Simple Ways We Cultivate a More Meaningful Christmas

posted by Andrea | 12/10/2019

a more meaningful christmas

In an effort to cultivate a simpler, more manageable, and more meaningful Christmas season for our family, we made a few changes this year! 

1. We re-evaluated our holiday traditions and eliminated many of the “extras”.

2. We simplified everything (especially gift-giving).

3. We switched our focus away from commercialism.

These changes were not made because I’m a scrooge or because we don’t eagerly anticipate this very special time of year. Quite the opposite actually!

The changes were because I felt we needed a little more breathing room in order to fully enjoy the Christmas season THIS year.

THIS year – not forever and always. 

Maybe next year… maybe not… maybe never again. 

I’m not exactly sure why, but THIS year, of all years, has felt much more “full” for our family.

Maybe it’s because the kids are getting older and have more school and outside activities. Maybe it’s because Dave and I have many more church and school responsibilities than we’ve had in a long time. Maybe it’s because I’m pushing forward with several new blog projects and ideas for 2020. Or maybe it’s because my threshold for “busy” is simply lower this year!

Whatever the case, I felt a nudge to majorly simplify our Christmas season several months ago already… and I’m SO glad I followed my gut and didn’t let outside pressures get to me. 

So far, I haven’t felt like we “missed out” on anything. Our children haven’t mentioned a word about some of the things we “skipped” or didn’t do this year (more on those below).

I even overheard the kids talking about how beautiful our house looks “all decorated for Christmas”. I just had to chuckle to myself because the ONLY decorating I did was to put up the Christmas tree, set up their nativity, and light a Christmas candle! 

christmas tree lights

I know we’re already half-way into the Christmas season, but I don’t think it’s “too late” to make a few changes… if that’s what YOU want THIS year!

There’s still plenty of time left to simplify and create a more meaningful Christmas season for you and for your family. 

Here’s how our family is attempting to do that THIS year. 

star ornaments for a meaningful christmas

1. We Re-Evaluated Our Holiday Traditions and Eliminated Extras

I know this might seem like a huge let-down for some families, but for our family, it has actually served to free up our schedule, offer a more meaningful Christmas experience, and allow time to do other things we’re more excited about THIS year.

We skipped the annual holiday parade as we had another event on the same day — our kids didn’t protest one bit. 

We hosted a VERY simple Thanksgiving meal with both sets of our parents and did it later in the day instead of right after church, and both our parents brought a significant amount of food so I wasn’t in the kitchen all day. 

We said “no” to a few holiday parties that were not with close family members and later in the evenings (which is not great for our early-to-bed, early-t0-rise kiddos). 

We didn’t do anything with stockings — we honestly haven’t done this for a few years and no one misses it! 

We didn’t put any decorations up except the artificial Christmas tree and our Nativity — our house still feels so festive with the glow of the lights and the kids had SO much fun doing ALL the ornaments themselves (there are literally zero ornaments on the top third of our tree!)

We haven’t done one bit of holiday baking yet — we might do some over Christmas break… we might not.

We canceled some tentative travel plans we had in lieu of spending more down-time at home. 

We didn’t put any outside decorations up — I’m a little bummed about this, but I’ll be thankful when I don’t need to take them all down again later in the year!

children's nativity scene

simple Christmas tree with lights

2. We Simplified Everything (especially gifts).

I honestly can’t even begin to express just how simple and glorious our holiday season has felt so far — it’s just what I needed after a busy few months of go-go-go with school, church, blogging, etc. 

But it has not been “easy”.

I’ve been very intentional about the decisions I’ve made these past 3-5 weeks, and we’ve gotten some pushback, but my efforts have paid off in a less stressful, more meaningful Christmas season so far. 

We did SUPER SIMPLE gifts for all the “extra” people in our lives (teachers, coaches, bus drivers, church people, friends, neighbors, etc.) See what we did in this post (and get your free printable gift tag). 

