our children.

  • Elissa says:

    We don’t really have elf on the shelf here in Australia, so that’s one less decision to make! We decided years ago not to do Santa with our kids, so we just quietly left him out. So much more to celebrate! I love the idea of being proactive and thoughtful about giving to a particular project, up till now we’ve been a bit more sporadic at this time of year. Hope you enjoy a quiet, humble and meaningful celebration with your family.

  • Tonya says:

    I had to laugh… The ads at the end of the post… Elf on a Shelf lol Love the reminder. We’re struggling against family expectations this year, again. Our moms seem to think we enjoyed the pain of leaving all of those new presents to go run all day. Thanks for the reminder that it’s ok to say no!

    • Ha! I don’t have any control over those — they show up based upon what you’ve looked at online or what’s talked about in the post. And sometimes, it’ kind of funny what will show up for me! 🙂

  • Renee Cook says:

    LOVED this and reading through the comments. Thanks for sharing honestly, and for the inspiring ways to simplify. Sometimes, I think we’re the outcasts in our extended family when it comes to wanting to simplify gifts. So we’re still figuring out ways to navigate that whole process and yet be gracious, put others first above our preferences. But we have definitely chosen simple when it comes to Christmas. Heck, my kids are 6 months, 2 and 3. So not much is gonna happen. It is what it is. Haha and we love it!

  • Jill says:

    Honestly, all the things you’re family IS doing makes me feel like you’re making much more effort then us. This is the second holiday we’re celebrating since we lost their father to cancer. That has given me a new perspective, and I 100% agree with what you said about keeping things simple during this season. I’ve found that I have to at this stage of our lives. I’m also taking care of my aging mother, and my two kids, and try to take care of myself too. The last thing I want to do is wear myself even more thin. We look for opportunities to make memories in our day to day, not just during a specific season or holiday.

    I found that keeping things simple last year really helped. This year we’re doing some of the same fun things, we do a driving tour of local lights also, we visited our city’s big light display downtown. We go ice skating, go on a free horse carriage ride, and visit a coffee shop by a lake that has a dazzling holiday and music display, and we just buy hot cocoa and enjoy. I get some presents for the kids and my mother. They do some fun crafts. We go to our church’s candelight service. I’m making a more gourmet yet still uncomplicated dinner for our family. The kids have picked the dinner items.

    Both kids stopped believing in Santa two years ago (then 9 and 4), and my husband and I decided to leave it that way. We don’t do the elf on the shelf anymore, although we did for a couple years earlier. The kids also do some decorating to their liking, but this year we just got a new kitten, so our decorations are very minimal, and we decided not to do the tree. We keep gift buying to our immediate family and a few relatives in other states, and those are the ones who also get christmas cards. I usually post on social media a general message or text friends on Christmas instead. Our family rarely bakes (we have food allergy issues and I’ve always kept our meal plans clean, fresh and healthy), but we do like to make hot chocolate from scratch with a little cream added in and some cinnamon also (so good) or flavor extracts like mint or vanilla, and they enjoy some holiday treats. I try not to feel guilty like I should be doing so much more (I have friends who do so much, one family had christmas trees of varying sizes in every room in their house). I’m finding that I prefer simple to hectic and I have much less stress.

    • PLEASE don’t feel guilty, okay? Honestly, my kids and husband help out with the things listed, so it feel so simple and it works for us. But it might not always work or in every season. Do what works for you — which sounds like you’re doing a great job of!!

    • I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds, though, like you are doing even more than you think…sounds like you, too, have plenty of beautiful Christmas traditions to build wonderful memories with your children.

  • Toni says:

    It looks like you have Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree ornaments on your regular Christmas tree – so do I! 🙂 It sounds to me like you do great plenty for Christmas. Thank you for some additional ideas that I may add into our traditions. As a mom of littles, I have to remind myself that we don’t have to do all the Christmas things Right Now. We can save gingerbread houses for when the kids are big enough to actually do them without a ton of assistance and stress from me. 🙂

  • Cris says:

    Having grown up in another country I will say there’s definitely way more to “keep up with” here in December. With that being said I do own much more Christmas decorations than my mom ever has in her whole life! I didn’t even start doing a stocking for my 8 year old son until as of more recently because I figured he wouldn’t remember as a tiny one anyway. I was pretty blown away with the amount of gifts given on my first Christmas here. When my son was crawling I decided to skip the tree as I did not feel like taking dangerous ornaments away from a baby all day long and one of my husband’s friends was pretty horrified with that wild idea of not having one. No elf on a shelf for us but I know lots who enjoy it. I will say Crystal, if you ever get a chance to go see ICE at Gaylord Opryland it will probably blow your kids minds away! It is something I’ve done for the past years that I always look forward to. Coupon codes come out for the week of Thanksgiving for our local gaylord and you bet it’s when we go as it is a very pricey activity (we skip all the extras). This year we actually has a pretty bad experience with a horrible wait time to get in but after I contacted customer service I was refunded the full amount paid plus parking. Hopefully it will be better next year!

  • Haley says:

    I love your countdown chalkboard! Where is it from?

