Holidays Without the “Humbug”

The pictures are from our  night of trick-or-treating in Clear Lake Shores!

The pictures are from our night of trick-or-treating in Clear Lake Shores!

The holidays–Christmas, in particular–seem to be doomed for failure.

We’re sold this image of a happy, idyllic family decorating the house as only Martha Stewart can do.  In the morning, the children wake up to a mountain of presents beneath the tree, and are delighted to find that they’ve received that toy they’ve been hoping for.  At dinner time, all of the extended family comes over for a visit (or they’re spending multiple days!) and is treated to a lovely spread that took hours to prepare.  And, most importantly, everybody gets along.


And we all know that this ain’t reality.

And so, in our frustration, we get grouchy and stressed.  We become bitter, we complain, and we take up “causes” in an effort to change things.  And in doing so, we miss out on the joy and fun that this season really does have to offer.


How can we bring the joy back to holidays without turning into a Scrooge?  Here are some tips:

1.  Let go of some of the expectations.  You’re not going to do it all.  So decide which traditions work for you, and create some low-stress traditions that work for your family.  Accept that it’s not going to be the Christmas you had as a child–change is inevitable.  We’ve ditched big dinners in lieu of pizza.  We draw names for gifts, or give only homemade food items. We make our own crazy decorations and keep the focus on having fun.


2.  Stick with the traditions that you LOVE.  I’m crazy about Christmas music, pumpkin-flavored-everything, the smell of baking apples, and cheesy seasonal movies.  So we do a lot of those things.


3. Plan for stress “hot spots.”  You know what stresses you out every year.  So plan a little extra self-care during those times.  Focus on delegating, get enough sleep, drinking lots of  water, and eating as healthy as you can.  For example, the trip to visit our relatives in Michigan can be stressful for me (although I do enjoy seeing everyone!).  So we stay at nice hotels on the way, make sure that there is a healthy choice at each meal, and make sure to focus on relaxing!


4.  Be patient with the gift “issue.”  We used to be greeted with a mountain of gifts at every Christmas gathering we went to.  And a lot of these ended up eventually being donated.  We gently explained our lifestyle choices to our families, and the gifts slowly decreased in number (or included more edibles!).  Things improved even more as I began writing about minimalism (and we stuck with it for a couple years).  Since we’ve made the move to Texas, people mainly  give us money, memberships, and treats.  Change takes awhile, so be patient.  And remember that they are giving you the gifts because they care about you.


5.  Be ready with gifts to suggest when they ask.  Your loved ones aren’t going to give you “nothing.”  So be ready with ideas.  Do you live near a children’s museum or zoo?  Would your child like a membership?  Are there any restaurants you love? People want to give you something, so it’s up to you to provide them with some non-material options.


6.  Accept that it is what it is.  Christmas trees will come out in stores before Halloween. People will trample each other at Black Friday, and the sales will start on Thanksgiving.  There is no need to get angry or stress over this.  You get to choose whether to participate or not.  I have to confess, I was kind of excited to see the Christmas trees, although we haven’t decorated yet.  And Black Friday?  We’re going to spend Thanksgiving at a state park, camping in a cabin.  So I’ll probably be making s’mores.


7.  Leave the politics behind.  When people are stressed, they get angry about silly things.  People celebrate for different reasons.  For some, Christmas is a deeply religious time, with midnight mass and “Silent Night” taking center stage.  For others, it has a more secular focus, with the emphasis on having fun with family and friends.  Some families celebrate Chaunakah and other families have incorporated ancient traditions from Solstice celebration.  It means different things to different people, and raising a fuss about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” isn’t going to “convert” anyone to your way of doing things.  If there is anything that every faith can agree upon, it’s kindness.  So let’s remember to use that as a starting point.


Begin with that retail worker who just wished you a happy holiday.  They’re not thinking about how great they want your holiday to be.  They are thinking about how stressed they are, at work during the most hectic season of the year.  Buy them a chocolate when you go through their line.




