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Why We’re Not Getting a Christmas Tree This Year

Why We're NOT Getting a Christmas Tree This Year


“Does anyone want to get a big Christmas tree this year?”

I asked the question a few weeks ago as we were discussing our plans for December and Christmas and what traditions we would do and what we wouldn’t do this year.

Our pre-lit artificial Christmas tree had breathed its last breath last Christmas, after a faithful stint as our stalwart Christmas tree. Every year, it had looked a little more Charlie-Brown-esque and had yet another string of lights that didn’t work.

So last year, after setting it up and realizing that it had probably served well past its prime, we decided it was time to retire it and figure out a replacement for it this Christmas.

Fast forward a year, and it was time to decide on a replacement or what we were going to do instead. And in typical Paine family fashion, I put the decision up for a vote by asking if people wanted to get another big Christmas tree.

Right about now I need to stop and say that some of you might be shocked that we would even consider NOT getting a big Christmas tree. (When we told some of our friends we were thinking of not getting a Christmas tree this year, they about fell out of their chairs. I know, it sounds so Scrooge-like to admit it!)

But after our beans and rice law school years when we had an almost $0 budget for Christmas, I have learned that Christmas joy doesn’t come from the money you spend; it’s a result of the special memories you make together.

From the beginning of our marriage, we’ve given ourselves permission for Christmas to be different each year. We’re not married to any tradition.

Just because we did something last year doesn’t mean we have to do it again this year.

Instead, at the end of November, we all sit down together as a family and discuss what we’d love for December to look like this year. We each choose one family activity to put on the calendar and we decide if there are any traditions from previous years we want to make a priority — including, this year, whether or not to have a big Christmas tree.

There has been so much freedom in this — especially as the kids have gotten older and what is important and exciting to them has changed a lot.

This year, at the end of our Christmas tree discussion, they decided they really didn’t want a big Christmas tree (which I honestly was surprised about!). Instead, they asked if we could get little Christmas trees for each of their bedrooms.

Let me tell you, they had so much fun picking out their trees (we got them from Target, by the way) and picking out decor for them. They each have a unique tree in their own rooms and I love seeing the joy that it brings them.

And then Jesse got a little 3-foot tree for our living room that is just perfect. We added some Christmas pillows and a few other little Christmas decorations and it’s the simple Christmas look I’ve always dreamed of for the main area of our house.

By the way, want to know what other activities the kids picked to do together in December? They asked that we have Game Nights on Fridays and Movie Nights on Saturdays (“And please no cheesy Hallmark movies!” They begged!). They also wanted to continue our Dollar Tree Stocking Stuffer tradition and get Christmas jammies.

That’s it, you guys. I listed off a long list of other ideas and nobody was interested in any of them.

Jesse and picked a few other things we’re going to do together (an Advent devotional, a fun weekend road trip together, baking Christmas cookies, and spending time with extended family), but otherwise, we’re keeping December really low key.

I share this to give you permission (in case you need it) to let some traditions go or to simplify things this year if that’s what your family or soul needs.

There’s no joy in overcomplicating things or stretching yourself too thin. And it’s okay if your Christmas looks very different than some one else’s!

Looking for some simple and frugal Christmas ideas? Check out ALL the posts I’ve shared in my A Simple Christmas series over the past few years.

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  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you! After living in a tiny apartment for many years, we have a house this year, and I have been trying to decide whether to get a big tree. It seem like we HAVE to. But there are no kiddos at our house and it’s truly overwhelming to consider getting and decorating a big tree. I think I will just pull out my Charlie Brown 24 inch tree and set it up in our bedroom.

  • Angie says:

    Can you give any suggestions for good family Christmas movies? We have overdone Hallmark movies and all the Home Alone’s. Any other ideas? My boys are way past traditional Christmas cartoons too.

    • Christine says:

      ELF! The best holiday movie made ever!!!

    • If you enjoyed the Home Alone movies, here were a few others I thought of (these are more for older kids — and as always, you’ll want to check them out ahead of time to make sure they are appropriate for your own kids):
      Christmas With the Kranks
      Jingle All the Way
      Santa Claus 1 and 2
      Arthur Christmas — it’s a cartoon, but we all enjoyed it

      We actually don’t “do” Santa Claus, but we enjoyed these movies regardless — at least as far as I remember! 🙂

      • Julie says:

        I would love to hear more about not “doing” Santa Claus”

      • Rebecca says:

        Hi Crystal,

        I have been wondering if telling our children about a Santa Claus is harming them more than helping them in life. I would be so grateful if you would be willing to do a podcast on your reasons for not “doing Santa Claus”. Perhaps talking about the real St Nicholas..rather than Santa..?

