preparing for a perfectly wonderful un-perfect Christmas

Throughout this post I have photos taken from Christmas last year. Each illustrates an activity one of our family members wants to do this season; Celine wants to decorate, Brienne wants to play in snow (no snow yet), Laurent wants to bake, Damien wants to hike and I want to take photos of it all. It's going to be a great month.

I try to simplify the month of December and really the whole Christmas machine a little bit more each year. Not because I'm some grinch; hardly. I LOVE this time of year. And that's the thing, I want to keep loving it and not burn out on planning, decorating, cooking, baking, shopping and otherwise orchestrating the perfect Christmas for my family. The perfect Christmas just ain't gonna happen. Neither is the perfect house, the perfect kids, the perfect photo or the perfect meal.

I feel this year, more than ever, very mellow as I come into this month of December. Not because I have it all together or have been planning for months. Yipes I don't even start thinking of Christmas till mid November some time (oops, make that October, man time sure flies). I've just learned how to let go of a lot of my unrealistic expectations for the season. Limiting my exposure to popular media and advertising really helps in this regard ~ sometimes that means blogs too!

Except for extra groceries, a tree (which we bought this weekend) and few odds and ends I have everything I need for a wonderful season right here, right now. This year we are making many gifts from supplies on hand or things we have gathered over the past month. We are buying others based on need (there are some things you just can't or don't want to handcraft) and our desire to specially bless those we love. But that part is the icing on the Christmas cake, not the cake itself.

The cake is the right now. It's the kids decorating the tree, as I type this. And me being able to let go and say "have fun kids, it's our tree, not my vision of the perfect tree". They have enough aesthetic sense to not clump all the decorations in one corner and are careful to not break, er... are trying not to break the glass balls.

A happy family is more important than a perfect home. A well rested mother is more important than making the perfect gift. A night for family down-time is more important than hosting the perfect holiday party.

As a recovering perfectionist, these are the things I experience freedom in letting go of. What about you? Are you letting go of anything to enjoy the season more?

(PS. When I sat down to write this I intended to write about simple celebrations. Somehow the perfect theme is what came out. I hope it communicates that what I want for this month is simplicity not stress. Letting go of my expectations seems to be the way to make that happen.)

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Denise

    Denise on Dec. 1, 2009, 1:56 p.m.

    I soooo needed to read this today, Renee! Thanks for your insightful words to encourage. I was just thinking this morning that it's only December 1st and for the most part, our shopping is done with the exception of a few grocery items, however, I'm already feeling tense. I do still have a lot to do by way of wrapping presents and sending cards/baking, but I truly want to be able to relax this year and enjoy what Christmas really means to me as a Christian. I must learn to slow down and accept a little less than perfection - baby steps I guess. Hope you have a great week. Love your tree!


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 1, 2009, 4:13 p.m.

      That is not my tree. It's my parents' tree from last year at their house, which is where we are spending Christmas this year as well. I can't wait!


  • kate

    kate on Dec. 1, 2009, 2:02 p.m.

    We are on the same wave length, aren't we? You are so right-- and I am so glad to have another reminder of the need to let go, de-stress, and enjoy this season....We'll have to keep reminding each other, okay?? :)


  • Jody

    Jody on Dec. 1, 2009, 2:05 p.m.

    I've given up on the spotless house. My home is over 100 yrs old, nothing is straight or level, and when it comes right down to it, the kids & I would rather run with the "spur of the moment idea" than to finish the housework we may have started -- there is no little housework fairie that will come finish folding the, it is with confidence that we know "it will still be there, waiting for our able hands" when we arrive back home. I used to stress out over that, a bit, enjoying the "here & now" decision of course, but then arriving home stressed and wanting to rush to "catch-up" to where it 'would have been'. I have also let go of trying to do SO MUCH. When I didn't work, I hand stamped & embossed Christmas cards, some years even hand stamped our own wrapping paper using paper bags & colored inks. I hosted a gathering for Christmas & New years. the ones I attended, I always brought home baked food. I baked everything under the sun -- the fudge, the brittle, etc. etc. My house was decorated for each season & holiday in every room. Now - not so much. I have days when I worry that my youngest is missing out on the "soccer mom, Martha Stewart" mother that my oldest daughter experienced. But, there are only so many hours in the day that I can be awake & functioning for. So, I have also been working to simplify things. I will perhaps try do a little extra ~ due my "German daughter", Franzi (an exchange student we hosted several years ago)is Coming "Home" for Christmas this year.
    But, simple is good. I'd rather spend the time TOGETHER. My siblings & I have even decided that we are not doing gifts this year, just bringing a hodge-podge of things like Dilly beans, home brew, candied walnuts to share together in some fun game -- or not. Maybe just munch them down while hanging out & playing games together around the table. May the days of December be Merry and Bright! and may little Brienne's be Snowy & White! (I always hope & pray for a white Christmas, too!)


