Our Family’s Very Non-Traditional Christmas

posted by Andrea | 12/10/2018

Since our family essentially skipped Thanksgiving this year, it only seems fitting that we celebrated Christmas in a VERY non-traditional manner as well.

And that’s just what we did this year! 

We celebrated our family’s Christmas on December 1 — and by “celebrate” I mean, we read a special Advent devotional and opened a handful of gifts after breakfast.

That’s it!

We have been FINISHED with the commercialized side of Christmas for over a week now!

Oh my word, it feels nice!

We’ve never had a specific day when our family “always” celebrates Christmas — usually just some day when Dave is home from school and we’re NOT going to any other parties or festivities, as we hate feeling rushed.

Well, after looking over our December calendar during Thanksgiving break, Dave and I quickly realized most of our weekends were already filled with other Christmas parties and celebrations.

We’re at the age when our extended families still get together (aunts, uncles, cousins), plus we have both Dave and my immediate families (parents, siblings, nieces and nephews). Then there’s Dave’s staff party, a friend’s party, Christmas programs for school and church, Dave’s birthday, my mom’s birthday, Dave’s dad’s birthday, a New Year’s party, etc. etc. etc.

Needless-to-say, we are gone more in December than we are for the rest of the year… seriously!

We noticed that December 1st was the date that worked best to celebrate Christmas with our own children.

This just so happened to be the DAY AFTER the “Love Bazaar” at the kids’ school (they each buy little gifts for our family).

The kids are always super excited for us to open their gifts, so we knew opening those gifts the next day would make them so happy!

I quickly wrapped up the few gifts I had stashed away for the kids, and I just happened to buy new socks for everyone that week, so those got wrapped up too. I also had some candy and other special snack items I’d been saving for the holidays — so why not wrap those up and let the kids have the fun of opening them as gifts!

I found a few random items to wrap up for Dave and myself (I literally shopped our extra toiletries and pantry) and of course… our socks were wrapped as well!

After I was finished, our tree actually had quite a few “gifts” under it!

When the kids came downstairs the next morning, I had candles burning, Christmas music playing, the breakfast table was set somewhat “fancier”, and our assortment of gifts were wrapped under the tree (very few of which were actually wrapped in Christmas wrapping!)

The kids were beyond excited to celebrate Christmas so early!

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Initially, I felt like we were “giving in” by letting the kids open their gifts so early, but after thinking more about it this past week, the earlier date worked out so well.

Now our kids have a couple weeks to enjoy the few gifts they got from us before all the other gifts start piling on as we get closer to Christmas Day. Plus, there’s no rushing to try to quickly open gifts before church, or before heading out the door to another Christmas party, only to leave their new things in a pile under the tree.

Another reason our earlier Christmas worked so well is because the kids’ main gift from us was a year-long family pass to Rebounderz (a local trampoline place) and we could start using that pass immediately. We have already taken them to jump, and now we will be able to enjoy that family gift all throughout December, instead of waiting until next year!

Our kids are smart enough to know they will most likely get a boatload of gifts from grandparents, aunts, and uncles later this month, but they also know that we are completely DONE with gifts in our house.

Also, they didn’t seem phased at all by the fact that there were almost NO “traditional” Christmas gifts!

They got the Rebounderz family pass (which isn’t anything tangible) and we got a nice electric pencil sharpener as another family gift — something we needed badly!

Each individual child got:

  • socks
  • candy
  • a few fun snacks
  • an ornament
  • a personalized journal
  • a book
  • some stickers
  • one Love Bazaar gift from a sibling

No one said a word about the fact that there were no toys, or that each child “only” had 4 smaller gifts to unwrap (I combined some items).

Don’t get me wrong, my kids definitely get all hyped up over gifts and could probably tell you 10-15 things they really want to get for Christmas. However, it was amazing how little they seemed to care about the gifts they got (or didn’t get). They all seemed most excited for their siblings to open the Love Bazaar gifts they had picked out on their own. 

It was refreshing to witness this, and also fairly eye-opening as well.

I realized, once again, how much pressure we parents put on ourselves to make this time of year “magical” and “special” for our children, when we really might not need to do much at all.

Light a few candles, play Christmas music, eat a “fancy” meal or go out to eat, open a few simple gifts, enjoy fun snacks, and call it a day! 

I know this won’t work for every family — especially those with older children who are accustomed to specific traditions. However, I still wanted to share our experience, because I think many families could benefit from simplifying parts of their holiday season.

Fewer gifts

Fewer events

Fewer extra things

Less stress

Less pressure

Less structure

Just sit back, take a deep breath, and tell yourself you probably don’t need to DO all that much to make Christmas special for your family. 

If there’s something you don’t want want to do this year… don’t do it, and don’t worry what anyone else thinks.

