How to Simplify Christmas & Reduce Holiday Stress

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Christmas is stressful. I said it- it’s out there. Christmas is many other wonderful things too, but the holiday season can be stressful and overwhelming! Would you like to simplify Christmas this year and have time to actually enjoy it with your family? Me too!

The Case for a Simple Christmas

It’s hard to resist the call of the “perfect” Christmas that we see on TV, Pinterest and social media. The idea that Christmas should be filled with presents and picture perfect moments. And if not, we must not be doing it right!

These expectations only create a stressful season that we can’t wait to be done with. What can we do to change this?

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Small Christmas decorations and knick-knacks. Text says How to Simplify Christmas and Reduce Holiday Stress!

1. Find Your Focus

With school and work Christmas parties, decorating, shopping for gifts, Christmas recitals and plays, and more on our calendars during December, it’s no wonder we’re stressed out!

To start the transition to a simple Christmas, take a minute to think about what you want to focus on at Christmas. Material things are a huge focus in our society now, especially at Christmas.

What are your favorite Christmas memories– from when you were little, or more recently, and what memories do you want your children to have from Christmas?

My favorite memories are of our family traditions. Decorating the Christmas tree together with ornaments that were passed down over the years, and hearing the stories behind them, making Christmas cookies with my mom, and driving through looking at Christmas lights.

I don’t really remember the gifts I got. And I doubt my son remembers what he got last year either!

2. Plan It Out

Once you find your focus, then decide how you want to carry it out. It’s your family’s Christmas, so don’t let other people tell you it has to look one way or another!

1. What seasonal activities are non-negotiable?

For example, plays, recitals, school events, work obligations, church events, etc.

Stop to make sure that they’re really “must-do” activities. For example, your child doesn’t need to attend every Christmas party they were invited to. Add the ones you are certain about to your calendar.

2. What traditions does your family have for family Christmas activities, decorations, and gifting?

3. Write it all down in a planner! Document the decisions you make & have everything in one place. This way you’ll be organized with activities, traditions, etc. And you can easily look to see what you did last year instead of starting from scratch each year!

My 58 page printable Watercolor Christmas Planner is perfect for this!

It will help you prep for whatever holiday plans you want to make! Just print out what you need at home & use it year after year! Check out the video in my shop to see EXACTLY what you’ll get!

Christmas Planner pages on a background with Christmas Ornaments. Text Reads Christmas Planner- Plan ahead to enjoy the holiday season with family & friends- without the stress & chaos!

3. Simplify Christmas Traditions

Family Christmas Activities

Take a minute to think about your own holiday traditions. Evaluate what you do year in and year out. Is there something you have to do or have or it doesn’t feel like Christmas? Nourish those traditions and pass them on to your children.

If some traditions aren’t as enjoyable as they used to be, now is the time to change them up a little, or get rid of them altogether and start something new!

If you don’t have a lot of traditions yet, there’s no better time than the present to start them.

Don’t feel pressured to do everything that everyone else does, or that your extended family want you to do. 

  • We don’t do Elf on the Shelf at our house. While I sometimes feel guilty about not doing it, it’s just not something that is a good fit for us. Other family members do, and that’s great!
  • We don’t always have time to attend every family get-together. We do what we can and don’t over-schedule ourselves. You can’t meet everyone’s expectations.

Is there a family member who consistently makes get-togethers uncomfortable? Do you or your child have food allergies and extended family members who are less than understanding? (I’ve been there!)

Christmas shouldn’t be a time of dread. Set boundaries (and a great example for your kids) and don’t be afraid to do your own thing with your immediate family if other individuals aren’t respectful of your wishes.

Some of our favorite simple and easy Christmas traditions are:

1. Make and decorate Christmas cookies.

2. Set up and decorate the Christmas tree after Thanksgiving while listening to Christmas music. We also talk about the stories and memories behind some of the ornaments.

3. Go to a drive through Christmas light place.

4. Attend a Christmas concert.

5. Everyone gets their own advent calendars.

6. Each person gets a new Christmas ornament in their stocking.

7. Adopt Angel Tree children and buy Christmas presents for them.

8. All of us get new Christmas pjs.

9. Children open one present on Christmas Eve.

10. Attend Christmas Eve service at our church.

11. Track Santa using NORAD.

12. Watch Christmas movies while we eat a snack dinner plus s’mores!

13. Take a picture with Santa every year.

14. Read The Night Before Christmas and the Christmas story in the Bible.

15. Make paper decorations for the tree, like snowflakes, garlands, or chains. (Check out YouTube for this, they even have Disney, Star Wars, Doctor Who snowflake tutorials, and more!)

16. Buy a new Christmas-themed book for each child.

17. Each family member takes turns opening presents on Christmas morning.

18. Watch the Disney Christmas Day Parade on TV on Christmas Day.

19. Santa leaves an orange in the toe of each stocking.

20. Our Christmas Eve meal is always Italian food.

21. Go to our local Christmas parade.

22. If we have a chance, go see the ICE!® display at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, TX.

All of these are pretty simple, and don’t require too much preparation on our part. If you’re looking for traditions, maybe these will give you a few ideas!

Christmas Ball Decorations


How important is decorating during the holidays in your home? Do you go all out with multiple themed trees, or are you a less is more person?

Last year we went through our Christmas decorations and got rid of a lot of extra items that didn’t fit in our new home.