  • April

    April on Dec. 1, 2009, 4:19 p.m.

    I read your blog on Google Reader all the time, but I'm not sure I've ever commented. I find lots of inspiration for simplifying here. Thank you.

    We are doing a totally relaxed Advent/ Christmas, too. It started because we are in the midst of a several-month-long move to/ towards an old house we are renovating. The thought of getting out the Christmas decorations makes me sort of ill. We're doing an Advent wreath and lighting it each day with the kids. We're not getting a tree until Christmas eve. In the meantime, we'll make some projects -- a Jesse tree and popcorn strings/peanut butter pinecones for the birds, perhaps.

    For gifts, I'm blessed that my family has always encouraged and appreciated handmade gifts. I'm crocheting simple slippers for my sisters and nieces and making my children some amigurumi rabbits for their stockings. The older relatives get edible treats. It's lovely and low-key.

    I don't know that I'll miss the extra decorations. I have a feeling this is going to be one of our best Christmases ever.

    April's last blog post... Mac and Cheese and grandmas


  • Candelion

    Candelion on Dec. 1, 2009, 4:57 p.m.

    Oh Renee--- thanks for making me take a deep breath this morning.. Sometimes I think I stress myself out more when I really try to make things simple. Again, thank you for the reminder to let certain things go.

    Btw, love-love-love the picture of the glass ball with you in the reflection. HOW DID YOU DO THAT?! Also, I hope you have a great birthday if I don't get a chance to comment again before then!


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 5, 2009, 12:21 p.m.

      I think that was a very easy photo to take actually, if I remember. I just focused on my reflection in the ball. Being close to a natural light source really helps also.


  • kyndale

    kyndale on Dec. 1, 2009, 5:22 p.m.

    I am right there with you Renee, I don't watch tv so all that extra media helps me to keep sane. We don't go all out with presents. When I do buy gifts, it a game or crafting supplies. This year we are getting pogo sticks for the kids. My in-laws asked us what we wanted for Christmas and we said a bike rack for our car. I love anything that brings us outside or doing some kind of exercise. I agree that simplifying the season doesn't mean that we're scrooges. What it means for me, is making the season more enjoyable (for all). A few years ago, my mom insisted that we bring the kids to the mall (yack!!) to see Santa. I have since nixed that tradition. I don't like the chaos. Happy December!


    • kyndale

      kyndale on Dec. 1, 2009, 5:30 p.m.

      I also wanted to add that it seems if we put so much emphasis on the one day of Christmas, it's such a let-down after that. Like, we've been anticipating this one day and putting so much weight on it being so spectacular, there's no way it can live up to it. That's why it's so important for us to keep it simple and enjoy the whole season.


      • Kika

        Kika on Dec. 2, 2009, noon

        I remember this feeling of "let down" oh so clearly from my own childhood! So we, too, want to enjoy a season rather than just a day.


      • renee

        renee on Dec. 5, 2009, 12:23 p.m.

        I agree absolutely. All that focus on one day is too much for me. We have a few small gifts for the children this year so we plan to actually spread those out too.


  • Kika

    Kika on Dec. 1, 2009, 6:41 p.m.

    Totally agree with you. We keep things simple and create a list of special traditions or activities that we want to take time for... they are never expensive or fancy things. I do prepare really early (gift wise),though, which helps me stay in budget. This year, though, I'm being challenged in a new way. My little sister is virtually on the street with her kids and my nephew will be coming to live with us for 'a time'... so we'll need to buy gifts for him and change our expectations for the holiday in order to love my family through this crisis. I guess that is the real "meaning of Christmas" anyways - receiving and offering Christ's love.


  • nicola@which name?

    nicola@which name? on Dec. 1, 2009, 8:34 p.m.

    renee, you did just describe the perfect christmas! your perfect christmas isn't the christmas we see in magazines, but it is what your family chooses to make it that is right for you. i love christmas. it is my favorite holiday. i am constantly astounded at christmas coming to stores earlier and earlier each year (i saw it before halloween this year) and by the consumerism. ("black friday" as it actually is was relatively new to me in reality last year, after i had become a blog reader and read strategies and finds people scored on that day). but it remains my favorite because it is full of family and traditions and food and lights, festivities, and friends. i love the opportunity to work on projects to try and gift homemade creations. but i also like that we buy less and give less than we used to. i LOVE that we receive less than we used to. it makes it more meaningful and mellow and special. happy december. wishing you YOUR perfect christmas. nicola

    nicola@which name?'s last blog post... tutorial: seat back car organizer apron


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 5, 2009, 12:30 p.m.