If you want to start a new tradition… start it, and see what happens. It might flop, or it might not!

If you want to limit gifts… try it, and see how your family reacts. You might be surprised how much they don’t seem to notice.

If you want to totally skip the holidays and go on a 10 day cruise, by all means do it (assuming you can afford it!)

Whatever the case, I hope you are able to enjoy the last few weeks of the year while anticipating the start of another fresh New Year, full of possibilities and potential.

What are your Christmas plans this year?

Or are you “finished” with Christmas at your house too?

No children were harmed in the taking of this photo! 🙂

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43 comments

  1. Laura

    12/16/2018

    About two weeks ago we decided we are going to visit our family in Argentina for the holidays. If I had known before, I would not have put up the Christmas tree or all the decorations, just a few so as not to feel like the Grinch. So we will celebrate Christmas today, after we come from church.
    One thing that we do is that evey year my kids grt to choose a gift from Samartian’s purse or Compassion catalog and they pay it with their own money and we match it. I cut out the picture from the catalog and put it in a small box under the tree. That is our gift to Jesus, after all, it is His birthday. Wnen we open the presents we open that too and remember what we have given Him. As the Bible says: what you have given to others is as if you have given it to me.

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    Andrea Reply:

    well I’m glad you will get to visit family this year! and I love that your kids are willing to use their own money (and that you match it). SUCH a great idea!

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  2. Debbie

    12/12/2018

    Awww, I love that your family enjoyed your Christmas day without all the rush. It really sounds relaxing. We plan on having a quiet one too with my cousin and her husband. We most likely will open gifts Christmas eve after attending our church’s Christmas eve service. Then on Christmas day we’ll enjoy our cinnamon rolls bought for a fundraiser and then go to the movies to watch Aqua-man. My most favorite family memory as a kid is when we would have our own family meal on Christmas day then head out to watch a movie.

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    Andrea Reply:

    sounds relaxing! Enjoy your movie!

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  3. Michelle

    12/12/2018

    I love this post! It inspired me to rethink our Christmas plans to further simplify this year! Just by asking, we were able to switch a Christmas Day morning celebration with grandparents and siblings to Christmas Eve morning so now we get to stay home with just our kids ALL Christmas morning to play and have fun with their new toys. To our surprise, everyone was happy/willing to give the change a try this year!

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  4. Shan

    12/11/2018

    Andrea, I love how you took care of the “commercialized” side of Christmas! What fun for the family to open a few gifts after a leisurely Christmas devotional and breakfast!! Even though you grew up in this land of plenty, you and Dave don’t let the culture box you into a certain way of doing things. Well, my husband and I are taking a 10-day cruise to the southern Caribbean over the holidays! It’s so freeing to not get trapped into expectations, whether self-imposed or others’, regarding what must happen around Christmas. If we express love and care for others throughout the year, it’s ok not to work ourselves into a frenzy around Christmas. Love and blessings to you and your family!

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh wow — enjoy your cruise!
    Dave and I always said we wanted to take a cruise before ewe had kids — obviously that never happened, so now we’re thinking we might just do a family cruise in another few years, when Clara is older!

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  5. Sylvia

    12/11/2018

    What I love about Christmas is that Jesus is the only gift we need and this can be your gift whether you are “naughty or nice”. It is an excellent teaching tool

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — yes, “naughty or nice” good point!

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  6. Karen Miller

    12/11/2018

    We are celebrating the day before by having immediate family to our house for cake and coffee and a few gifts then my daughter and I are going to Universal for Christmas day and the next day for our own celebration. She is seventeen so she appreciates the trip more than a lot of gifts. I enjoy the getaway also.

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    Andrea Reply:

    just cake — I love it! So often, food because a stressful situation for people — cake and coffee sounds perfect!

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  7. Jenny

    12/10/2018

    Forgive me, but it’s “fazed”, not “phased”. Two completely different words that sound the same but definitely don’t mean the same thing. Glad your family enjoys the season!

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    Andrea Reply:

    ah yes — you’re right. I blame Dave for missing that one!

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  8. Stacey B.

    12/10/2018

    When I read my blogs, I always scan for your posts first! ☺

    And this is such an interesting post. My husband is a firefighter/EMT, so he’s been at the fire station for Christmas before, so we’ve had to adjust celebration days, but to combat the hustle of the holidays, our approach has always been the other way around. If family or friends are hosting a Christmas celebration when we’re planning to have ours, we politely decline their invitation, saying we’re having our family Christmas that day. It’s always a relaxing, happy day together.

    Then, when the kids open gifts, there’s no rushing them to the next package. We have the luxury of letting them enjoy each as long as they want!