      • Guest says:

        We don’t “do” Santa Claus either and our kids also enjoy those movies. 🙂 For those who were asking about not doing Santa Claus, my parents didn’t “do” Santa when I was growing up but we still took part in some of the activities. I know it sounds weird to those who didn’t grow up this way but I still enjoyed movies about Santa Claus and even had a few Santa photos taken but I always knew he wasn’t real. Similarly, I left out milk and cookies but I knew it was my mom or dad eating them after I went to bed – ha! Presents were from my parents (or whoever had given them) and I also went to bed with excited anticipation about the next morning but not in a “I hope Santa comes” sort of way.

        When my husband and I had children, he felt very strongly that we should “do” Santa so we would have one gift a year from Santa but it wasn’t something I ever pushed hard. Our daughter asked me in first grade if Santa was real. I hesitated so I asked why she wanted to know. She said she didn’t think he was and just wanted to know so I told her the truth but told her she wasn’t allowed to say ANYTHING TO ANYONE in class or her brother. In second grade, it made her sad that she didn’t have an elf since all her classmates shared stories of their elves’ crazy antics. One of her classmates told her she must have been bad for Santa to not send an elf (my daughter handled the situation MUCH better than I would have). After thinking about it, I opted to buy an elf that we would do fun things with so she had a story to share each day but it wasn’t something she believed in if that makes sense.

        Our son basically did the same thing as our daughter. Around first grade, he said he didn’t think Santa was real and frankly, I was super happy the gig was up. Our kids adore Christmas as do I. Our focus is on the birth of Jesus, family activities, volunteering, movies, and books and our kids both know they are not allowed to say anything about Santa not being real.

        That’s how our family handles it. 🙂

        • Sarah says:

          This is how we “don’t do Santa” as well. We have had an Eld for several year because it a fun tradition and our 11 & 9 yr old are still looking forward to it. We watch the Santa movies as well, but our kids have known from the beginning Santa wasn’t real, and it wasn’t their job to spread the word. We have plenty of fun with holiday activities!

    • Amy says:

      Homeless for the Holidays is one we watch every year as a family.

    • Nicole Hensley says:

      the Christmas Chronicles was a new movie last year on Netflix and it is so very good!! 🙂

  • Michelle says:

    I think it’s amazingly freeing to be able to do Christmas the way you want it. Last year, I was alternating between visiting my grandma (who was homebound) on one side of town, my dad in the rehab hospital on the other side of town, and my mom (who was sick and couldn’t help) at home in the middle. Plus having an hour commute, with no time off. But it didn’t allow me to focus on my dad didn’t get his holiday shopping done, because he collapsed at the mall trying to do it. Or the fact that I still had presents under my tree that hadn’t been mailed. We just focused on the people. My parents had a 2 foot tall, pre-decorated tree and a wreath on the door. Whereas, I had more, because I couldn’t stop putting up all the decorations. But we all gave ourselves permission to do what we could, not what we had to. The past year has been rough, but now that we broke traditions, we don’t feel as tied to them. If we don’t feel like we can do it, we know it’s still Christmas.

  • Bethany Martinez says:

    We did not have a Christmas tree last year due to budgeting. My kids 6,4 and 3 cried and we got terrible looks from family. So we ended up getting a small tree on sale this year which didn’t break the bank. But choosing not to get a tree last year was very freeing for me. We still did our traditions which was books, cookies, music and tamales. I know that decorations and presents are fun but spending time together is the best. We focus in on the birth of Christ by reading scripture daily. It’s ok to say no to things that are not important or necessary for you in that season.

  • Akaya says:

    If you’re looking for a good Christmas movie, I loved The Christmas Chronicles on Netflix!

  • Vicki Hites says:

    The white tree with the blue ornaments is my favorite, but all the photos of the trees are quite festive. I think this was a most excellent idea for your family. Your children will get to start cultivating their ideas and likes. Thanks for sharing this. Merry Christmas!

  • Suz says:

    Everyone thinks I crazy because I don’t have one. In fact I just put out a string of lights somewhere in the front room because I enjoy them. I used to stress about the holidays and now I enjoy them. I bake and do random act’s of kindness everyday in December and I count my blessings . I like that you allow the kid’s choices as well.I tell people you do you and I’ll do me and we can all be happy that way. Happy Holidays may you and your family may you continue to be blessed and keep being a blessing to other’s.

  • Elizabeth H says:

    Love that you guys are going to see John Crist! Jut say his show last month for our anniversary and it is the funniest thing ever!