We celebrated our family’s Christmas extremely early — we usually celebrate the first weekend in December because that’s when the kids have their Love Bazaar at school (and they are just so excited to give their gifts to us!) We also celebrate early in an effort to spread out the festivities for our kids, and so they don’t get bombarded with a massive number of gifts all at one time. 

I wrapped all the other gifts very simply — I usually enjoy spending time wrapping gifts, but this year, I knew I needed to keep things simpler. I wrapped everything in brown craft paper or gold tissue paper, then tied it all with gold ribbon (all of which we already had in the house). 

The kids used their own money to buy gifts for each other at the school’s Love Bazaar — honestly, this was SO sweet. They had so much fun buying for each other, and could hardly wait to watch their siblings open the $2 and $3 gifts! It also meant that I didn’t have to go shopping with each one of them to buy gifts! 

We are giving lots of gift cards! Gift cards are my go-to gift to simplify our holiday season… and contrary to what you may think, they don’t have to be “impersonal” at all. I can’t go in to too many details because we haven’t given all the gifts yet! But I have a full post about creative ways to give gift cards

We purchased many second-hand gifts for our children (and others) — I know, this could be taboo for some of you, but it works for us! I got our children many of the exact items they requested for a fraction of the new price, and I stayed away from online shopping (and the mall) which is a huge “win” for me!

I enjoy thrift store shopping and we have many amazing thrift stores in our area — so this was a fantastic way to save a bunch of money and simplify this time of year for me personally. 

simple gifts under the tree

simple gift idea with free printable gift tag

3. We Switched our Focus away from Consumerism. 

No matter where you look this time of year, you’re bound to see pictures of glamorous homes dripping with decorations and filled with smiling families wearing matching pajamas and sipping hot cocoa from mugs that just so happen to match the home’s decor! 

Seriously, it’s everywhere. 

But in my own life experience, that is nowhere near reality, and it certainly won’t help you create a meaningful Christmas for you or your family. 

Yes, we always decorate in some way for Christmas. And yes, we often drink hot chocolate after coming in from outside. But oh my word, these photos and blog posts and magazine articles are SO unrealistic, and SO far from the real meaning of Christmas!

I’ve been approached by companies asking me to share sponsored posts of this nature (matching PJ’s, insane holiday decor, huge piles of gifts under the tree) and although the opportunities would be very lucrative for me, I just can’t do it for fear that I’ll be contributing to this ridiculously unrealistic and consumeristic portrayal of the holiday season. 

It’s not like that for 95% of people — and the other 5% are getting paid (very well) to make it look like their holiday season is actually like that. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t watch the news (or really any TV these days), I don’t subscribe to any magazines or newspapers, I don’t do anything with social media (outside of posting content for my own blog), and I rarely ever go shopping — even (or maybe especially) during the holiday season. 

This means the number of advertisements and unrealistic expectations I come into contact with each day is drastically lower than many others. It also means I’m so much more content with what I have (and don’t have). 

It really works!

Turn your TV off, step away from your computer for a day or so, remove social media and news apps from your phone, and walk right past the magazine display at the grocery store. 

It’s not easy to do, but if you’re able to lower your expectations a bit, I have a feeling you’ll be happier, your life will feel simpler, and you’ll have a more meaningful sense of what’s truly important throughout the holiday season and all year long!

If you’re looking for a good Christmas or Advent devotional we used this one last year, and we’re reading it again this year. It’s very meaningful, with simple-enough concepts for our young children to understand, and thoughtful exercises and crafts to go along with each lesson. 

nativity scene with meaningful christmas devotional

Nora with her American Girl doll

making gingerbread houses

What do you (or did you) do to create a more meaningful Christmas for your family? 