We had also inherited several things that didn’t fit with our decor, that we didn’t ever use and were holding onto for sentimental reasons. So I decided someone else would benefit more from them, and organized the rest with some plastic tubs I found on sale.

If decorating stresses you out, determine which part(s) of it are really what makes it stressful by asking yourself why until you get to the true reason.

For Example:

  • Christmas decorating is really stressful->Why?
  • Because it takes up so much time.->Why?
  • They are in so many different boxes and I can’t find what I need.->Why?
  • They are very disorganized.->Why?
  • I haven’t had the time to go through them and organize them.

You could keep going, but I think you get the point. If Christmas decorations are truly important to you to have up, what if this year you made the time to organize and declutter them and were able to enjoy decorating next year?

Get rid of broken items and any items you are just storing away, but never really take out and use. And take a good look at how much room you reasonably have to display and store everything.

Maybe you want to do something totally different this year and don’t feel like tackling the tree. WHAT?

YES! You have the power to make your Christmas like you want it this year and every year! It doesn’t have to be the same, so don’t guilt yourself into doing things that don’t bring your joy.

Talk to your family and decide on a plan to simplify your Christmas decorations. You could even have a fun Christmas tree alternative like one shown here!

Hands holding a present. Text says Your Guide to a Simplified Holiday Season.

Christmas Gifts

How do your family and friends “do” gifts at Christmas?

Is it hard finding items for extended family and friends, so you just end up exchanging gift cards? Do you go into debt buying toys, then realize that your kids don’t appreciate them as much as you expected?

If you’d like to cut back on buying presents this year, you aren’t alone!

But what can you do? Here are some options.

  • For kids and parents, try the three or four gift rule: three presents to represent the gifts the wise men brought baby Jesus, or four gifts- or one thing you want, one you need, one to wear and one to read.
  • Only buy gifts for children in your family, and make those experiences, like tickets to the zoo, a gift card to an ice cream shop, karate lessons, or a subscription to an educational online class/service, like ChessKid.
  • Parents: use the money you would’ve spent on presents for each other, or on the whole family on a trip or experience.
  • Family or Friend Gift Exchanges: make food to give as presents (cookies, candy, etc.), go out to eat together, collect canned goods to donate, go shopping for a family or child in need, give regifted gifts or practical gifts like socks, make a donation in someone’s name, or just do something together- give the gift of time.
  • If you still want to buy gifts for a select few, buy something unique, or personalized from a local small business. Or try Amazon Handmade for creative and beautiful handmade items!

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4. Remember to Involve Everyone

Talk to your family about your desire to simplify Christmas this season. Let them know you want to maximize the time and fun you can all have together, and sometimes that might mean saying no to some activities.

Gifting can be a tricky topic- bring up the topic of presents ahead of time so that no one is surprised or feels slighted. Make sure they understand cutting back on presents doesn’t have to do with how you feel about them or your relationship.

5. Put Your Plan Into Action, Together!

Now that you have your plan- carry it out with the help of your family. To lessen the stress, prioritize what needs to be done and don’t be afraid to delegate things to others.

This will give you even more time to enjoy the holiday season together.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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  1. December 19, 2019 / 8:13 am

    Love this post! We try to have a pretty simple Christmas and it just makes it so much more enjoyable! Great suggestions about the decorations and traditions!

    • Robin
      December 26, 2019 / 7:49 pm

      Appreciate it! You’re right- a simple Christmas doesn’t have to mean a boring one!

  2. December 19, 2019 / 10:43 am

    I love your #1 point. Find Your Focus! Christmas is too busy a time of year to be able to do everything. I love that it’s okay to find what you can focus on and make that extra special

    • Robin
      December 26, 2019 / 7:46 pm

      Thanks so much! Yes, otherwise it’s easy to get excited and go overboard at Christmas sometimes (speaking from experience, lol!).

  3. December 19, 2019 / 12:00 pm

    I love this article and wholeheartedly agree. We were a family that didn’t do Elf on the Shelf, but apparently, my son didn’t like that, and he asked a family member for an elf two years ago, so now we are. I love to simplify the holidays, and can’t wait until that tradition has played itself out.

    • Robin
      December 26, 2019 / 7:54 pm

      Thank you! Oh goodness, yes, I would be looking forward to the end of that tradition too!

  4. December 19, 2019 / 1:05 pm

    I love this idea of simplifying the Holidays! For so long, everyone in my husband’s family (and all their significant others) got gifts for every single person- it drove us crazy! Now we only do a secret santa and that is so much better- I don’t know about everyone else, but I do not need 17 extra material items every year! Focus on what is important in your life and forget the rest!

    • Robin
      December 26, 2019 / 7:58 pm

      Wow-I don’t know how y’all even kept up with what everyone might want for Christmas with that many people! I bet it saves a lot of time for everyone too now that y’all changed it. Totally agree!

  5. Jessica
    December 19, 2019 / 7:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing your points. I cannot wait to use some of these ideas.

    • Robin
      December 26, 2019 / 7:59 pm

      You’re very welcome- I hope they help!

  6. December 20, 2019 / 6:01 am

    Yes to a simpler Christmas….we are doing that this year. We recognize the real meaning of Christmas and that’s Jesus birth. I have vetoed the Elf on the Shelf (no no no), we are not stressing out about cooking the perfect meal and the gifts under the tree this year are 2 for each child, two things they really wanted.

    • Robin
      December 26, 2019 / 8:09 pm

      Thanks – that sounds just wonderful! I hope y’all had a fantastic day!

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