15 thoughts on “Holidays Without the “Humbug”

  1. My kitchen used to be small, but not so compact as your galley…I’m not sure what I’d do for a holiday feast with that restriction. (It’d be an interesting challenge, though.)

    Anyway, I agree with your points. Happily I haven’t had much trouble with 6 or 7 over the years, and I’m still working on 5. My personal overstress issue used to be performances; I was in a choir and my kids were in the Christmas pageant, and extra rehearsals on top of everything else were the last straw. I only solved that one by dropping out, and I can’t help but think that wasn’t the best solution…

    • I don’t know, Rob. Activities–and especially church activities around the holidays (my dad used to be a church organist, so I have experience with those)–can pile up and get hectic. Sometimes it’s a matter of choosing among activities that you enjoy, when doing all of them at once makes none of them enjoyable.

  2. I used to spend so much time stressing over what needs to be done. I had always set December 1st as the day to start everything. Simple things to adjust: one thank you dinner for the coworkers instead of individual gifts, gifts for the kids only, no decorating at home (I only live with a cat) and saying no to parties or dinners I really dont want to go to.

  3. We still do the big dinner but we spread it throughout Christmas Day – starter for breakfast, main course at lunchtime, then maybe a walk and a dessert (or two) in the evening with chocolates and drinks as and when we want them. Indulgence without that stuffed feeling. I do love Christmas! I like very much your gentle approach to change.

    • I love that idea, Freda! It sounds like a good way to make the fun last all day. We usually have mimosas with our Christmas breakfast, while opening the gifts. 😉

  4. Thank you for your frankness and most of all number 7. I am going to surprise each cashier whose line I pass thru with chocolate. That’s the best original advice on the subject I’ve heard in years! Wishing you joy and peace for all the upcoming holidays.

    • I did that last year, when we had just arrived up north and I was buying stocking stuffers. The cash register was having some problems, the cashier was totally stressed, and her manager was giving her a hard time. The chocolate seemed to make her a little happier. 🙂

  5. I love this post and I will try to remember it! It is hard not to compare your own holidays to the ones you see on very special Christmas episodes of TV shows. Real life isn’t perfect, so we have to try to enjoy it for what it is! I’m looking forward to this Christmas because I will get to see my baby nephew! BTW, Trick-or-treating by the boats must have been alot of fun.

    • Awww, you’re an auntie! Congrats! Christmas is MUCH more fun with a baby to lavish attention on. We actually didn’t trick or treat on the boats, because there aren’t that many people living in the marina. We went to Clear Lake Shores island (right across from the marina), where Beanie found more candy than she could fit into her pumpkin bucket!

  6. I do so agree. A friend was complaining last year of the long drive she was going to have to do on Christmas Day, and then turn around and come all the way back home again in the evening. I quipped that it was the “tyranny of Christmas”! But it is so true for many of us. Over the years I have taken things down quite a lot, gift exchanges etc. This year, like you, I sat and wrote a list of what I enjoyed about Christmas and what I didn’t. This year for the first time, I don’t have elderly parents to consider so we shall take off to a lovely hotel by the sea and just enjoy ourselves! Totally stress free! Yippee.

    • One thing we try to do–and it’s gotten more difficult since we’ve moved–is to schedule get-togethers at other times. For example, we used to see some people around Thanksgiving and some during the summer. Now we’re only there the week of Christmas and one week in the summer, so we just end up not seeing some people.

  7. What a great idea to surprise your cashiers. I’m going to write that one down and use it from time to time, not just during the holidays.

    I have done pretty well simplifying my holidays but I still over-bought for the children (in my opinion). The children have so many interests and are at an age where I want to spark their creativity but this year I have adopted the 4 Hand Christmas I believe it is called. Not sure if this is the right order but it goes: Something to wear, something to read, something needed and something wanted. By limiting the categories it has finally reigned in my spending on the little ones and for the adult I set a limit of one gift.

    I am sure your first Christmas on the boat will be a fun and memorable event.

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