For those of you “further down the road” a bit, is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

a more meaningful christmas

Filed under: FamilyHolidays

Leave a comment


  1. Calliope


    This year turned out to be so difficult for me. I was on the verge of depression (still working on this) so Christmas is somewhat ruined for me for 2019. So no tree this year. I had fun setting our smallish village that my son enjoys and my husband got me a Nativity from a trip to Naples and that is all. Every evening I like to light a candle and watch a xmas movie with my son.
    Also no expensive gifts this year. I will give my son and nieces movie money for a few months (they LOVE movies) and I will send a few e books to my husband’s kindle. My sister will have her closets organised by me during Christmas, so that will count as her gift and my free therapy session.
    I’m trying…for them.
    Let’s hope to a simpler, happier, more meaningful 2020!


    Andrea Reply:

    Hello Calliope!
    I’m so sorry to hear about your depression and your less-than-awesome Christmas season.
    I commend you for putting on a happy face for your family… and also for acknowledging that things aren’t perfect, and that’s OK.
    Hugs to you in this difficult season. I too hope a simpler, happier, more meaningful 2020 is right around the corner for you.


  2. Jlynn


    I live in an apartment and don’t have room to store an artificial tree and real trees are forbidden. So I take the multicolored lights and a few of my favorite ornaments and put them up on the top of my entertainment stand.

    My nativity is set up on a side table and baby Jesus doesn’t go in until Christmas. The three wide men travel around the room to get to baby Jesus.

    These are the traditions that are meaningful for me.

    I also volunteer at a soup kitchen on Christmas Day. But this year I’m taking a break from that.

    I love simple traditions and old traditions done in new ways. But maybe some year I’ll do more decorating.


    Andrea Reply:

    It sounds like the perfect arrangement for a small place without a lot of storage!
    Also, good for you for knowing when it’s time to take a break from a tradition — you can always go back to it again in the future!


  3. Vickie


    Thank you, thank you, thank you! The homes and tables and decorations are so over-thd-top and mostly unrealistic that I see on blogs everyday. Our Christmas is very simple this year with money to each of our 5 oldest grands, a couple of gifts and a little money to the youngest grand almost 7). I’ve found that my younger grands and mid-teen grands also like the Focus on the Family magazines that are gifted to them each year! Blessings to you and your family!
    It was a year for us with health issues making us realize the gift of family time together.


    Andrea Reply:

    I’ve honestly sort of felt angry with how ridiculously over-the-top some of these bloggers’ holiday tours are. It’s SO staged and fake and sponsored and unrealistic.

    Also, I love your gift idea for the Focus on the Family magazine!


  4. Mel


    We didn’t do any outdoor lights this year either, I also give gift cards , I LOVE receiving gifts cards and it’s clutter-free and will for sure be used! We cut back on both gift giving and the number of holiday cards sent out. I really don’t like the pressure of gift giving that requires a certain amount to be spent. We really wanted to leave town this year and skip the usual parties and gifts , but it didn’t end up working out. Will have to plan ahead better next year! The commercialism is really getting to me the older I get, not great when kids are asking for things over and over .


    Andrea Reply:

    the commercialism gets to me too after awhile! I mostly try to avoid store and malls this time of year — but even online shopping is out of control!

    I love your idea of leaving town for the week — sorry it didn’t work out for you this year.


  5. Rebecca Tabb


    I have several ideas here
    1. Use gift bags (less time wrapping—unless you love wrapping)
    2. Use the same gift for multiple people (cozy socks and soap for daycare workers, teachers, neighbors, etc). Less brain power
    3. Reduce the # of people you shop for. For several years now my brother and I have agreed not to buy each other Xmas and bday gifts and I got my brother in law and his wife to try it this year too. Makes a difference!
    4. Make Xmas storage that makes sense. Clearly label and make it simple and accessible to pull out and set up each year.


    Andrea Reply:

    great list — thanks for sharing!!
    We’re also doing your #2 and using the same gift for all the teachers, coaches, leaders, etc. on our Christmas list. It makes things much easier! And… over the past 5 years, Dave and I have convinced BOTH sides of our family to stop doing gifts for siblings! We only do gifts for the kids/cousins/grandkids now — it makes things SO much easier!