      You know you're right but this is perfect for us, right now. I am loving this laid back season. Love what you said: "it makes it more meaningful and mellow and special", I agree.


  • Hillary

    Hillary on Dec. 2, 2009, 1:48 a.m.

    Hear! hear! If you saw a picture of my Christmas tree you would understand the realization I had last night that not only am I not Martha Steward, but I'll never be....and that's okay!

    Thanks for this wise post.


  • Kami@Nurturing the tender years

    Kami@Nurturing the tender years on Dec. 2, 2009, 1:53 a.m.

    Renee, I too am a perfectionist who is learning to let go...motherhood and homeschooling is teaching me this slowly, but surely as I realize to do what is REALLY important I have to let go of a lot of the little things which used to feel important to me.

    By the way, I love the photo of your reflection in the ornament, very nicely done!

    Kami@Nurturing the tender years's last blog post... Thanksgiving weekend


  • Naomi

    Naomi on Dec. 2, 2009, 2:27 a.m.

    Yay for unperfect Christmas', cause those are the most perfect ones! Every year we get closer and closer to our goal of having a simple, enjoyable, truly meaningful Christmas, and this year I am REALLY enjoying the season. Perhaps having young kids to help celebrate makes the biggest difference, but deciding to make most of our gifts has also taken a lot of the rush out of the season, and not feeling like we have to give something to everyone. We're still attending lots of family parties which can be chaotic, but for some reason this year I'm not stressing about it. Oh, and I had to chuckle about the tree part. We put ours up the day after Thanksgiving and this year Nemo played a much larger role. Glen usually puts the lights and garland on, but Nemo helped quite a bit with the ornaments, and yes, he did put most of them in one corner ;0) So far we've only broken two I think, and considering we have a 15 month old I'd say that's not too bad, lol. Here's to a Merry Christmas!


  • Crystal

    Crystal on Dec. 8, 2009, 6:37 p.m.

    Renee- Your words hit home, literally, and I totally agree. I'm very much a perfectionist, but I'm learning to let go. Slowly :) I also have strong feelings about what this season is and isn't. It isn't about mall Santas, the latest greatest toy, or the "perfect" tree. We've tried to keep things as simple as possible to eliminate stress, lessen our environmental impact, and to focus on the simple pleasures of being together and "doing" rather than "having." Avoiding the Christmas-based media helps, but there are always those moments when I wonder if maybe I shouldn't do more. But the joy and lack of stress I feel this year (even though I'm working for the first Xmas in 4 years) says I'm doing something right. Thank you for this post!

    Crystal's last blog post... Endearing words


  • Rachel

    Rachel on Dec. 9, 2009, 6:11 a.m.

    "A happy family is more important than a perfect home. " So true, as I try to ignore the way my home looks in the midst of doing the Christmas preparations. But they did have fun getting out the box of Christmas stuff. We're doing more decorations this year since we've never had a tree, and doing it the first time seems to take more work. It's a little overwhelming to try to get everything "right", so I try to remember it doesn't have to be "perfect."


  • RLR

    RLR on Dec. 10, 2009, 8:04 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing this! As I type, we still don't have a tree, but I'm ok with that. My son's birthday is early in the month, so we don't put decorations up until afterwards. It's also been very rainy - who wants to pick out a tree in the rain? (Or bring home a wet one?) It's looking like tomorrow is the day for picking a tree - but it may not get lights or decorations until even later. The bright side? The Christmas spirit is alive and well here - my kids are talking about Baby Jesus, we have been to our church's live nativity, and realize that we don't need the tree in November for it to feel like Christmas. Thanks for reminding me that simple and relaxed really can be better!

    RLR's last blog post... Still shopping?


  • turnitupmom

    turnitupmom on Dec. 21, 2009, 1:06 a.m.

    Today my family was snowed in. Sometimes we need Mother Nature to demand that we slow down. was so nice. Pajamas all day. A movie on demand. Popcorn. Comfort food. A fire blazing. Most of all, it was the ultimate family time.

    turnitupmom's last blog post... Choosing: To Do and Not to Do


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