  • Julia says:

    I love that you don’t ‘overdo’ Christmas. Since our daughter was born, we try to be very deliberate in what we do to celebrate Christmas. We have our short list of family favorites and general say No to other things simply because we don’t want to overbook ourselves.

    Side note, has your family seen We’re No Angels (1955) with Humphrey Bogart? A MUST SEE every Christmas for me.

  • Meghan says:

    How about The Star From Afar as an alternative? The true meaning of Christmas! Also another idea is to drive around and look at Christmas lights but find a nativity scene. Very few yards have one displayed. When you find one, leave a coloring page or simple note in the mailbox stating “Thank- you for displaying our first true love – Jesus!” I can’t take credit for this idea, another blogger suggested it! 🙂

  • Guest says:

    Love this post. I’m sorry that the impetus for it was painful BUT those kind of comments are actually a blessing in disguise because it makes us really think about our choices and be intentional.

    We are doing simpler also. Our kids have also decorated the last two years and LOVE it! I love looking at decorations but I do not enjoy putting them up or taking them down which I never realized until I didn’t do them. It also makes it easier to know what they appreciate because they’re choosing! We’ve also switched to four gifts (need, read, want, wear) and two “share” gifts which are family games. Even our stockings are now Christmas themed gift bags with things they can use (fun Christmas socks) and experiences (small denomination GC to favorite places).

    We have never done a lot of baking BUT they are getting to the age that this is becoming more fun so we choose a few.

    I realize this is a very personal opinion but I have a long and strongly held dislike of the Elf on the Shelf. We don’t do Santa but are respectful and supportive of our many friends and family who do. We’ve also threatened our kids within an inch of their life if they ever say anything that would ruin the Santa fun for others – ha! The premise of a spy to make your kids mind is worrisome to me but more bothersome is the awkward position it puts everyone in. We didn’t do the elf since we don’t believe in Santa and one of our daughter’s classmates told her at school that we didn’t have an elf because she must have been bad that year. Our daughter was CRUSHED and God bless her, did not respond to the classmate and in particular, did not say anything about Santa not being real, etc. It was really awful because there was really no “good” way to handle the situation from any angle. It would be nice if parents would do more to think through these sorts of things before starting some of these traditions. :-/

  • Cassie says:

    Last year my 3 year old daughter wanted to help set up the nativity. I decided to let her. When she was finished, all the shepherds, wise men and animals were facing baby Jesus with their backs to the rest of the room. That’s not at all how I usually arranged them, but was such a great reminder about what the true focus of the Christmas season should be. I’ve learned so much from my little ones about what’s really important. All the stuff, the perfection, the show isn’t what she cares about. Doing Christmas together is what matters to her. Seeing her eyes light up as she puts the ornaments on the tree makes it so much easier for me to let go of my magazine worthy tree. (Well that and my eighteen month old who thinks everything is a ball.) Love your blog!

  • Becky M. says:

    We celebrate almost exactly the same way! Our tree is missing lights in the middle and none of the ornaments match. The kids decorate it as well. I plan to add the Dollar Tree idea this year. That sounds so fun! I was feeling a little guilty for not sending out Christmas cards but I’m over it. I don’t want to be stressed during this time of year and keeping things simple helps. Thanks for the post!


  • CF says:

    If this was a true friend, I just think there is no way she could have really meant the comment. I think being a “Scrooge” is 100% an attitude and has nothing at all to do with what one chooses to do or not to do regarding Christmas. It’s pretty obvious to me you are a positive person in general and I think that’s quite an extensive last of fun and unique/special traditions. Blessings to you and yours!

  • Kaley says:

    I do not do Elf on the Shelf, so I thought this would be a good validating read. But what I got was so much more. Thank you for the encouragement and reminder that God made us unique mothers and we are blessed to celebrate as our own unique family celebrates! I do have to admit, I laughed out loud when I got to the bottom of the post and the advertisement was for an Elf on the Shelf sale ?

    Merry Christmas!

  • Jennifer Metzger says:

    Our family not only embraced Our Elf Holly but the kids get so much joy counting down the days till she returns. Then racing around each morning to see what fun she has had each night that I just cannot imagine not having her as part of our families christmas!
    It just doesn’t seem like “work” to me to see such joy on our kiddos faces.
    Not only do we do the Elf, each yr and beyond family gatherings, we go spend the better part of our day at a lovely family run christmas tree farm named Dull’s. Where we cut down our tree, take a carriage ride with hot cocoa, enjoy playing in an 1800s barn converted into a children’s park area on the inside. We ride the yule slide, see the petting zoo, shop the little cabins sit by the fire and eat scrumptious treats. My husband makes gingerbread house kits with the kids.
    We watch the Grinch, Rudolph, frosty, Charlie Browns christmas, and Prep & Landing as a family. Go to Jolly days at our Children’s Museum and see & get pics with Santa.
    Bake and decorate christmas cookies on Christmas Eve. Read Twas the Night Before Christmas. We just love christmas!
    When our kids are older I hope and pray they look back at their childhood and have fond memories of our family traditions. I hope they will even choose to share a few with our grandkids.

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