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    Andrea Reply:

    awwww… thanks Stacey!
    Good for you for putting your foot down too!
    I’m not sure we could get away with that as easily — especially considering Dave has 2 full weeks off of school so our whole family is literally home ALL DAY EVERY DAY around Christmas and New Years!
    We’ve just decided that for now, we’ll work our family Christmas around all the other parties as not to cause unnecessary “trouble” — if you know what I mean! 😉

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  9. Katherine

    12/10/2018

    We do something a little atypical, as well. After watching my kids tear through a pile of presents and feeling a little ill about it, we now celebrate Advent with adventures and by spreading our presents out throughout the month. As someone who loves gift giving and hates when the gift is noted and tossed to the side (inevitable when there is just too much to take in!), I like the practice of spreading things out and- hopefully- savoring them more.

    I just wrote about it on my blog:) Loved reading your unusual Christmas. You do you, right?

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    Sunshine Reply:

    We ended up spreading gifts around when we had a lot of happy unexpected family visits from far away. A couple days before Christmas, we found out they’d be joining us, and there would be a lot of children. While we got small gifts for them, we didn’t want to add the stress of opening gifts on Christmas. So all the gifts from relatives were opened early, stockings on Christmas with guests, and all the gifts from us were opened a few days later when it was just us again. Our children loved this so much. You’ve reminded me to consider spreading the gift opening again. It’s so much less overwhelming than opening gifts from us and relatives at once even if it doesn’t seem like a lot of gifts. They savor each one more.

    Andrea, I love how you have wrapped up the socks, snacks, and little things and made it look like the bounty it really is all piled beautifully under the tree. I have done that in the past to make it look like more, and we give practical gifts, but I still feel like it’s too much, and I feel like I say this every year! What a great reminder and and a joy you are giving this gift to your children.

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    Andrea Reply:

    This sounds like a great way to spread out your Christmas and enjoy each part of it more!
    And yes, I’m convinced young children just like unwrapping anything — it’s the anticipation of not knowing what’s inside!

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    Andrea Reply:

    This is great Katherine! Thanks for sharing.
    I also enjoy giving gifts — but not in a crazy, stressful, overwhelming way that Christmas gifts often are. A few gifts at a time (so they can be appreciated) is much nicer for me too!

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  10. Hannah Beth Reid

    12/10/2018

    How fun to wake up one morning and suddenly it is Christmas! Especially with the gifts they had picked the day before.
    Thanks for sharing your celebration with us!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, super fun!

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  11. Annie

    12/10/2018

    Our family is Catholic, and because my husband grew up in Europe, we’ve adopted many old-fashioned approaches to the holiday. The four Sundays (4 weeks) before Christmas comprise the Advent season and is a time of preparation. It is a time of penance and joyful subdued preparation to ready our hearts, our home and our family for the arrival of the Newborn King because of our hope awaiting Christ who was born in Bethlehem, Christ who lives in our hearts and Christ who will come again to judge the living and the dead. There aren’t any Christmas parties, but we may get together with some other families for Advent devotions. We keep a simple menu with no desserts and say extra family prayers and devotions during this time. We have an Advent tree based on the Root of Jesse, my husband reads stories from the Old Testament to the children, and we light the candles in a darkened house to show how the world was dark and silent while awaiting the Messiah, the Light of the World. Christmas Day (Christ Mass) is a special day for all with a wonderful meal, attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at our parish and celebrating with family. We don’t open any presents until Jan 6, the Feast of the Three Kings, when we commemorate the presents the Three Kings brought the Baby Jesus. The 12 days of Christmas, celebrated from Dec 25 to Jan 5 are filled with extra family fun such as a trip to the zoo, bowling, board games, and extra special meals and treats as a family. This Catholic approach to the season is steeped in tradition, allows us the prayer needed for preparation and continues the festivities long after the neighbors have taken down their tree and settled into the January blahs. So many people talk about how tired and overwhelmed they are during this time, but if we do things like they were always done, we’ll find that same peace that is intended for this time. If we don’t make room in our hearts for Jesus, how can He give us the graces we need and complete His work in our lives? And I don’t even think of shopping for presents until the after-Christmas-sales so our budget is happy as well.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Exactly! The main reason I feel tired this time of year is because we literally stay up later than we normally do because we’re enjoying ourselves at various parties or gatherings! We don’t feel stressed or over-tired because we’re running around trying to buy last-minute gifts or making insane amounts of food!

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  12. Roxanne

    12/10/2018

    My dad is a commercial airline pilot, so there were a lot of Christmases when I was growing up where he would be out flying on December 25. When that happened, my brother and I would write a note to Santa asking if he could come a couple of days before or after Christmas so that my dad could be home too. ‘Santa’ always came through!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — good old Santa 🙂 Cute story!

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  13. Jean

    12/10/2018

    In the Netherlands St Nicholas delivers gifts on December 5th evening. That’s it. Christmas Day is a religious holiday and family get together- not everything mashed together. I think that is brilliant.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Oh I like this idea too! Thanks for sharing!

