My Take on Holiday Planning

When my children were wee little ones and even before they arrived on the scene, I started preparing for Christmas in September.

I prepared a spreadsheet. I started gathering recipes. I made a budget. I researched handmade decorations. (We used magazines in those days. If pinterest had existed, I would have been ALL over that.)

Oh, how things have changed.

I don't remember exactly when I dropped my uber-organized Christmas planning and instead settled for a much simpler holiday season. I know changing our diet had something to do with it. Much less recipes to choose from and a whole lot less sugar going on.

Then I went through my simplicity phase when simple living was the edge of my personal growth. I also fell in love with New England autumn. I didn't grow up with red maples, bright mums and corn stalk decorated porches. Who wants to rush through all that autumn beauty, anticipating and planning ahead for Christmas?

Then, in the last few years I have embraced (somewhat reluctantly) a starker advent season. I've allowed myself to feel the darkness during the month of December, uncomfortable as that is, instead of shopping and celebrating my way to feeling better. I've never liked shopping, this wasn't much of a sacrifice.

Don't get me wrong. I listen to Christmas music, string lights (they're already up), and love holiday parties. But as much as I love living the light of high summer I also want to feel the dark of December. To have my body and spirit cycle through the seasons; just as the earth goes through her periods of light and growth, darkness and dormancy.

And so, I don't plan for Christmas the way I once did. Our season is truly simpler. We don't give a lot of gifts. I don't mail letters and photos. (I have blog, family can read that if they want to know what's going on.) I don't plan a week's worth of feasting - that would just make us sick. I don't bake and stick stuff in the freezer.

If it all sounds plain and joy-less, I assure you it's not. We don't do our usual school routine in December and we spend a lot of time crafting and creating instead. And sleeping in. It's dark.

And as far as crafts go I love what Kathie has to say about Crafting a Simple Holiday.

It seemed hypocritical to me to shun the commercialization of the modern holiday season only to make it just as stressful in a homemade / handmade way.

I’m refusing to do that anymore just like I refuse to go into some kind of weird credit card debt at big box stores just to fulfill my gift list. There will be no up to my eyeballs in Christmas crafting, there will be no tears shed of the amazing but intricate project I didn’t get done. That’s no more the seasonal spirit I want to share than it would be if I stood in line at Wal-mart on black Friday. Thank you, no, I’m opting out of it all.

Oh yeah, speak it Kathie!

We do Christmas activities in our community. We read Christmas and winter stories, and we watch a couple favorite movies. We spend every Christmas celebration (the days around December 25th) with family, usually my parents. Getting outdoors factors heavily into our celebration days. So does doing computer stuff with Daddy - movies and gaming.

We have our own traditions and they don't require months of preparation on my part. Thanks in large part to my mom who secures us a happy turkey and cooks it for us - I don't have a clue how to cook a turkey. She also brings healthy treats. She's a big part of the reason I don't have to "plan or do it all".

Christmas Planning Resources

It's kind of ironic, after that lengthy introduction, to then share some Christmas planning resources with you.

The fact is that we all have to do some sort of planning for the holiday season. I'm getting serious about my holiday plans this week. Mostly thinking about gifts for the kids since Canadian shipping takes a long time.

My planning is a still-bare Pinterest board, a few pages in Evernote and dates on my Google calendar. If you want to get more sophisticated than that you could use one of these resources:

A Simpler Season from Life as Mom. If you read any of the Simple Living Media blog (Simple Mom's sites) you've probably seen this recommended already, with good reason. Jessica's book has master lists and countdown sheets, personal story (I like that) and a lot of holiday activities and game ideas. Her ebook includes Thanksgiving, which is a huge part of the American holidays.

If you are looking for a resource to help you teach the Christian meaning of Christmas to your young children I recommend Truth in Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands. I had the pleasure of meeting Amanda White at Allume (from the blog Oh Amanda). If you've bought any of the ebook bundles I've advertised over the past couple months, you already own this book. That's handy.

Worried about burning out in the coming months? I don't blame you. I personally think there is way too much hype this time of year which is why I've pulled back so much in our own celebrations.