  • Katy says:

    Growing up my family were missionaries overseas. We had a cute little tree, maybe a foot or two tall. My last year at home, when my parent’s decided to get a new and bigger tree, I was actually sad. I loved the cute little look of that tree and it was special to me, even if it wasn’t big.
    Since being an adult, we’ve never had a big tree. We’ve done small artificial trees and twice we did paper trees we tapped to the wall. It was fun working on it together.

  • Cheryl Anakwa says:

    You are my hero! I rarley comment but this is so right where I am at this year. I kinda started this last year but still had the tree. This year adding the stress of putting it all up to take it all down and to shop for gifts under the tree as a formality is not bringing any one closer to loving eachother. I love your idea of investing in growing in love together and worshiping God instead of things. It is so freeing, isn’t it?
    Your post was my peace from above to not entertain “I really should put the tree up” guilt ever again . Happy holidays to you and your family!

  • Sandy B says:

    A few years ago my husband was battling what became a permanent disability and my daughter and I had to drive him around 3 states for his sales calls. We were gone most days and pretty exhausted by evening. That year we decided to just put up the 2 foot tree my daughter has for her room, and we didn’t even pull out the ornaments. We bought an ornament from the Billy Graham Library with Romans 15:13 on the God of Hope. Then a couple of other people sent us ornaments that year and we hung those. It was simple and really centered on the Lord at the beginning of a very challenging time in our lives. The older I get, the simpler I prefer things to be. 🙂

  • Kathryn says:

    I could not agree with you more! We had a table top tree for the last couple years and it was so nice and simple. This year, however, we have a toddling grandchild, so the husband wanted the real deal. It’s a pretty site, but I liked the simplicity!

  • Cheryl says:

    I enjoy each year picking out a real Christmas tree with our family! This year it was just my daughter who is 16 and my husband since my son was at a friends. My husband put the lights on Saturday and Sunday after church I took the time to decorate it. Usually we all decorate but this year it was just me. I enjoyed looking at all the bulbs from the past 26 years and just taking my time. I have a box of hand made decorations from when the kids were little and it was so neat to seem them again. I also have kept things simple with my decorating but in my own way! I love having a real tree too-

  • Jen says:

    I don’t do a big tree, either! I made a felt tree (like you see on Pinterest) when my youngest was a toddler. Then I made felt ornaments with my husband and stepsons. That tree is 7 years old now and it’s still the tree we put up because it’s special to us. And the storage ain’t too bad, either. 🙂

  • What a great post! I have been wrestling with this myself. My boyfriend had a knee replacement so I have been at his place taking care of him. On Friday, I have carpal tunnel surgery on both hands. Last week, I was in a hurry and fell down the steps and sprained my ankle. I am FINALLY home tonight and asked my son about decorating and his response was: “Why? I am going to be gone most of the holiday season.” And this post popped into my mind. Why do I feel I need to decorate? I told him because I am a mom and that’s what we have always done, as he sighed when he left he house. And then I thought of this article. Maybe for us this year it’s not a good time and I LOVE, LOVE the idea of letting others decorate a small tree to their liking. So…….without further ado..I just MIGHT give myself permission that this is ok this year. I do enjoy the lights at night, but I can make other adjustments. As always, thank you for your insight!

  • Sheree says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! To be honest, I’ve always felt discouraged and ‘less than’ because our family almost never has a Christmas tree. (We move every year, so our Christmas tree is less than 12in since it has to fit in a suitcase) It lifted my spirit to read this

  • Cris says:

    When my son was a crawling baby and Christmas was coming up many years ago I decided I would not put up a tree because I simply did not need the stress of him trying to pull everything down added to my already stressful life. A friend thought we were nuts for that but it was just what I needed at the time.

  • Sabrina says:

    That is freeing! This is the first year we won’t have our tiny tree, we finally moved to a house so there is space for a big tree but I didn’t want to bother with getting any ol tree since I’d like to get a vintage one. But then a neighbor gave us a flat foam tree hanging with Velcro ornaments so that’s our tree!

    Plus I can hang ornaments from a garland if we want to.

    I think I can tell you’ve been applying ideas from Cozy Minimalist Home, too!

  • Nicole says:

    Most of my extended family go CRAZY decorating every little thing and it’s beautiful…. for them.
    I on the other hand put up a tree, a small nativity, set out our Christmas books and movie collection for us to enjoy all month and light a Christmas/holiday scent candle and done
    We also keep our activities list small
    We go to our city tree lighting to see Santa,
    A local church does a living nativity show we enjoy, & last do a drive through light show and that’s it!