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  14. JJ

    12/10/2018

    Love this!!! We actually have no family nearby and committed to NOT travel to family(who all live in the north…we live in the south) until the kids are older. This year we are hoping to go out to eat for Christmas–yay!!! No mess or cleanup for me!!! And we actually only spend $25 per kid at this point, because they are young and grandparents, aunts, and uncles send them gifts/money. We have them make a wish list and tell them they will NOT get everything on the list. This “list” has helped throughout the year when they want stuff, and we say, “Let’s put it on our Birthday List or Christmas List.” I grabbed that from your idea of, “We have the money but are choosing not to spend it on this right now.” Merry Christmas!!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this sound fantastic! So glad you aren’t traveling over the holidays!

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  15. Meghan Oyster

    12/10/2018

    I love this! It’s so counterculture

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  16. Kim Foster

    12/10/2018

    Hats off to you!!!! What a great idea and really you kept the meaning of Christmas which unfortunately gets lost in all the craziness. I love this for your family and the special meaning it brought for you all. Merry Christmas! – Kim

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Kim — Merry Christmas to you too!

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  17. Jessy

    12/10/2018

    Well done Andrea! Wish I had thought to do this when my kids were young.

    Most of my adult life I have disliked the Christmas season because of all the busy-ness, the hype, the extra work. The “peace” of the season has disappeared for me. You’ve got me thinking about possible scenarios for a fix! Thank you!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I think they “hype” bothers me more than the Busyness — but yes, you’re right! And you should definitely try to make some changes that will allow you to enjoy this time of year more.

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  18. Jenny Z

    12/10/2018

    I am curious about Santa. Do the kids get a gift from Santa on Christmas morning? Or do you not do Santa? We get our kids some gifts from us and pile those around the tree and on Christmas morning they each get one unwrapped gift leaning against their pile from Santa. They get a lot of things they need like socks and PJs but from Santa us a fun toy or something they really wanted. Our five kids range from 6-18.

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    Andrea Reply:

    you know… we’ve never really done much with Santa. We talk about him, and I think my kids believe he’s real, but they honestly didn’t seem phased at all about the fact that we had presents already.
    I think James was the only one who noted that “Santa came early” this year 🙂
    I don’t think it really matters either way — whatever works best and is most enjoyable for your family.
    We might still leave milk and cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve — along with a note letting him know we already opened our gifts and to leave any additional gifts at my sister’s house (we’ll be there on Christmas!) haha — I’m sure the kids will get a kick out of that!

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    Jenny Z Reply:

    I think it is awesome. I wish we had simplified Christmas before we had 5 kids because it is exhausting now! I did decide not to send out the 75 Christmas cards this year that I normally do. I didn’t want to spend the money or time and it has helped reduce my holiday stress! as well as planning ahead and doing a little baking at a time each week and then freezing it so I am not stressed about all the baking I need to do!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Good for you for not sending out the cards. I just put mine in the mail today — but I do enjoy that and it doesn’t feel stressful for me 🙂
    And yes, freezer-friendly baked goods are a MUST! I already have several tins and containers in the freezer as we have parties every weekend for the next 4 weeks! Here we go!

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  19. Kim

    12/10/2018

    I admire so many things about you, Andrea! You don’t live life in a “knee jerk” manner. You and Dave think! This was a really good, refreshing way to do your family gift exchange. Your children are being directed in a non-American, usual, gift stuffing, overwhelming way. I think much of this has merit.
    Keep thinking, keep suggesting, keep giving us “food for thought.” We need it.
    I appreciate your outlook so very much!
    Merry Christmas!

    PS We had friends who gave their preschool son one gift per day for 5 days before Christmas! He opened a gift, they all played with him with whatever it was. It was a way to “savor” the moment. I remember telling my sister about that situation and she immediately dismissed it as deprivation. She, and so many others, think that we “owe” our children a frenzied multi-gift 15 minutes in order to have had a “magical” Christmas.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Kim! And thanks for sharing your friend’s idea too — that sounds like fun. Stretch things out a bit and savory the time!

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  20. Mara B

    12/10/2018

    Yes, this is a great post! We’re doing our Christmas after Christmas because of other obligations, but we’re doing so much less this year than we’ve ever done! We’re going to be storms the house, NOT hosting for several glorious days! Merry Christmas, Dekker Family!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yup that works too! the benefit of doing Christmas early is that I don’t have to listen to them ask me when we’ll open gifts 800 times a day 🙂

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  21. Grandma Ann

    12/10/2018

    We used to do something simular as we had commitments with extended family Christmas eve and day. It made the holiday so much more pleasant and easier on our littles as it was too much excitement with so many parties in a short time. Good for you in making the holiday special and fun for your family. And keeping the real Reason for the Season!

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