If you feel the need for some guidance in navigating a busy holiday season you probably would benefit from A Roadmap to a Happy, Healthy and Meaningful Holiday (& Winter) Season, a short program by Lisa Bryne. I love her work.

This course is tailor made for busy moms who are deeply involved with their families and holiday celebrations. It won’t require you to take away from what you love to do or love to eat during this season.

This is not an anti-social or anti-sugar program. In fact … just the opposite. My goal is to have you deeply enjoying and indulging without succumbing to a downward spiral of over-eating and misery.

Thought you'd like that last part.

Do you want some Christmas planning help you don't have to pay for?

My friend Emily wrote a 31 day series last month - 31 Days of Christmas Planning. Personally, I'm not ready to read about Christmas in October but I will be coming back to some of those posts this month. And now I know who to talk when I'm looking for a new Christmas music album.

Holiday Cards & Greetings

The one thing I've already prepared for this Christmas are greeting cards.

I will only mail a few, less than twenty, since I actually want to write personal notes and updates, not simply sign our names under a printed greeting. I am sending cards, with my photography and a note written in my hand, as the gift. Why does it need to be more complicated than this?

I got this year's cards from MOO. Aren't they gorgeous?

I also got contact cards to give out at Allume (I have at least 100 left!), and postcards for general mailing - thank you notes, I love you, encouraging stuff like that.

I wanted to tell you about these since I love MOO products, I think they are beautiful and worth sharing as gifts. (Not my contact cards, the photo greeting cards!) If you want to check them out yourself here are links:

How do you plan and prepare for Christmas? Are you uber-organized? Are you crafting up a storm? Do you have to prepare to host guests and family?


There are a couple affiliate links in this post. And isn't cool I finally figured out how to make this disclaimer in small text.

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  • Nicole

    Nicole on Nov. 12, 2012, 4:24 p.m.

    2 things Renee: First, I was JUST online looking at photo cards on Shutterfly, etc., bemoaning the expensive obligation to send these things out each year. So, after reading your post, I have decided that my husband's family back east will get a regular card, with a photo included just from our own printer, and family here in Cali. really doesn't need one at all - after all, we see them frequently! Ah, weight lifted off the shoulders.

    Secondly, if you put some of those gorgeous photo cards up on the Cafe, I would surely buy some prints to frame or give as gifts because your photos have always been eye/soul candy for me! Just a thought, another way you could monetize! :)



  • Kathie

    Kathie on Nov. 12, 2012, 4:42 p.m.

    You know I'm on the same simple living page as you. In the end, I just want to embrace each season in a simple yet loving fashion. I want to celebrate but celebrations (in my opinion) should leave me feeling jubilant not burnt out. Oh, I'm sure there's room for improvement but I'm going to keep trying.


  • Sarah M

    Sarah M on Nov. 12, 2012, 6:25 p.m.

    I love going from season to season and try to enjoy the benefits without complaining (too much) about the cons. My favorite time of year is right when the first leaves start to turn and the air gets a crisp 65 degrees, around mid to late September. This time through the end of the year, is when I feel I'm 'in my prime' as I love to snuggle up with a book when it's 5PM and dark outside, and I love the yearly traditions we've had with our families and friends during this season. Not to mention the weather is wonderful. (After 3 months of over 100 degrees + humidity, summer just looses its fun after mid-July!) A few things we implement is 'neighbor baking' with my mom and kids (little packages of treats for our neighbors that we door-bell ditch for :), a Christmas cookie baking day with my mother in law, and sister in law (strong German heritage means German cookies!), and a daily advent calendar with my own kids. I find these 3 things are the top things I look forward to most each year, and so that's what happens. Everything else is fun and meaningful at the time (this year making :blessings bags" for the homeless people around our town with a friend and her daughter) but may not be a tradition. The only things I craft are knitting two sweaters--one for each of my kids, which is always a part of their Christmas gifts. We've always implemented (and intend on keeping) the 3 rule: Something to wear, something to read, something to play with.