  • Kristin says:

    My mother and both of my sisters go all out in decorating for Christmas. My mother even has Christmas dishes she uses during the season instead of her regular ones! I tried to be into decorating, but learned many years ago that I’m just not into it. Not that I don’t enjoy the season, but I rarely want to make time to go all out, but I thought I *had* to do it because that’s the way I was raised. I now do a much more subdued decoration, just some stockings, a small tree, and a wreath on the door, because I won one! Our Christmases have been no less special with fewer decorations. I say, do what works for you.

  • Guest says:

    We have a real Christmas tree and enjoy it so much. I have such fond memories of laying on the couch as a child and staring at our family Christmas tree. That said, I don’t really do other Christmas decorations. Our kids love decorating the tree, my husband does the lights.

    But the sentiment is right on…do what matters to YOU. For me, the tree is a big deal but we skip other things that others would consider a wonderful tradition.

  • Kathy says:

    We did not have a tree last year. We just put out our village of houses and they have lights in them. We were going to do the same this year because we did not have the money to spend on a tree, but a friend of ours had an extra tree and is letting us use it. I don’t like a lot of clutter. If we have to much sitting around it stresses me out so I do minimal decorating.

  • Tonia says:

    Two years ago, my youngest (who was 2 at the time) kept taking the glass bulbs off the tree, pull the hanger out (as if it were a hand grenade) and throw it on the ground to see it explode. Ugh! I almost didn’t put up a tree last year, but the last week before Christmas I set up our pre-lit artificial tree – did not add any ornaments – and just added a red bow to the top of the lit tree. Gave just enough holiday sparkle to keep the house cheery. This year, I “invested” in a roll of 50% off wired ribbon from Hobby Lobby and $13 of dollar store shatter-proof ornaments, snowflakes, and bells. Less than $20 spent to save my sanity from having glass ornaments shattered on the floor. 😉

  • Beth says:

    I usually do full Griswold decorating on the outside of the house, but I did not this year. Everyone wants this, but no one wants to help. So, I am not going to stress myself out pleasing everyone else. I’m tired and sad and I just do not have the energy.

  • Guest says:

    My family went through a flood a couple years ago. The main parts of our house had no flooring and was pretty messed up. A sweet friend of mine came over and we made a paper Christmas tree out of a roll of brown paper using our whole family’s handprints to hang on the wall. We covered it in stickers and glittered paper ornaments. It was so simple yet perfect. It has changed the way we do Christmas!

  • Hope Ware says:

    We’ve always lived on nickels and dimes – Christmas being no exception. I got little trees marked down 90% one year for my 4 boys to put in their bedrooms. I also have one behind our large nativity, which I display on our upright piano. Well, one of our little trees went AWOL this year. Who knows what happened to it. So, I asked if I could possibly use one of their trees behind the nativity. They were good-natured, but said that their little trees were super important to them. And the two oldest boys are age 22 and nearly 20! LOL! I guess that tradition was a little more important than I thought it was!

  • Amy M. says:

    Love how you decided on and prioritized this as a family! We did a somewhat similar approach this year with our 9-year-olds and it’s been fun letting them have more input into how we celebrate. We also got The Wonder of the Greatest Gift and have been enjoying doing that together each evening (though, full disclosure, my twins are amazing at finding ways to bicker over whose turn it is to hang the ornament, etc. Keeping it real. ;))

  • Sandy R says:

    For those still looking for Christmas movie, check out Christmas Child with Steven Curtis Chapman. It’s available on Amazon Prime Video. I’m a little biased because my sister-in-law plays the journalist in it. She has some good stories about filming it and how nice Steven was to everyone.

  • ma says:

    I was shopping for food and the store had teeny tiny trees for about $40.00 I thought that was exorbitant, living in the pacific northwest where one could go out and chop a tree for almost free..The salvation army lady said donations were really down and I thought $40.00 could buy a lot of food..we have Hanukkah in our hearts and Christmas all year long not just one day..Neighbors put up enormous lights and trees, I think the power company is making it big and who knows who long they pay for their celebrations thru the whole thank you..between seeing specialists for my kidney and renal problems, kidney stones and a certain relative who tried to get back in my life we are just taking it easy and no problems and never have been in our almost 50 year marriage…we are not scrooges either…just saying~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  • Melissa says:

    I love the idea of doing what works for your family. The last few years I didn’t put up a tree. I don’t have kids and often spend most of the holiday away from home so it was never a priority (and one less thing for the cats to attack). This year however, I suddenly felt the urge to put up a tree. I ended up purchasing a new tree during all the Black Friday sales and new ornaments… and I must admit, it brings me such joy to see it lit up at night while I’m curled up with a book… Next year, who knows…