  6. Alissa


    My kids are really young (2.5 years and 9 months) so we are still making it up as we go but one thing I did this year was cut out some of our normal activities. We aren’t going to the library this month and our weekly Bible study is done for the month as of tomorrow.

    We aren’t adding much in but just trying to create extra space for down time. We will have family in town closer to the holidays and I am hoping we can be well rested and ready for them when they arrive.


    Andrea Reply:

    This is so great — thanks for sharing! I honestly never thought to mention that we have also skipped out on some of the “normal” activities to make space for more holiday activities. That’s a great way to simplify!


  7. Christina


    My youngest is 17 and I was never the mom who took the kids to see Santa at a the mall or put a zillion lights outside the house, yet alone buy matching pajamas or drink hot cocoa FOR a photo! We do actually do gifts, but now that they are older we draw one name each and only exchange that one and we don’t do it for the little’s, since they don’t know or need anything. We will start when they ask to be involved.

    For the holiday, we spend time together, have some food, play games, and laugh until our belly’s hurt! I skipped the tree two years running and no one has cared. No regrets on simplistic. Easy, Serene.

    It has become sooooo commercialized and ridiculous really. I have, however, enjoyed looking at the displays of everything everywhere, craft stores, grocery stores and the neighborhoods. I love looking at all the people who PAY photographers to take hundreds of photos of them in their matching outfits and matching decor, yet I am loving JUST LOOKING, and then finding a nice cozy spot by my fireplace and reading a book.

    I am honestly not sure how these traditions start, or why a tree is even a symbol of “Christmas.” Not to knock others choices, but I see lots of people hanging outdoor lights with very little joy in their hearts. I hear about how terrible the day was and disastrous of getting the tree and how someone didn’t put the lights on right, etc.

    My five grown children don’t even have trees! Babies and trees don’t mix. Nor do cats, dogs or limited spaces. But they believe in something far greater and have amazing joy in their hearts! Looking forward to a quiet little Christmas over here…

    Carry on with YOUR life, YOUR sanity, and YOUR choices! Blessings Andrea!


    Andrea Reply:

    you know what — I actually really like LOOKING at all the fancy stuff too (and then thinking about all the time and money I’m saving by not doing it!)


  8. Wilma


    Our kids seem to love the very small “doing” things that we do every year–things that are easy and their “job” to do. For example, we have an advent calendar that has a little heart that gets moved along the numbers to 25–no candy, no toys, and the kids love moving it every day.

    A friend told us a few years ago that their tradition (Spanish, maybe?) is to have the three wise men start a ways from the nativity scene, and every day they get moved a little closer to baby Jesus in the stable. It’s adorable how they love moving the little men and see them get excited about Christmas being closer. I love it that we adopted this tradition.

    The kids love having the same decorations up every year, and it takes us about an hour to put them up (because the tree always takes up a fair bit of time, and often a broken ornament or two 😉 ). Just like you, it’s not a lot, but it’s still festive and fun.

    We also don’t go to many activities, but the ones we go to are great fun and low key. Every year we celebrate Sinterklaas (Dutch St. Nicholas) with friends, but the gifts are made, 2nd hand or low cost, and the focus is on a poem written with the gift and figuring out who gave it to you (a kind of secret Santa). It’s easy and fun, and the focus is on getting together with friends.

    As for gifts, we try to keep it simple. Some years are better than others.


    Andrea Reply:

    yes, traditions are fantastic — as long as they work for you, your family, and your season of life (which it sounds like yours do!)
    Merry Christmas to you 🙂


  9. Annette Silveira


    We don’t buy in to the commercialism and excess of the season. I love to give gifts so I spread it out over the whole year. It’s so fun to give a “ just because” gift. I do pay attention to the sales this time of year, but I only buy things I would have bought anyway.
    I got a few things for our granddaughter. She spends two days a week with us so having puzzles, games and art supplies here is necessary. My plan is to wrap everything and let her open something once a week. That should keep her fun going well into the new year.


    Andrea Reply:

    I like spreading the gift-giving out too — that’s why we do our family Christmas early!