    I am so thankful for your simplicity posts! Sarah M


  • melissa

    melissa on Nov. 12, 2012, 7:27 p.m.

    Heh. I'm pretty sure that I come across as anti-holiday to some people, so I totally related to this post. My plan is to try and save energy to enjoy the time I have off to spend with people, vs. buying or making stuff.

    I celebrate Hannukah...the candle-lighting, latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), part of the season and for many years have simply wished everyone a 'happy holiday', baked for co-workers and that was it. But then I met my other half. And he's great...doesn't do commercialized holidays. But his extended family does, with a mix of religious/cultural observances. And we are trying to keep them happy. It's an exercise in balance because we are expected to turn up at his in-laws with x-mas gifts in hand.

    Silly me, I thought I'd work around the commercial and interfaith aspect by crafting gift boxes/bags. The first year it was a large box of cookies and candies. I made 18 things. For 14 people/families. And burnt out. Last year I made DIY toiletry gift bags, customized for everyone. And burnt out some more. No matter how organized I was it was just too much and ultimately irritated me because I was crafting for the wrong reason.

    This year I've vowed to just make soap. Maybe 5-6 small batches in total, and give family the bars they've tested for me and liked. And I made a special batch of preserves for friends back in September. That's it. This weekend I was asked if I wanted to go in on a family gift of a deep fryer for someone. I explained that I felt it was unhealthy, and wasteful (as in use a pot and thermometer vs. getting another appliance), but knew it would keep the peace. So I said yes. One day at a time....


  • Kathleen

    Kathleen on Nov. 12, 2012, 7:32 p.m.

    Wow, love this post. For the past few years, I've tried to get a head start on holiday planning by doing a lot in November, but to be honest, I think this may have made the holidays more stressful for me since it was stretched out even longer. This year, I'm taking a new approach of starting to make a list of potential gifts now but that's about it. I'm pretty good at scaling back on gifts for my immediate family (husband and two boys) but still struggle with extended family since the gift-giving is always so lopsided. I get one gift for each of them (parents, in-laws) and they buy all of us a ton of stuff. It is all thoughtful but I get completely overwhelmed with the influx of stuff into my home at the end of December (it doesn't help that my birthday is also Dec. 30th). I've always enjoyed sending out and receiving holiday cards so I will keep this tradition going (although I've really scaled back how many I send out) and my boys really enjoy our advent calendar. But, in general, my feelings this year are a mixture of joy and gratitude and also foreboding and dread and guilt. I will be taking many deep breaths, drinking tea, and trying to do the best I can in the weeks ahead!


  • Kika

    Kika on Nov. 12, 2012, 9:09 p.m.

    We keep it all simple and relaxed but I do buy my kid's gifts/stocking stuffers early which is part of how I stay relaxed. We take out an advent calendar and some simple decorations on December 1st - and put up a real tree two weeks before. We'll do some simple crafts if the kids want to and pull out our collection of favorite Christimas stories. I don't do Christmas baking exactly but when we want a special treat we'll make one. Our gift giving is super limited which helps and we budget year round for it too. Some years we share Christmas day with friends who don't have family around (like us) other years we enjoy being alone. I enjoy the season - candles, twinkly lights, special treats once in a while, good books and cozy blankets, candlelit Christmas eve church service... and yes, stockings for my kids:)


  • Kate

    Kate on Nov. 12, 2012, 9:58 p.m.

    Around this time of year, I enjoy bringing pumpkins and pinecones inside. As the days get shorter and darker, we light more candles. As we transition into December, I will sing more Christmas carols and pull out the winter-themed books. We will cut down a tree and decorate it, adding ornaments each day from our advent calendar. It has been close to ten years since I asked my parents to stop doing extensive Christmas shopping. They were hurt and we compromised on stockings. In the past years, they have come to love the simplification of the holiday. This year, they suggested we skip the presents all together. My husband's family is slowly coming around too. The emphasis is shifting to illuminate the joy of togetherness.


  • Frances

    Frances on Nov. 12, 2012, 11:22 p.m.