  • Nicole says:

    Thank you so much for this, I really have been beating myself up this year for not doing more crafts with the kids, letting them watch too much netflix and not reading enough christmas books. We still have not done any christmas gift shopping and I’ve been thinking of that too. My husband just started work on the police dept. here in a city in north carolina (first snowless christmas..except for the one year we lived in tenn.) and right now hes doing night shift. We homeschool and since he has to try out all the shifts with a fto its been pretty much chaos with all that plus 5 kids 8 and under. I appreciate a blog post that doesn’t make me feel guilty about having a less then pinterest perfect christmas. Thanks so much!

  • Thanks for this amazing post. My oldest son 8 years discovered Santa wasn’t real last year (when he was 7) and he has been asking me a series of questions since his discovery… long story. I’m happy we can all focus more on the importance of Christmas and spend our time together as a family and leave out all the ”not so important” things.

  • Thanks for this amazing post. My oldest son 8 years discovered Santa wasn’t real last year (when he was 7) and he has been asking me a series of questions since his discovery… long story. I’m happy we can all focus more on the importance of Christmas and spend our time together as a family and leave out all the ”not so important” things.

  • Colleen says:

    My three year old is way more excited about “his” tree in his bedroom ($5 garage sale tree that saw me through my own lean apartment years!) than the one in our living room. We also sort of eliminated the elaborate Christmas tree. Last year, due to a move that left my husband and step children behind to finish up the school year while the toddler and I set up shop in another city, they nearly didn’t get a tree until my stepson really fell in love with a white pre-lit tree that was deeply discounted on Christmas Eve. This year, we put it up but didn’t decorate it except for the angel on top.

  • We didn’t get one either.. love your thoughts behind this and glad that we are not alone.

  • Dawn says:

    We did that one year. We were in transition and rented a furnished cabin for 2 months while we waited to close on our new home. We got a little 4 foot tree and ended up decorating it with stringed popcorn, cranberries and homemade salt dough ornaments. All of our other decorations were in storage so we made our own that year. It was a fun thing to do for that year and worked out perfectly.

  • Kimberly Walker says:

    Christmas of of 2006 I had just gotten out of the hospital after dealing with a double mastectomy. I wanted to have a good Christmas for my family as I was afraid it would have been my last. We were decorating the tree and I had a meltdown, brought on my pain medications and pain and frustrations that I was too weak to do much of anything. A huge argument ensued, I collapsed into bed, crying my eyes out because I thought the cancer (and I!) had ruined Christmas and I cried myself to sleep. When I woke up, the house was decorated, as was the tree. My daughter had ran the extension cord the wrong way, so it was at the top of the house. The star had fallen off the tree and broken, so my son put up his top hat (his “pimp hat”) as our star. My husband had taken that years ornament (a small fuzzy monkey he had won out of a machine) and velcroed the hands together so it looked as though the monkey was ziplining down Mount Crumpet and the ornaments were in no way organized by year, color, and or any other pattern. It turned out to be a wonderful Christmas memory, one that we laugh about to this day. That was the year I learned, again, that Christmas isn’t about being perfect. It is about being family and loving each other no matter how bad things get.

  • Joyce says:

    what do you do when you have the traditionalists and the non-traditionalists in the same household? some of our girls really hold to the ‘x, y, and z’ that make christmas real to them. others would rather go to the opposite end of the spectrum and try new things….. i find myself with an ‘i don’t care’ attitude, just do what you want. personally, i tend to lean to the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ side. sometimes it’s stressful trying to let everyone have a say in what to do- planning family meals, christmas presents, baking christmas cookies….. our girls are spaced apart, so we’re dealing with ages 16-37. (the oldest four are out of the house, two of them are married; only the 16-yr old is still at home)

  • Margaret says:

    This may be an opposite response. Several years ago, after a bitter and hurtful divorce, I found myself living alone and starting over in an empty apartment. Christmas came a couple of months later and it was SO IMPORTANT to me to decorate; to make my little apartment my “home.” I could not afford a lot, so a friend gifted me her old tree, and I found affordable decorations. My decorations were all focused on Christ and scripture. It was beautiful and very therapeutic!
    I’m remarried now, and we’re are establishing our new “traditions.” But those few festive Christmas’s alone really brought me closer to God.

    • Meg says:

      That’s so beautiful! I love how you were able to find joy during the holidays when you felt so alone! I totally agree — Christmas and a cozy decorated home can be so therapeutic during difficult times. -Meg, MSM Team

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