    Renee, your posts resonate with me today. I had planned to make soap, for the first time, with your recipe (holiday spice) to give as gifts. I'm sure that would be lovely, and I have purchased all the supplies but ... after reading this I think I'm letting go of crafting pressure and expectations this year. I'd rather the first time I make soap be a relaxed and fun experience rather than a pressurized Christmas craft that MUST work lest I have no gifts to show are the end.


  • renee

    renee on Nov. 12, 2012, 11:36 p.m.

    What I realized after publishing and with reading the comments is that how people manage their finances has a lot to do with how you prepare for Christmas. And I don't mean if people do debt or not but simply when their funds are available for the inevitable extra cost of the holidays. I would probably prepare a lot more in advance if we needed to budget for Christmas. Our financial ebb and flow is a bit different and each month there is extra - above the necessities - that goes to all sorts of expenses (adventuring, technology, etc.). For November and December a portion of that goes to Christmas. So I don't need to start purchasing or budgeting in Sept. Also when you spend less you don't need to budget as much. But if you have a lot of kids for example you would need to plan further in advance.  These are obvious points but I don't want to make it sound like a simple holiday doesn't require planning because it very well could, depending on your circumstance. 


  • Mrs. Bowen

    Mrs. Bowen on Nov. 13, 2012, 2:45 a.m.

    I've been following your blog for a few weeks (I read one of your e-books that was part of a bundle). I've dreaded the Christmas season for years, most of which comes from the pressure I feel to give gifts for extended family. This year though, due to various circumstances, we really will not be able to afford such gift giving. I plan to make some homemade treats instead. It should be interesting to see how that goes over!

    Thanks for writing- it has encouraged me to think what a simplified life for me and my family might look like.


  • christy

    christy on Nov. 13, 2012, 3:33 a.m.

    Thank you for your thought-provoking post. Christmas is sneaking up on me and I haven't even gotten to a mindset yet... so I'm hoping to apply some of your thoughts before it's set in stone for the year. I especially love your idea about embracing the dark; I have to think on that more in the afternoons and the early setting sun here... in the mornings I have to use my blu-light to keep sane (that's more literal that I would like it to be).

    Question: what exactly is the beautiful wire on the wrapped stones? We have a new-to-us rock tumbler going in the garage and a 10-yr-old who's insistent on making Christmas presents with currently-tumbling rocks. Yours are beautiful.


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 14, 2012, 3:32 p.m.

      Christy, those wire wrapped seaglass pendants are Christmas gifts and decorations we made a couple years ago. I wrote about that here. In that post you will find the directions. Also, I mention the wire in this craft supply post. The wire is nothing special, just something I picked up at the craft store one year.


  • Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz

    Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz on Nov. 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

    We are very much on the same page with my family! :) We try to just focus on having as much time to spend together as possible instead of 'going' and 'doing' things. I hate to be busy in an unnecessary way. We relax and cook/bake a lot just for ourselves with our kids. Lots of sharing food around the table since normally my husband works second shift and isn't home for dinner with us. We don't do presents at all and don't miss it :) We do however make some family purchases, bigger ones - that are for everyone. Like washer/dryer last year :)


  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on Nov. 14, 2012, 3:05 p.m.

    My daughter is twelve and a half this year. She talked to me yesterday about how amazing it is to change so much in one year. She feels she is turning towards the world. This makes her feel that she wants to spend a lot of time thinking of others this Christmas. She has plans. I'm going with it. Soapmaking, chocolate truffles, candies, lip balms, and extra special wrappings, along with special gifts for her little sister, her papa and me.

    I don't care for simple living anything. I don't care for planning or ebooks. It looks to me like people spend a whole lot of time on all of these goals and aspirations, and very little on true simplicity. We will follow my daughter. My only wish is to read Approaching Christmas and a Child's Christmas out loud while stirring the pudding.


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 14, 2012, 3:28 p.m.

      I think it's awesome to follow your daughter's lead. And I've also learned that simplicity means different things to different people, which is one reason I find that term so problematic. 


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